One Way to Really Disrespect Your Adult Child – and How to Avoid It

Dear Therapist: I don’t understand why my son won’t talk to me…

I recently ran across this article in The Atlantic, and wished I could have reached out to the mom writing it. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt, here, but from where I’m sitting it sure looks like she’s disrespecting the son in question – and isn’t even aware that’s what she’s doing.

In this article, an estranged mom asks Dear Therapist why her married, adult son never talks to her or spends time with her. On the surface, it sounds like a painful situation: loving mom and grandmother denied connection and conversation with her son.

But when you compare her description of the situation, and how she’s responding to it, to the suggestions in the Nine Tips Guide, it becomes clear there are some things this mom needs to change, if she truly wants to reconnect with her son.

The main issue I see in her letter, really, is she’s not listening to him. And not listening? Well, that can create a ton of problems for the parents of adults.

When the mom says “My son has always felt that my daughter got more than he did when they were growing up. However, this is not the case” – this tells me she is missing the point. It doesn’t matter if she feels she did a ton for her son. He feels she didn’t. That’s the point.

She’s pretty clear she sees his views as easily dismissed, since she remembers things differently than he does. But ignoring his views in favor of her own memories is a great way to send her son the message, “I don’t care what you think – and anyway, you’re wrong. My memories are the correct memories.”

Hmm. Think about how you’d feel if someone kept telling you your memories of something that happened to you were incorrect, or just your imagination. Insulting, yeah? Maybe even… disrespected, right? Would you want to spend time with that person, or talk to them, if they kept insisting you are incorrect or imagining things?

And given that this is what she’s doing, is it any wonder her son avoids her and won’t spend time with her?

My question to this mom would be, “Do you want control over your relationship with your son, or do you want connection with him? Because rejecting what he’s telling you instead of listening – trying to control what he thinks and what he says – is a great way to break connection.”

If this mom came to me, I’d advise her to listen, and not argue with her son. I’d advise her to take his perspective, and see things from his point of view. And I’d advise her to not get defensive or reject his interpretation of things. I’d advise her to accept that his view of the situation is as valid as hers.

As hard as it might be, her son’s interpretation of things will not change, especially if she keeps insisting his views are incorrect.

Yes, it’s hard to hear from our adult children that we weren’t the wonderful parents we thought we were, or hoped we’d be. It’s hard to accept their view of actions we thought were loving, or kind, or parental responsibility.

But this mom is at a fork in the road. One side of the fork is labeled “Control,” and the other side is labeled “Connect.” She’s choosing the control road, and that’s the main thing that’s destroying her connection to her son – because when a parent tries to control an adult child, that’s disrespectful in the extreme.

What advice would you give this mom? Feel free to leave a comment below!

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