Your parents may toil with releasing control over their adult child. You may have a hard time separating yourself. Boundaries can empower you and improve the fitness of your bond.
As an adult, boundaries with parents are like vehicle tires: Nearly everyone has them, but you don’t know what shape they’re in until the rubber hits the road.
Perhaps you have a good relationship but are enmeshed in each other’s lives. Some parents may have been overprotective when you were growing up, usually coming from a place of love. Nevertheless, they’re having a hard time letting go.
Still, other parents may be toxic, manipulative, or abusive and you’re needing to take a stand.
Whether you have porous or rigid boundaries, the lack of healthy boundaries can actually create tension and resentment, hindering a sound relationship with your parent.
Parent-child relationship and culture
There may be familial or cultural differences in terms of expected and acceptable parental involvement — and that’s OK, there’s no judgment. Older studies dive deeper into parental influence in line with cultural norms on adult children’s:
Every person has the right to make decisions regarding parental involvement, and yours may differ from others. You can do what makes sense for your personal needs and preference in the context of your cultural and familial values.
Children and their parents have longer relationships than most people have with anyone else. Long-lasting relationships might be stable or intense, but they can become a hindrance to growth.
There’s a power imbalance in that this person or people did one or more of the below:
- brought you into this world
- nurtured you
- financed you
- sacrificed to keep you alive
But like most nurturing animals on this earth, as babies grow it becomes increasingly necessary for them to stand on their own. This can naturally cause conflict.
Setting boundaries with your mom, dad, or caregiver might be rough and uncomfortable.
Dr. Stephani Jahn is a licensed mental health counselor in Florida and national certified counselor, who specializes in helping adults overcome trauma related to their family of origin.
She explains that “For adult children, holding boundaries with parents can feel nearly impossible.”
The parent-child relationship is strong, even if it is toxic or negative. Jahn further details, “The child in us perpetually fears the parent’s rejection if we upset them because in childhood we needed the parent in order to survive.”
She goes on to explain that as adults we’re responsible for our well-being, so setting boundaries with parents is sometimes the only way to right-size the power over yourself.
Setting healthy boundaries with parents can make a difference in your life and family relationships. Licensed clinical social worker and nurse Judith Aronowitz explains that some of the benefits on both sides include:
Boundary issues between parents and children vary for each relationship. However, Dr. Lauren Napolitano, a licensed psychologist out of Narberth, Pennsylvania, explains that some signs show when boundaries are necessary for your parents:
Signs parent(s) need boundaries with you
- a history of helicopter parenting (which experts say is common for parents of college-aged children)
- stopping by their adult child’s home without calling first
- taking up all of their adult child’s time
- giving their unsolicited opinion
- interfering with the child’s occupation or personal life
- trying to control their child’s decisions
- comparing their child to others
- commenting negatively on their child
- using emotional blackmail
- not recognizing personal preference
- heavy guilt trips
And it’s not just on them. You may have grown up with a certain cushion of assistance from your caregivers it may be hard to part with. Signs you need to set yourself up for success with boundaries may include:
Signs you need boundaries with your parents
- you come over to their home without calling first
- you still do laundry at your parent’s house, take most of your meals there (without contributing) or have bills sent to them
- they pay your bills apart from a temporary circumstance or agreed-upon repayment plan
- you call them every time you have a conflict or decision to make, without problem-solving first
- you are enmeshed in their day-to-day personal life
- you’re codependent with challenges or daily tasks (outside of caregiving or owning a business together)
- they know intimate details about your relationships or your partner(s) frequently hear “My mom/dad said we should …”
- an overall lack of maturity when it comes to adulting or emotional intelligence (EQ) due to being enabled
You can set boundaries by:
- noticing unhealthy aspects of your relationship
- defining your values and needs
Consider setting only one limit at a time to give your parents (and you!) time to adjust. Putting your growth and well-being first is essential, so do what makes you comfortable.
You might feel guilty for setting boundaries with your parents but try to withstand the negative feelings. You’ll likely feel grateful that you implemented them once the initial awkwardness wears off.
Consider being clear about what you expect of them and yourself, to prevent confusion or miscommunication.
How do you set boundaries with toxic parents?
Dealing with toxic parents can be hard, but you’ll likely feel better for putting your well-being first. Toxicity can hinder your mental health, and boundaries can help.
Try to keep your cool when dealing with them, as they — like we did as youths — may test them or not take boundaries seriously. Arguing with your parent won’t help, and it could make you both feel worse.
You can be clear about what will happen if they (or you) don’t honor new boundaries. If boundaries don’t feel upheld, consider paring back the time you spend together for a bit.
What a setting boundary may sound like
“Mom I appreciate you caring about my love life. If you keep connecting with folks I date on Facebook and messaging them I won’t be able to talk with you about this part of my life moving forward.”
How do you set boundaries with older parents?
Older parents might still see you as their young child and want to treat you that way. However, setting boundaries can help you feel confident in your autonomy. You can tell them ‘no’ without justifying your reason, no matter how many times they ask.
They might not back down immediately, but repeating your original answer will help them recognize the boundary. Try being patient with your parents as they adjust to the requested changes.
Your parent isn’t perfect, and being compassionate can help them learn.
Another helpful way to set boundaries with older parents is expressing appreciation when they respect your boundaries. When you show appreciation, they can see how important it is to you.
Setting boundaries with your parents might not be easy, but it can improve your well-being and help both sides feel appreciated and autonomous. You’ll likely feel better knowing you have privacy and freedom as an adult.
Parents don’t always give up command over their child’s life easily, and it can be hard for them to let go.
You deserve to live by your terms, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Once you set boundaries, you can work on improving your relationship with your parents. They’ll learn to respect your wishes, recognizing that you’ll be OK without their constant presence or opinion.