Against the Grain: Finding Self-care Amidst Toxic Ties with Adult Children

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Toxicity towards their parents is natural in adolescence, but once your children are young adults, they should have outgrown it. You can prevent becoming the punching bag for a hurting child that uses manipulative ways and statements to hurt you.

Quoting Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. and author of “When Parents Hurt” and “Rules of Estrangement,” from an article in Healthline: “Parents are often unprepared for the antagonism and hostility they experience from their adult children, and are unprepared for the feelings that accompany their experience.”

Parents have increased investment in their children, and these conflicts and disrespect are far more difficult to bear than when they are throwing their toddler tantrums or being defiant teens. It’s more difficult to accept being cast aside or disrespected when all you can think of is all the time and money you have invested in raising your child.

Causes of Disrespect

Sometimes, circumstances force young adults to remain home longer than they should, leading to stress and frustration for adult children who would otherwise have left the nest. Complicated feelings can also arise in cases where an adult child must help care for a parent, especially in cases of stubborn parents.

However, these are not the only cases where enmity is born. It can also arise because of cultural differences, individual issues, and variances in family dynamics. Sometimes, your choices or character may have created hardships for your children, causing them to feel angry toward you.

Then again, other causes for your adult child’s behavior may include a mental health issue, affecting how your child perceives you, manages their emotions, or communicates their needs with you. Substance abuse and the influence of others can also lead to toxic behavior in adult children.

In some cases where there has been a history of abuse in your family, mainly if your spouse spoke to you or your children in an abusive way, they may continue this behavior toward you.

Strategies for Coping

First, you should recognize that it’s not your fault. You are not responsible for their toxic behavior; there is nothing wrong with seeking help to cope with the situation.

To avoid toxicity from adult children, start by setting boundaries and having clear expectations from them about how you would like to be treated. If they overstep these boundaries, call them out on their behavior and ensure they understand that this isn’t acceptable. Provide consequences if necessary but remember that while you can set limits, you cannot force someone to respect you or behave differently than they choose.

Another strategy is to limit contact as much as possible to protect yourself from further emotional trauma caused by your adult child’s toxicity. Consider reducing or completely cutting off contact with your adult children if needed, and seek professional help from a counselor or therapist if you struggle to cope.

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Tips for Your Self-Care

It isn’t easy to always get everything right as a parent. Still, if one of your adult children is displaying toxic behavior, there are several things you can do to overcome it and manage your self-care.

Demanding accountability and courtesy from a younger child is easier because you can lay down and enforce the rules. Once your children reach adulthood, the power of these dynamics shifts, allowing them to establish their own rules, including how they interact with you and whether to continue this relationship.

Most parents can deal with these changing dynamics; they are natural. However, if your child’s behavior becomes toxic, you need to know how to manage it and learn some self-care.

1.     Communicating Your Feelings

Before touching on any other self-care tips, how you communicate your feelings is very important in establishing your new rules. It’s critical not to use blame but to express how their actions affect you personally. For example, if your adult child brings someone you don’t like into your home, you shouldn’t attack them verbally. Start the conversation on a positive note; explaining how that person’s presence makes you feel often makes them more aware of your feelings and can lead to better understanding.

2.     Establish Boundaries

Set firm boundaries that show you cannot continue being their guardian indefinitely or won’t accommodate their demands. Doing this will help you and your child, even if they take the opportunity to convince you that you are and have always been an inadequate parent.

It’s up to you where you draw the lines for these borders according to what your inner voice tells you. You must learn to say no if you want to guard them carefully. Sometimes it’s as easy as just saying a straightforward “no,” to your adult child.

Before setting the boundaries, prepare in advance by setting goals and limits. Have an exit strategy in case the topic gets too heated, and start the conversation on a positive note.

Stay calm and engaged. Listen to your child’s concerns without minimizing them. Repeat the problems out loud, showing that you have heard them. Let your adult child know when they cross a line by setting limits. If anyone loses their cool, walk away or hang up.

