Angry Adult Child:
“The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”

"Mo Air"—Jonny Moseley by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Loving vs. Yearning

Having suffered rejection by your parent, it’s understandable that you would fear becoming a mean, rejecting parent yourself, and that you’d want to make sure your son knows that you love him.

Yet, your fierce desire to show acceptance and love may cause you to go overboard, and to lose your personal authority and ability to set boundaries.

When parents are unwilling to stand up for themselves and when their tone of voice betrays a longing for acceptance, children sense it and become burdened by it. Some will respond with appeasement, others with annoyance and anger.

Respect vs. Fear of Rejection

Most parents don’t want to be rejected by their children. Yet, when their fear of rejection is so strong that it outweighs their own self-respect — “I fear, more than anything, total rejection from my son” — they may cheat their children of the gift of having respect for their parents.

It’s wonderful to be loved by your parent. It’s also beneficial to have respect for your parent. They are not mutually exclusive. However, when you crave a child’s acceptance too much — at the expense of your own personal authority — you invite your child to lose respect for you.

Parent vs. Doormat

There is a world of difference between rejecting a child and rejecting rude behavior.

It’s important for children of all ages to learn to respect boundaries and to have some consequences when they are disrespectful. It doesn’t do anyone any good when you allow others to rage at you. You’re doing them a favor in cutting short their rudeness, because they generally will not feel good after being angry and mean.

They need to be called on their behavior with an “Excuse me?” or “It’s tough to talk with you when you sound this angry.” Or you can say, “If something’s bothering you, tell me, but be more respectful.” Your own tone of voice is highly important — be firm, without pleading. Be willing to end the conversation if they start battering you verbally by saying, “It’s unpleasant for me to listen to your berating me with this tone of voice. We can talk later.”

Not only will you curb your child’s rudeness, you will be setting an example of how to set boundaries firmly without being harsh.

More Space vs. Engulfment

Often, all that’s needed is a little more distance, a more impersonal attitude, and less inquiry. Just imagine a good cocktail waitress at a busy bar. She would be friendly, but not overly-personal and inquisitive.

By calling less frequently, asking fewer questions, and giving less advice, you can give your irritated adult child the room needed to feel independent and free of the parental umbilical cord. Often more emotional separation, rather than fusion, promotes appreciation.


Like rehearsing for a play, it’s very helpful to practice the demeanor and attitude you want to develop. If you have a partner and/or friends who are willing, have them listen to you practice speaking in a more impersonal way. Find examples on TV or among your friends who have the desired tone and approach, and emulate them.

Once you are able to pull back your yearning to prove your love as well as your tolerance of unacceptable behavior you will realize a grand pay-off, namely mutual respect — the very basis for a loving relationship. You’ll also feel less temptation to be mean, because when you stand up for yourself when there’s only mild disrespect, you can do so without big resentment and drama.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

Read “Over-mothering: ‘It’s hard to be firm with my child, because he’s very sensitive.’”

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4 Responses to Angry Adult Child:
“The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”

  1. Lizzy says:

    It appears parental rejection is the newest for our “30 somethings”. Why does this rejection seem to pop up after (the adult child) has drained us both emotionally and financially (sorry I am not giving up spiritually)? No apologies are enough or accepted. The last time I received my “dressing down” from my son it was in front of his 5 year old son. What is this teaching a child? I guess I just got my answer, I was concerned about issues such as I just mentioned. My husband and I after many such outbursts have concluded that if it were not for our grandson we would sever our relationship with our son and his wife. We would never stop loving him but at 36 perhaps it is time for him to grow up.

    • Alison says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your son dressing you down. That is disrespectful and inappropriate to do, particularly in front of a child. Rather than severing your relationship, you might consider distancing it a bit. In other words, retract your energy or leave in a neutral way when he becomes rude. This is usually more effective than arguing or having a serious conversation. You could make your visits brief or in public places and resist giving advice. Over time, he may gain respect for you. You may read my article on Boundaries as well as the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic. The latter one could be very helpful. Good luck. I’m glad you haven’t given up spiritually.

      • Lizzie says:

        Thank you Alison for your response. The distance you suggested was handled by The Almighty. My son is in Afghanistan for 6 months. This forced separation has had “mixed results” in the past. The last time he returned from Afghanistan was when he seemed to develop his intense anger towards me. The underlying psychological issues regarding this are mind boggling to me. My husband and I have decided on another “distancing” idea. When he returns from Afghanistan we will not stay at his and my daughter in-law’s home. Unfortunately this presents its own issues but considering everything it is indeed the best for all.
        Thank You Again,

        • Alison says:

          I’m sorry your son is in Afghanistan. Yet I definitely like your idea of not staying at his house, even if this is costly. It’s worth the expense. Meeting for a pleasant dinner or taking a walk together will create an atmosphere with enough boundaries that he is likely to remain more respectful. Let me know how it goes. Alison

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