I'm constantly bossed around and belittled by my adult son. How do I get him to stop?

I'm constantly bossed around and belittled by my adult son. How do I get him to stop?
Samantha Lee/Insider
I'm constantly bossed around and belittled by my adult son. How do I get him to stop?
Crystal Cox/Insider
  • You can't change your son's behavior, but you can change how you interact with him.
  • You should tell your son how his words and actions make you feel, and set boundaries if he continues.
  • Reconsider the boundaries your son has set too. Ask him about why he set them instead of assuming he wants to control you.

Dear Julia,


My 31-year-old son, who lives in a different state, tells me I need to listen to him and follow all of his requests.

He told me to get the whooping cough vaccine and said if I didn't, I won't get to see my grandchildren. He tried to tell me how to prepare for retirement, but he doesn't contribute a single dollar to my income. If I needed his help, I would be happy to ask.

He doesn't seem to understand I'm a grown up and mature lady. He doesn't treat me like an adult. If I don't follow his idea, he sulks and stops talking to me for a couple of weeks. He also complains to his older sister, my daughter, as if I've gone crazy or am stupid.

How do I help him understand he's being disrespectful? How can I make him understand my boundaries and treat me like an adult?


- Phoenix

Dear Phoenix,

I don't have children, but I know how hurtful and frustrating it can feel to have your choices questioned.

Though you can't change your son's behavior, you can let him know how his words and actions make you feel. You can also change how you interact with your son.

It's only human to want to protect yourself from perceived criticism, but setting boundaries will better serve you in the long run, licensed marriage and family therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw told me.


Boundaries aren't a way to train your son into behavior you'd prefer. Instead, they're a way for you to move forward if he can't give you what you want, Earnshaw said.

In fact, it seems your son has set certain boundaries with you, such as his decision to keep his children away from you so long as you aren't vaccinated against whooping cough. Though he can't make you get a vaccine, he's adjusted his parameters for spending time with you to fit his needs.

When it comes to how your son speaks with you or offers advice, you can set your own boundaries too.

To do that, first reflect on the way your son's behaviors make you feel, like unloved or misunderstood. Then consider ways you can disengage from your son if he continues to belittle you, according to Earnshaw.

When you approach your son, you could say something like, "I notice when we talk on the phone, you offer me unsolicited advice on my finances. When you do that, it makes me feel like I'm incompetent and unloved. Please save any advice for when I explicitly ask for it. Otherwise, I'll have to end our conversation."


You can reiterate your boundary if your son oversteps it and if he ignores your need completely, you have a plan of action to take care of yourself, Earnshaw told me.

She also suggested talking to your son and daughter, together, about how they gossip about you. Ask them to bring any concerns directly to you, Earnshaw told me.

As you consider your own boundaries, reconsider your son's

As you create your own boundaries, it's worth reconsidering how you view your son's limits in your relationship.

When your son sets a boundary with you, get curious about why he placed it instead of assuming he's attempting to control you, Earnshaw said.

"I always tell people, 'If you keep getting angry with someone, try to be curious, instead of furious,'" she told me.


Even if you don't agree with the reasoning your son provides, hearing him out allows you time to get grounded and think about how you want to proceed, according to Earnshaw.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

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