How to Biblically Handle Toxic Adult Children

We’re living in a time where toxic parenting is not tolerated so much anymore. The “I’m your mother” line that once worked on kids is no longer enough to bully adult children into submission. And if you’ve been raised by a toxic parent, I truly empathize with you, but we’re also suffering relationships of some epidemic proportion and they’re coming from adult toxic children. And there are serious consequences for adult children, who disrespect and dishonor, parents, a growing number of adults or children are disrespectful. Critical manipulative, self-serving, they are magnifying, the parent’s flaws and minimizing the parental sacrifices God never excuses disrespect towards parents, and even if your parents made colossal mistakes you can return good for evil.

Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your Father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be enough to motivate some children today. So parents, what are you to do?  Some will go so far as to return toxic for toxic and throw scripture in their face, in an effort to do their own manipulating, but I want to encourage you to take a step back for a moment. I know the relationship is important to you and I know that you believe you are owed something more than you’ve been given.

So, I want to help you to understand the best way to biblically handle toxic adult children.

For starters, let’s put the expectation into proper perspective. If your children are adults, they are your children, however, they are not required to obey. They are not required to follow your every command and attend to your every request. And I spend a lot of time on this channel talking about how to deal with toxic parents because unfortunately there’s been a lot of toxic parents who have abused and used their children in ways that are so ungodly and unhealthy. 

And for those people, I long to bring hope and healing but then there’s a subset of adult children that are ungrateful, antagonistic, arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and greedy and they are causing tremendous heartbreak for their parents. It’s all about what makes them happy and these adult children think that they’re owed something. They’re offended by the things that you say and do, they’re upset that you didn’t give them what they want and the things that they felt they deserved.  

My friend, if this is you and you are struggling under the sad heavy weight of a toxic child, I want to encourage you, God is with you.

I want to talk to you about four steps to biblically handle toxic adult children. 

The first step is to remove the title.

Toxic is toxic no matter who it is. Just because someone shouldn’t be toxic, doesn’t mean that we get to give them a pass and ignore all the signs, that’s like driving down the road and thinking of, you know, this road was paved just for me and you get to work, it should be clear and passable. So I’m just going to ignore all the debris on the road because it shouldn’t be there. My friend that would be foolish. 

And I remember years ago a client sitting in my office and was having trouble with her adult daughter who lived with her and the daughter was saving up for a home of her own. So the mom was beaming with pride but their daily interactions or highly disrespectful. She’s about 28 years old and always had something negative to say to and about her mother. She complained when her lunch wasn’t made the way she liked it. She was annoyed when her mother was home when she preferred the house to herself. And if her mother ever said anything to her, she would give her the silent treatment for a week and mind you girl, paid, no rent, not that, that would make it better even if she did. And she shared with me that a co-worker calls her daughter toxic. 

And this woman sat in my office and asked, “is my daughter toxic?”. And before I even had a chance to answer or ask some clarifying questions she responded by saying, nevermind, she can’t be toxic she’s my daughter. This woman was driving down the road headed for a hole.  

The truth is her daughter was very much toxic. She would play the father and the mother against each other to get what she wanted, then, if that didn’t work, she would pitch into a manipulative fit to get what she wanted. She blames her mother for not having the finer things in life and was ungrateful for any of the sacrifices that were being made for her over the years. 

Number two: own your stuff.

Toxic children are often not always but often develop through toxic parenting. So there is a good possibility that you have some things that you may need to apologize for but just take a pause for a second. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that you are narcissistic or toxic. There are a lot of scenarios that can actually create some toxicity in a person.

Maybe you have some emotional problems and things that you were working through at some point in your child’s life. Perhaps there were some medical emergencies or family emergencies and you had to pull away from your child for just a little bit. During these neglectful times, they can now begin to perceive and blow out of proportion and not keep in proper perspective. 

And again, they may not even realize that this is happening, but there are a lot of things that can go behind contributing to toxic children. And even like, helicopter parenting, giving them everything they want, telling them that they can be anything and have anything and that they are just absolutely wonderful. I mean, these are prime environments to begin to potentially raise a narcissist. Or perhaps you’ve been overbearing in the name of love or maybe weren’t as emotionally available as you could have been or you used your child at some point for some emotional support. Maybe you were overly severe in the name of discipline or on the opposite you actually resisted discipline all in the name of love.

