Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children

December 7, 2022 Liana M. Scott

I have three children -- two daughters and a son. They're adults now with busy lives and stresses of their own. My adult children are exceptional individuals. I love and respect them as I know they love and respect me. Why, then, do I get anxious when I need or want to speak to them, ask them about their lives, or talk about something important to me?

My Anxiety Asks, 'Why Do My Adult Kids Keep Me at Arm's Length?'

Being born and raised in the '60s, kids were better seen, not heard. It was a time of corporal punishment, dispensed at home and in the classroom, and respect for your elders was demanded. Good behavior was rarely recognized because it was expected. If rules were broken, punishments were doled out swiftly with the textbook admonishment of, "I hope you learned your lesson." Our feelings weren't considered, and speaking our thoughts was a no-no.

Behaviors and attitudes had drastically changed by the time my husband and I had our kids in the late '80s and early '90s. Eager to do things differently than our parents and their parents before them, we raised our children to be respectful while also being strong-minded and curious. We taught them to push boundaries and question the status quo, even at home. We raised them to be independent thinkers, to stand up to injustice, and to exercise empathy.

Upon reflection, it seems like a pretty good upbringing. At least it does to me, a kid who wasn't even allowed to ask, "Why?"

But it seems that how we raised our kids, with the encouragement and freedom to think and feel out loud, may have instilled a certain apathy in them. Not towards other people necessarily, but toward us—their parents—insomuch as they seem indifferent to what we have to offer. They keep us at arm's length.

Anxiety in Relationships with Adult Children

When I was a similar age with a young family and stresses of my own, I listened when my mother and father spoke to me. Their experience and wisdom commanded attention. While I may not have agreed with their perspectives and sometimes secretly rolled my eyes at their old-fashioned values and approach, I deferred to them. I gave them the metaphorical floor.

It is not so today.

I feel that this generation's adult children—the less than 40-somethings—have much less tolerance for what parents have to say.

When one of my adult children shares an experience, I must cleverly reverse-engineer my response so as not to steal their thunder. In as straightforward a way as possible, I relay my disguised expertise and am still sometimes met with, "This isn't about you, Mom."

It's become a very "I might come to you if I need you and don't tell me how it is or was for you unless I ask you" kind of existence, which makes for a one-sided, walking-on-eggshells relationship. As a mom, this is very hard.

It's not disrespect, although sometimes it can come off that way. Instead, it's like a lack of appreciation for my (parental) experience and knowledge coupled with little or no desire to entertain my thoughts and ideas.

Casual conversation is easy. Talking about the grandkids is a piece of cake. But broaching a subject with substance with my kids can be a source of anxiety. Here are some of the thoughts I have:

"I don't want to insinuate myself where I'm not wanted or needed."

"Why won't she talk to me? Is it something I've done or said?"

"I don't want to trigger him."

"How will he percieve my questions and comments?"

"If I share my experience without prompting by her, will I be accused of making her situation about me?

"If I tell her I miss her, will she call me needy again?

"If I share how I'm feeling, and I cry, will he think—'There goes Mom, swimming in her emotion pool again.'"

While I know of at least three other moms my age with adult children who claim to have similar feelings, I realize that my generalized anxiety amplifies how I feel and react.

I will still question why my kids communicate with me the way they do—or don't, as the case may be. Maybe it's not apathy at all. Perhaps it's because we live in a time of information overload. Why rely on a parent's wisdom when a dozen YouTube and TikTok videos by perfect strangers can validate your experience and provide reliable solutions to similar issues? Perhaps it's because psychotherapy is more readily accepted and available. Who knows?

For now, I remain steadfast in my desire to be there for my kids if and when they need me. With the help of my therapist, I hope to better understand where my insecurities come from and replace my anxious thoughts with more adaptive ones, the most significant thought being:

"I am enough."

APA Reference
Scott, L. (2022, December 7). Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Liana M. Scott

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June, 29 2024 at 5:05 am

I'm so grateful for finding you all here. My late mother was my best friend and we battled on together through domestic violence, death, birth, divorce, cancer and dementia. She helped raise my 3 sons all in their twenties now after their dad left when they were 5,3&2.
They are all high achievers and I'm very proud of them but I too feel like I'm walking on egg shells. They are critical, insensitive and hold me responsible for all the wrongs in the world. I also feel that I can't live my own life and all my choices and decisions are scrutinised. They hold their partners families in high regard and pander to all of their needs. I feel sad, lonely and often depressed after speaking with my eldest son. His partner is moody and demanding and I feel he takes it out on me rather than confront her. I'm 53, single, hard working and just want to start living a life without constant criticism and guilt. I've had enough! I think this generation are entitled, Narcissistic and very selfish.