Give your child and yourself a day to calm down before broaching the topic again to try and make more progress.

Creating firm boundaries is the first and most crucial step to helping yourself and your offspring.

3.     Understand Your Weaknesses

Knowing your weaknesses is about going into a battle well-prepared. Therefore, don’t let your child use past events to manipulate or hurt you. If you know your mistakes and flaws and forgive yourself, your toxic adult child cannot use them against you with ill intent.

4.     Recognize Your Motives

When standing firm against your children, knowing your motives is important, allowing you to clearly express why you cannot continue accepting their toxic behavior. Therefore, they are making clear what they want from you, so you must make it just as clear what you want from them. Your wants could include ending their toxic behavior, better communication, seeing them grow, etc.

Weigh up the reason behind any decisions involving your child to ensure you don’t get lost in the tumult of dealing with them. For example:

  • When agreeing to something they’ve asked for, consider the following: Do you do it to avoid their toxic behavior? Do you have the backing of leverage to bargain what they must do in return?
  • If you have said no and refuse to budge, consider the following: Have you regained control of the situation and established that you have had enough? What effect will your no have on them? What kind of backlash will you receive, and how will you handle it?

Knowing how you reached a decision provides you with the balance required to face the reaction from toxic adult children, especially if they never acknowledge what you have done for them.

5.     Stay solution-focused

Doing what you need can prove painful, but sometimes it’s the only way to deal with the problem surrounding you. Therefore, you mustn’t focus on the negativity. Make the solution work to remove the problem’s cause.

6.     Spend Time with People Who Cherish You

Don’t let the toxic relationship with your child make you withdraw from people who care for you. People who make you feel good and loved will fill you with positivity, contrasting the anxiety and anger you feel around toxic adult children.

7.     Take Responsibility

Sometimes parents may knowingly or unknowingly hurt their children. You don’t need to blame yourself because mistakes aren’t failures.

You can feel compassion for yourself because you did your best. However, it’s also essential to have the ability to acknowledge your adult child’s complaint, opening up the path for better communication in the future,

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Final Take

The complex emotions created by toxic adult children can leave you hurt, angry, and guilty. It can be even worse if your child has become estranged, especially if you have grandchildren. If you want to remain connected with your adult child, setting and maintaining boundaries without losing that connection is significant. If it’s impossible to set up healthier limits with your child and you don’t see them, don’t give up hopes of reconnecting. Just let them know you are always willing to listen.



How do I deal with toxic adult children?

Dealing with toxic adult children can be difficult, but there are some steps you can take. First, communicate your feelings and establish boundaries without using blame. Recognize your weaknesses and motives to understand where you stand in the situation. Finally, stay solution-focused, spend time with people who cherish you, and take responsibility for any mistakes that may have been made.

What should I do if my adult child is too toxic to maintain a relationship?

If your adult child’s behavior is too toxic to sustain a relationship, it’s important to set firm boundaries so they understand how their actions affect you personally. Tell them when they have crossed a line, and take a break if things become too heated. You can also try to stay connected by providing them with resources that may be helpful.

What are the signs of a toxic adult child?

Signs of a toxic adult child include controlling behavior and demands, manipulation, blaming others for their mistakes, belittling or insulting language, extreme jealousy or possessiveness, and an inability to take responsibility. They may also keep secrets from you or gaslight you to make themselves appear more favorable. It’s important to recognize these behaviors so you can reach out for help and set boundaries early on.

Can toxic adult children be helped?

Yes, toxic adult children can be helped. It’s important to establish firm boundaries and communicate your needs openly. If they are willing to work on their behavior, reaching out for professional help may be beneficial. With patience and understanding, you can help them learn how to make healthy choices and have more positive relationships in the future.

What is the best way to approach my toxic adult child?

