Boundaries with adult children may not happen on their own. Sometimes you need to take action.
When your children were young, your presence was central to their lives. You provided daily support and supervision.
This changes when they grow up. When you’re parenting adults, your role is no longer the same as it was.
When young adults leave the family home, boundaries with parents often happen organically. Your children settle into their new life with its freedoms and responsibilities.
But if you have an adult child living or moving back home, those boundaries might not be as clear. Having more time with your kids can be nice, but you may have to be deliberate about establishing your new place in their lives.
- Reducing financial support, including shared credit cards and bank accounts until their finances are separate from yours and you no longer have access or obligation.
- Resisting the impulse to rescue them so they can learn from their mistakes.
- Requiring that they pay rent and their share of the expenses if they live with you
- Building your identity outside the parent-child relationship and encouraging them to do the same.
- Respecting their autonomy when they make choices that are different from yours.
- Allowing them to transition into adult care and respect their wishes regarding your level of involvement if your kid has a medical or mental health condition.
- Setting emotional boundaries by encouraging each person to be responsible for their happiness.
- Supporting your kid’s choices in areas like work and relationships rather than trying to impose your own will.
Having your adult children live with you can make it easier to stay connected. Research from 2019 shows that young adults who leave their parents’ homes late are more likely to:
- remain close to them later in life
- live close by
- see their parents often
However, it can also make it tricky to create the distance you may need to establish boundaries. Ways to create that distance include:
- maintaining separate schedules
- taking separate vacations
- keeping date night between you and your partner
It may help to think of your adult child as a (friendly and familiar!) roommate rather than a dependent.
If your child has left home but leans on you for help with routine issues, you may have to set limits. It helps to make one change at a time and give some advanced notice.
On the other hand, you might be dealing with angry adult children if you pry into their lives more than they’d like.
It can be hard to let go of frequent contact, but compromising with weekly phone calls or a monthly family meal can give them the distance they need while allowing you to remain connected.
Setting healthy boundaries is one way to start. Boundaries allow your kids to exist as adults, even those living under your roof.
You can listen to our podcast on Setting Boundaries with Your Family to learn more.
It might be easy to add their credit card bill to your payables pile and accept their bank transfer later.
But when you hand them their (sealed!) envelope from the mail, you’re not just respecting their privacy. You’re also giving adult kids the chance to learn from natural consequences if they don’t face their responsibilities.
Respect for their independence should go both ways. While you hand off their bill-paying responsibility, respecting their privacy is also appropriate if they don’t want to discuss work, school, or social life.
Having adult kids means your role as a parent has changed. The role change doesn’t mean you lose having them in your life, but it does mean the family dynamic will be different.
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 codependence.
If mental health challenges are a part of your family dynamic, this may change how you set boundaries. Getting professional support can help you through this process.