June, 21 2024 at 6:33 pm

This is almost my exact experience as well. I have a 28 year old daughter who was living 500 miles away and is now in the process of moving 1600 miles away. I offered to help her with the move and she declined my help. I am flying out for a visit but I feel the same way when we talk, she never asks about me, or what is new here in her hometown. When I try to tell her things I think she may be interested in she does not seem to care, or is critical. I haven’t tried to give her any advice for years now, she always seems to know how to handle things. We are very different personality wise, she is very much like her father, and does not enjoy chatting. Speaking is only for the transfer of important information to them. I have a 23 year old son who is much more like me, very nurturing. But he gets anxiety and feels like the go between whenever i talk about my feelings regarding my husband and daughter. I basically have no one to talk to at all. I have a sister who I used to be closer with, but she works long hours and spends most of her free time with her 26 year old son who lives with her. They enjoy a lot of the same things, and have a very close relationship. She doesn’t seem to understand my situation. So I have been actively working on loving myself and becoming my own best friend. Which is hard to do at times, because I have been so used to putting myself last and working around my kids and family. It’s an ongoing process.

Stressed out
June, 3 2024 at 3:58 am

I really needed to read this today. My daughter is 19 and her relationship with her father/my husband has gotten to the point of her not talking to him. She says he neglected her when she was younger (he'd let her watch tv after school instead of playing with her); he would put her down (he'd tell her when she would do something wrong and she didn't like it), and how she grew up in an abusive environment. It kills me to see this happening but when I try to intervene I get told that my husband (he's a few years older than me; we had her when I was in my thirties) had groomed me and I have no backbone, otherwise I would have divorced him already. I don't want to divorce him, nor do I want to be stressed to the point where I can barely breathe. I keep blaming myself for everything - I should have done more, I should have insisted on therapy, I should have been stricter with her - and it doesn't help that 'everyone else' around us is perfect, with perfect families, perfect houses, perfect everything. We gave her all the love we could and now we get accused of being abusive and neglectful. :(

June, 24 2024 at 7:42 am

You’re not alone! I have two adult sons, 23 and 28. My husband and I did our very best with them gave them all the love and attention we had, gave our lives while they were growing up. Now, as adults, they have little use for me, or my husband. It is such an awful feeling, and it’s too upsetting to talk to them about it. I was in an awful car accident 8 years ago, I have a TBI which keeps me from being able to work or drive. I’m not the same person I once was, and it absolutely breaks my heart that my children can’t be bothered with now. My husband feels exactly the same way. I question everything I did and didn’t do. I have so much guilt over not making more home cooked meals, not taking more vacations, working when my children were young, my list is endless. If u try talking with either of them about this, I cry, which makes me feel ashamed.

July, 21 2024 at 1:33 pm

I did all those things you regret not doing.. I brought my .3 children up alone, everything home cooked, took them everywhere, tried to be the perfect mom. They would admit this, but as they got into their early 20s, they began to discard me and it's now all about their partners parents. They have even tracked down their long lost father and all is forgotten. My long years of struggle don't matter,. So I don't think you need to beat yourself up because you didn't make home cooked meals..I know of terrible parents who's adult children adore them. It's the luck of the draw how they turn out, however good or bad you brought them up. I could not have done more, yet mine have no time for mem. I'm done with the crying after so many years of this....I'm now just numb...i will never really from a broken heart.

June, 2 2024 at 5:41 am

Thanks so much everyone.... I'm not alone. I have a 35 yr old son and a 32 year old daughter. My son keeps in touch with me and see him about once a month. He calls me every week. My daughter no...... keeps me at arms length... doesnt take my calls, or if I message and ask if its a good time for a chat, its mostly know she is too busy. We used to be soooo close , I have stepped back and I respect she now has a husband. She doesnt share much of her life with me, I respect her privacy. She often does acknowledge my messages which leaves me feeling irrelevant. There is no conflict, I dont think I could talk to her about how I feel because she has said before my expectations are too high. I still work full- time, I lead a busy life and have tried to make a new life for myself. My husband ( not their father has a good relationship with both of my kids including my daughter. ) Sometimes I think she talks to him more than me. I feel like I gave her sooo much love growing up, but I feel she is gone. Im heart broken.