The best way to approach your toxic adult child is through open and honest conversation. Try to remain calm and stick to facts rather than emotions. Make it clear that you are not trying to attack them but instead want an honest dialogue about what needs to change for both of you to have a healthy relationship. Additionally, be sure to listen non-judgmentally and offer positive solutions whenever possible. This will help keep the conversation productive and avoid any unnecessary conflicts.

Can I still love my toxic adult child?

Yes, it is possible to still love your toxic adult child, even if they exhibit unhealthy behaviors. It’s important to recognize that their actions do not reflect your parenting or your relationship with them. Love is an unconditional emotion, so it’s possible to feel love towards them still even if they display toxic behavior. It may take time, but eventually, you can learn how to manage your feelings and maintain a healthy relationship effectively.

Do I need professional help for my toxic adult child?

If your adult child’s behavior is too difficult to manage independently, seeking professional help may be beneficial. A therapist can guide and assist in setting boundaries and helping both parties communicate more effectively. This could also help teach your child how to express their emotions better and process any trauma they may have experienced. Ultimately, professional help can provide the support needed to improve your relationship with your adult child.

Can I get my toxic adult child to change?

A toxic adult child can change but will require time and effort. Establishing boundaries and expressing your needs is important for any progress to be made. Additionally, providing resources and offering consistent emotional support will also be beneficial in helping them learn healthier habits and develop more positive relationships with those around them. With patience and understanding, your adult child’s behavior can improve over time.

Can I cut off contact with my toxic adult child?

Yes, it is possible to cut off contact with your adult child if their behavior becomes too toxic. However, it’s important to try and establish boundaries first and see if there are any changes in their behavior before taking this step. You can also provide them with resources to help manage their emotions or seek professional help. If these attempts fail, cutting off contact may be necessary for both parties’ safety and well-being.

Can I still have a relationship with my toxic adult child?

Yes, it is possible to maintain a relationship with your toxic adult child as long as you set clear boundaries and take responsibility for any mistakes you may have made. It’s essential to recognize when their behavior becomes too toxic and take a break if necessary. Additionally, spending time with people who cherish you and taking care of yourself can also help maintain a healthier relationship in the long term. Above all, stay open to any attempts at reconciliation that may arise.

Can toxic adult children become better people?

Yes, toxic adult children can become better people with time and effort. Establishing boundaries and expressing your needs openly while still showing compassion towards them is important. Offering resources such as therapy or support groups can help them recognize unhealthy behavior patterns and learn how to make healthier choices in the future. Your adult child can develop more positive relationships with those around them with patience and understanding.

Can I forgive my toxic adult child?

Yes, forgiving your toxic adult child is possible, even if they hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning their behavior or absolving them of responsibility for their actions. Instead, it means accepting that mistakes were made and releasing yourself from any negative feelings or bitterness that may be holding you back. Learning how to forgive can help both parties move forward and eventually rebuild a healthier relationship in the future.

Can I still support my toxic adult child?

Yes, supporting your toxic adult child while maintaining healthy boundaries is possible. Support doesn’t always come in money – it can also involve emotional support such as offering advice or guidance. Ultimately, your adult child needs to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, but showing them that you are there for them can help provide encouragement and help them make better decisions in the future.

Can I help my toxic adult child heal?

Yes, it is possible to help a toxic adult child heal over time. Providing a safe environment to express themselves without fear of judgment or criticism is important. Additionally, providing resources such as therapy or support groups can be beneficial in helping them recognize unhealthy patterns of behavior and learn how to make healthier choices. They may never completely erase their past experiences, but with patience and understanding, they can heal and eventually have healthier relationships with those around them.

A toxic adult child can be difficult to manage, but it is possible to love still and accept your adult child even if they are exhibiting unhealthy behaviors. Establishing boundaries and offering emotional support can help manage the situation more effectively, while providing resources such as therapy or support groups can be beneficial in helping them learn how to make better decisions in the future. Ultimately, staying open-minded and taking responsibility for any mistakes you may have made can help rebuild a healthier relationship over time.

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