I remember when our daughter was young, my presence was central to her life. I, as
Mum, provided daily support and supervision. And now that she is an adult, the way in
which I am present for her has had to change…and am still learning everyday along the
way of this new season, which has its challenges!
When our young adults leave the family home, I realize boundaries with parents often
happen organically. Your children settle into their new life with its freedoms and
responsibilities. Setting boundaries with our adult children, especially those who are
articulate, shrewd, manipulative, and can present very persuasive arguments, can be
very challenging and frustrating.
Do you help your adult child to the point that it has become a pattern of unhealthy
rescuing? Maybe you ‘save’ your adult child every time he or she is in trouble? You may
be making things worse in the long run. Maybe you struggle with knowing where to draw
that fine (or not so fine) line between letting them know how to stand on their own two
feet and bailing them out. As parents, we need to be thoughtful about how to assist our
adult children without enabling them.
Adult children who remain overly dependent on their parents become dependent,
because we, as parents have colluded with the adult children in enabling them to
become codependent. Often this relationship stems from those parents who want to be
needed or feel the need to overcompensate for childhood reasons and or their own
childhood issues. It can be very challenging for parents to set boundaries for adult
children who have become overly dependent. It is frustrating, draining and emotionally
To start setting those boundaries for your adult children, it is well worth asking the
❖ Is your child acting entitled to, and demanding things they once enjoyed before
like: perks at home, food, responsibilities of washing up etc.?
❖ Does it feel like you are living from crisis to crisis with your adult child?
❖ Do you sacrifice too much to meet your adult child’s needs?
❖ Are you afraid of hurting your child?
❖ Are you feeling burdened, used, resentful, or burnt out?
As children graduate or leave home, as parents we need to increasingly push them into
becoming self-sufficient. This does not mean parents should abruptly put their adult
child on the street. At the same time, the adult child needs to “own” his or her goals and
plans to become self-reliant.
Sometimes, crises occur that send children back home such as a bad breakup,
problems at college, or health issues. This is acceptable as long as there is a plan in
place for the adult child to become independent.
Try not to be adversarial as you encourage your child to become more independent.
The goal is to be supportive and understanding with a collaborative mindset. Be calm,
firm, and non-controlling in your demeanor as you express these guiding expectations
below to motivate your adult child toward healthy independence:
- First and foremost, when their time comes to leave home, you need to let them
go out into the world as opposed to clinging to them. Often the reason for this is
your fear of being lonely without them, and or you cannot trust that they will be
okay or that they can actually get on without you.
- The next step is cutting the apron strings of financial support. This means having
very clear lines on where their finances begin and end, and their financial
responsibilities when they are in the family home. Their finances have to reach a
place where their finances are separate from yours and you no longer have
access or obligation.
- Encourage working children to contribute part of their pay for room and board.
- Don’t give money on a whim or indiscriminately. Spending money should be
contingent on children’s efforts toward independence.
- Develop a response that you can offer in the event that you are caught off guard.
Agree that you won’t give an answer for a certain time period, whether it be the
next morning or at least for 24 hours. For example, the next time you get an
urgent call that says, “I need money,” respond by saying, “I’ll have to talk it over
with your father,” (or, if you are single, “I’ll have to think it over”) and we’ll get
back to you tomorrow.” This will allow you time to consider it and give you a
chance to think and talk about it beforehand. It will also show that you are
remaining steady in your course while presenting a united front.
- If you can afford it, offer to help pay starting costs of rent on an apartment.
- Make an agreement for decreasing contributions to rent until the child is fully
- Set limits on how much time you spend helping your child resolve crises.
Encourage the child to problem-solve by asking, “What are your ideas?”
- Remember you are not in a popularity contest. Be prepared for your child to
reject you. He or she will most likely come around later.
When you have adult children, it means your role as a parent has changed. The role
doesn’t mean you lose having them in your life, but it does mean the family dynamic will
Ironically, clear boundaries can bring you closer together. They allow your adult children
to evolve, grow, and help protect against relationship breakdowns that can occur with
too much codependency on parents.