Emily W
May, 28 2024 at 5:48 am

Thank you I need to read this. So many articles seem go from the adult child side and basically says the mother is always wrong I admit I am not perfect. But latitude I have to given them is not given back - no respect.. All I ever wanted to do is love & support them and let find their way. They are very successful adults my children I did /do not have any hidden agenda just try my best. Yet I feel like I have walk on eggs shell and if I voice an opinion it often seem as negative or criticism which it is not. What makes it worst is my husband their father can say the same things and his comments are greeted warmly, he is praised Really starting to feel I need to be invisible in family occasions. Just smile and listen yet feel so emotional that if I say something I met with hostile response.

May, 26 2024 at 2:00 am

I have two sons, one living miles away I rarely see or hear from unless he has news. Those times I do see him he has a distinct lack of interest and talks to me like I’m stupid. The other is 8 years younger and still lives with me. He’s always been so sweet but is now talking to me like I just annoy him with everything I say. I speak and a frown crosses his forehead or he snaps at me. I wasn’t sure where I went wrong but now, after reading this thread, maybe I didn’t. I’m heartbroken, we all used to be so close and I miss them and what we had and it makes me feel so alone. They’re not like that with their dads or with anyone else actually so I feel like I miss out making the heartbreak so much worse. Thank you for helping me feel less alone.

May, 14 2024 at 3:57 am

Thank goodness we are not alone . I often ask myself why I feel so inadequate after visiting my 39 year old daughter ( 4 year old granddaughter) , why I m sad and relieved to be going home .... walking on eggshells , hoping I m not going to say the wrong thing when all I m trying to do is love them both and share special times . I feel I m kept as arms length and there is no closeness. Sadness and depression and guilt all kick in for a few days , but then I think , get on with it . As long as I see my beautiful granddaughter I m happy .... " I am enough" .... I will always be there when needed .

May, 6 2024 at 9:19 am

Im having the same problem and my daughter is home from college and i am so umcomfortable with her and I dont know if she got worse. She wont pick up after herself and she procrastinates and shes defensive. Its so hard we love each other. We have good communication when it comes to me listening to her and she tells me alot but when i tell her she needs to take care of something as an adult she gets mad and its so hard

May, 5 2024 at 11:06 am

I am going thru this as well. My children, 23 & 28,choose their computer over me. There is no doubt they love me. I wonder if the search bar, you tibe and tik tok has taken the place of family conversations and those gentle moments I remember having with my parents. Just like I am now looking for reassurance online, I am sure my children do the same. They seek solutions Ina tool not a person where they might look invulnerable or weak. Today's society doesn't look well on those needing help. No one wants to disappoint those they love

jo ellen
May, 4 2024 at 8:29 pm

i thought I was the only ine who felt this way. thank you for sharing.

April, 6 2024 at 12:15 pm

Thank you!!!! I needed to see this today. It's reassuring to see that I am not alone in my experience of feeling that my adult daughter is indifferent to me. Weeks, and sometimes months, will pass without hearing from her, and my infrequent texts or e-mails go unanswered unless it's for something that she wants me to do. When we do speak on the phone it is because I've reserved time (which is fine) but I am limited to 30 minutes and then she ends to call. She does not ask about my life or show any interest in what I'm doing. I am fortunate that she is financially secure, so is not asking for money. All I would truly love is having a relaxed relationship with some feeling of connection. On the rare times that we are together, I tread very lightly so that I don't say or do anything that could be construed by her as criticism or disapproval. Her distain for me is just always under the surface - she will become sarcastic or angry at the smallest thing. I find, in those cases, that I freeze rather than respond and risk having her twist the situation to find a way to blame me for "starting a fight." After encounters on the phone or through rare visits, I leave feeling exhausted, inadequate, and sad, wondering "why?" Thanks to all who have responded to this post - your support is valued more than you know.

April, 18 2024 at 4:38 am

This is my experience too. I do get to talk to my daughter but it’s all about her various and developing illnesses.

March, 19 2024 at 11:21 am

Wow did I need to read this at this very moment. My daughter thinks she knows better than me in every way. I am at this moment feeling I can’t do anything right . I’m lost.. fighting multiple myeloma and I feel totally alone.

May, 28 2024 at 6:22 am

I am so sorry to hear you are battling myeloma - horrible disease. I feel for you and understand your post completely!!