As parents, we always have something we need to own and apologize for again. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying, I am not blaming you for your children’s behavior. Their response is their responsibility. And just because the Bible says that we should be honored, it also doesn’t mean that we get a pass for our bad and inappropriate neglectful, controlling, demanding behaviors. 

Ephesians 6:4 tells us, “fathers, do not exasperate your children instead, bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord.”

Now, I realize at this point, that your children are likely not young anymore, but how we raise them leaves an imprint and if you want this relationship and your child to have a fighting chance, I want to encourage you to start with an apology for where you’ve gone wrong. And then maybe you want to lead into the next steps. 

Number three:  address, the issues.

Scripture is clear that we are to forgive, but is it biblical to forgive someone who hasn’t repented? God doesn’t do that for us, we have to acknowledge our wrongdoing and sin and turn from it, but it’s our job to point out where we’ve been sinned against.

Luke 17:3 says, “if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sends against you seven times in the day and turns to you, seven times saying I Repent, you must forgive him.”

 So, as we see here, we first need to bring correction, and I wouldn’t recommend rebuking like, you would a child as they’re not children anymore. They are adults responsible for maintaining their part in a relationship, but we are to correct and point out to someone where they have wronged us, then if they repent, we forgive them. 

I have an entire video series coming out on forgiving those who hurt you and haven’t repented. But for now, I want you to just be careful that you don’t hold onto unforgiveness when there’s been repentance and you don’t excuse for behavior when there’s been no acknowledgment. And this can come in the form of deflecting, blaming, or defense. 

God requires genuine repentance and so should we, but God also forgives when we do and so should we. 

Number four: set boundaries.

Just like children when they reach a certain age are not required to obey their parents. Yes, honor not obey as parents at some point. Your job in raising them is kind of winding down if not finished and yes, I am a strong believer in always speaking into your children’s lives, but only if they let you.  If Timmy is arrogant, snide, manipulative. demanding and demeaning, he’s clearly showing no interest in what you have to offer his life and his parents, you should not be giving handouts to adult children, who don’t want what else you have to offer.

And I may beg to differ, we shouldn’t even be giving handouts if they do this only enables them to stay stuck. And yes, I realize that they’re going to say that’s not fair and I’m your child. 

How interesting, they like to pull the child card at that point but clearly, that title means nothing to them other than an excuse to take advantage of someone and by you continually giving in you’re actually communicating their behavior is acceptable.

 You want to truly help your child become respectful, functioning members of society and make no your best friend. And for, as long as you continue to observe the consequences for your children or your grandchildren, the longer you will keep them stuck in toxic relationship patterns, that are dishonoring to God and to you.

So is it time to tell Timmy to get his own place?

 Is it time to stop making lunches or, and doing laundry for a child that should have been doing their own 20 years ago? 

I want to encourage you, my friend, to apologize for allowing it to go on this long and then set your boundaries number to get support guilt and fear will keep you trapped in a co-dependent toxic dynamic. That’s why you need support. If you are going to get sucked back into every manipulative maneuver because you feel bad, you’re basically teaching your adult child that all they need to do is stay stronger than you and they’re going to win.

I want to encourage you, my friend, to find a counselor, a support group, and a Godly group of friends that can help you stay strong as you build your boundary muscles. The truth is, this isn’t an easy journey, it requires more than just saying no and you’re going to need some help in dealing with the residual feelings. The guilt, the fear, anger, sadness, but the truth is, you don’t know how this is going to turn out. They could turn around, they may not and my prayer is that your boundaries will snap your adult child into place so that it’s not the case. 

You may feel like you’re left with a fragmented relationship that’s making you wonder what you did wrong. And if you’re setting Godly boundaries, my friend, you’re doing everything right but that doesn’t take away the pain that you might be suffering because of this toxic relationship. 

If you are struggling with a toxic relationship dynamic, be sure to grab my free Toxic People Survival Guide.

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