Parents often feel their hands are tied in managing disrespect from adult children. As the relationship moves from one of relative dependence to independence, confronting your child can feel like a recipe for pushing them away.

One Reddit user shares their take on this deeply challenging double-bind:

So, how can you manage disrespect from your grown child, while preserving the relationship?

1) Reject agism (and notice when it arises internally).

There is no justification for disrespect due to age. As the organization Ageing Better UK points out in their Challenging Ageism guide: “It’s possible for us all to live meaningful and purposeful later lives, participating in and contributing to the workplace, community and society at large.”

In order to reject agism, try using the “calling in” technique. Instead of calling someone “out” which is more of an accusatory act, calling “in” involves gently asking the other person whether they considered the implications of their words.

  • “I don’t think it was intentional, but I wonder if you can see how that phrasing kind of stings.”
  • “To me, saying X implies Y about older people. Did you know I might think you felt that about me?”
  • “You know, that’s a really interesting phrase. I only realized recently that it has some deeper implications. Can I share some thoughts about it?”

Ageing Better UK also notes that “ageism can be internalised, leading people to limit their own behaviour and opportunities, describing themselves in negative ways such as ‘past it’ or ‘over the hill’.” So even if no other good comes from it, calling attention to agism can help you de-program automatic self-judgements in the face of your grown kids’ disrespect.

2) Ask to be made part of the conversation.

Perceived disrespect from grown children often stems from feelings of exclusion. Maybe your child assumes you’re not following the conversation. Maybe they always update their siblings but never you. Maybe they don’t even realize that!

Alternatively, maybe they’re making choices that directly impact you, and you’d just like to get on the same page about shared responsibility.

All of these situations can make parents feel disrespected, and it’s of utmost importance to ask for greater transparency when you feel excluded.

What else might they not be letting you in on? Perhaps it’s their feelings about how you parented them, or the kind of childhood they had. One parent shares her concerns on this point: “No thank you, no sign of appreciation, and if I say anything that indicates even remotely that a little appreciation would be nice, then the sarcasm starts up, or screaming, or I get cursed out. I realize I’m a huge part of this equation, but I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round, and I don’t know how to get off.”

3) Include them in your thought process.

Conversely, as you set expectations for transparency with your adult child, make sure the communication goes both ways. 

Expand your lines of communication by continually clarifying your intentions as you critique the parent-child dynamic. As Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein suggests in a Psychology Today article: “Share that you are trying to coach yourself, just as much as them.” Open the door for mutual feedback and partnership as you navigate your evolving relationship.

4) Reiterate your boundaries.

Reasonable boundaries can include:

  • how much you are willing to financially help
  • what kinds of teasing go too far for you
  • how often you’d like to be in touch
  • conditions for in-person visits (like adherence to COVID precautions)
  • household expectations if you live together
  • which mutual social connections you do and do not feel comfortable around

If you know that you tend toward people pleasing and might have trouble countering disrespect, try using this downloadable worksheet to set boundaries more readily.

5) Know that everyone has their limit, and sometimes, you reach yours.

What can you do when you’ve made reasonable attempts to convey your perspective and “call in,” but you still feel disrespected? One aspect of wisdom is knowing when to let go and step back.

If you sense insurmountable resistance, take a break. Get some distance from the situation if you can–whether that means taking a couple days without seeing each other, or at least a few minutes to calm down.

You’re under no obligation to tolerate disrespect from anybody. If the situation becomes extreme, we hope that you won’t let a sense of duty interfere with your wellbeing.

Whether you can change your relationship dynamic or not, make sure not to bottle up your concerns. If your child won’t listen to how you feel, at least consider sharing with an understanding peer who can relate.