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What to Say When Your Grown Children Hurt Your Feelings

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

The relationship between parents and adult children can be difficult and tense, with parents often feeling the strain and conflict more than the adult child does, according to the article, the “Study of Relationships Between Adult Children and Parents,” published in Medical News Today. When feelings are strained, your adult kids can say things that are hurtful and it can be difficult to know what to say to reconcile or to stop the hurt.

Assess the Situation

Sometimes, a parent is partially responsible for negative interaction by treating the adult child as a child, according to Dr. Randy W. Green, a licensed New York psychologist on his website, Creative Solutions. Take an objective look at the interaction to determine if you offered unsolicited advice or if you failed to treat your child as an adult. Your child’s anger could arise from something you said or did. If so, apologize for overstepping your place in your adult child’s life. Ask what you need to do to make amends. Tell your adult child that you will make a greater effort to remember that she is an adult and that she can make decisions on her own.

Respond With Love

Treat your child in a loving, respectful manner, just as you would want to be treated. Get to the root of the interaction and find out what precipitated the exchange that hurt you. Listen to your child and ask questions until you understand. Take responsibility for your actions and words, but do not base your relationship with your child on guilt and fear, advises Green. In your response, set an example for your adult child. You can tell your child that he hurt your feelings, stating your side of the problem after you have heard his.

Establish Boundaries

If your child is out of line, establish boundaries based on the kind of relationship you would like to establish, suggests Dr. Kathy McCoy in “When Adult Children Become Strangers.” Let your child know that you are not her resident babysitter or her banker. If she’s angry because you didn’t drop everything to bail her out, send her money or some other action that you feel isn’t in her best interest, explain why you made the choice you did. Let her know that you love her but you will not communicate with her when she hurts you, is disrespectful toward you or makes unreasonable demands of you.


Check your relationship for enmeshment, suggests Jane Isay. A person who is enmeshed with another -- in which the boundaries are not firm between two people -- will take more offense when the other person rejects her advice. Tell your child you won’t allow him to make choices for you and that you will refrain from making choices for him. Express your wish to have a relationship in which you two interact as adults who care and respect each other. Expressing this wish can prevent harsh words and hurt feelings between you.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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