March, 18 2024 at 9:33 am

OMG thank you for this. This is spot on. I I have now figured when my head gets in the way of THEIR behavior I need to step back and say I AM ENOUGH. I have done the best I could in the challenging circumstances that we dealt with early on. My kids are now 39 and 35. They will figure it out. My grandchildren are all that matter to me and my relationship with them. I just need to keep my experience and advice to myself LOL I just smile and wave now. Thank you for letting me vent:)

December, 27 2023 at 1:11 pm

This was so on point.I am trying not to lose my temper but I'm heading in that direction with my adult daughter who keeps saying all the above in the article .She is 38 and since she has been with her kids father they have since broken up but he is estranged from his family and sarcastic about family relationships she has absorbed his terrible attitude and I try to be silent because of my love for my granddaughters and my relationship.with them but it's getting harder and harder dealing with my daughter's comments .

December, 15 2023 at 3:06 pm

Amazing - spot on to what I've been experiencing with my daughter for over the last ten years, or so. She is 41 now. About 5 years ago she broke her foot in a terrible accident. Her husband didn't step up to the plate to care for her and her two small children. I and my husband did of course. So she has been separated for 2 years now - and is trying to get divorced from her husband. She has since moved on to live a wonderful guy - and his young son. I had spent so much time with my grandkids - from their birth onward. My oldest gs is 14 and my gd is 9. I don't see them - or my daughter very much at all. They moved about 4 miles away - which really isn't far when you are welcomed. I know she lvoes and appreciates me - but doesn't return texts - doesn't pick up my calls. It's the holidays now and I need to talk to her about gifts, etc...and no answer. I know it's not personal - but c'mon answer my texts already. We have had a rough go these last several years - to the point where she has all out said FYou on the phone - and that really stung. She felt terrible about it - and then weirdly dropped by the next evening to go for a walk - but we didn't talk about hte fight. We used to be so so's REALLY hard now for me to deal with her - because I'm so afraid I will say the wrong thing. I honestly wonder if she is happy. I have stepped back a lot for her - and am just hoping by the time she is 50 she will come around...but till then, it's just so weird talking or dealing with her. She can be very condescending - just like her dad. Her dad I divorced when she was about 1 1/2 years old. So she doesn't really remember us being together. But wow, she is so much like her dad - so no wonder we clash so terribly. Thank you for writing this - I'm relieved to know it's just not me experiencing this distance.

October, 31 2023 at 9:57 pm

It wouldn’t be as bad but in our situation, son-in-law never had a dad & my husband LOVES that he has that son, even though he has a birth son… birth son lives in another state. Son in law & daughter bought the family home for way less than worth.
Being the mom, I have given up A LOT. But im still criticized by my son in law & my husband has slowly turned his way. My daughter only calls when she needs my help.
But im feeling sorry for myself….

October, 15 2023 at 4:49 pm

Thank you. Grandparent alienation is a torturous experience. Especially when there has been no abuse, substance or alcohol abuse, or a God less home. It’s painful and very unfair. Adult children can make your spirit soar or break it.

August, 13 2023 at 5:41 pm

OMG! I am sitting here beating myself up and ruining a beautiful day because of my adult daughter. I thought I was helping her with a situation but nope. I am glad I am not alone. Feeling down, unappreciated and going crazy.

July, 30 2023 at 3:10 pm

This is me exactly. And my situation. It sucks. I actually prefer not to see or be involved with adult kids as after the encounter, I end up feeling depressed and bad about myself. It lowers my confidence and it takes days for me to feel mentally good again. I feel so bad admitting I prefer almost no contact due to them making me feel bad.

August, 3 2023 at 3:57 am

We are in the same boat. It’s degrading and mentally exhausting.

May, 7 2024 at 4:37 am

Mentally exhausting, confusing and hurtful. How do you deal with it? Do you feel almost disrespected?

November, 19 2023 at 1:51 pm

I understand and agree with you. I realize the would not choose either one of my daughters as friends. That’s sad.

Kim Burnicle
November, 26 2023 at 7:06 pm

I just left my adult kids. They live 4 hours away and we spent thanksgiving week together. I noticed on the drive home I felt depressed and lonely. I got the feeling they were happy to see me go and they don’t need my anymore. I know they love me but I also think they don’t like me. They often use a tone of voice with me that leaves my feeling stupid and irrelevant. It’ll take me days to “get over” this sadness.

March, 28 2023 at 8:19 am

Thank you for this. I am enough! This is important for me to continue to relay to myself when I am feeling defeated as a mother of grown ups. <3

December, 7 2022 at 11:23 am

Your experience is pretty universal in democratic societies I think. Because I was your kids 40 years ago and I understand I just need to keep shut and nod. Girls playing dumb once again.

December, 7 2022 at 10:49 am


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