Setting Healthy Boundaries with Adult Children

Parenting is an ever-evolving process, and can be especially tricky when our children reach adulthood. As a mother, it can be difficult to set boundaries with adult children. We want to provide help and support but also give them the freedom they need to become self-sufficient adults.   It can be difficult to know how much freedom to give them and when it’s time to draw the line. Establishing healthy boundaries with your adult children is essential for allowing them their own space while still offering guidance and support.   But how do you set boundaries without feeling guilty?  Let’s explore a few tips on how to establish these boundaries in a respectful, loving way.

Why Boundaries are Necessary for a Healthy Relationship

Boundaries allow both parties to maintain their sense of autonomy and respect for one another. It helps keep the relationship healthy by providing a framework for both of you to communicate effectively without feeling resentful or guilty. When setting boundaries, it is important to remember that your child is an adult and should be treated as such – even if he or she is still living at home or relying on financial assistance from you.

a woman in orange top sitting while talking to another woman symbolizing   and adult child communicating with her parent.
Photo by RODNAE Productions on retreived 2/17/2023

Having Open Communication

The key to any successful relationship is communication. Make sure that you are open and honest with your child about what kind of behavior is expected from them, as well as what the consequences will be if those expectations are not met. For example, if they live at home it is reasonable to expect them to clean up after themselves. Additionally, encourage your children to talk openly about any issues or concerns they may have so that everyone feels heard and respected in the process.

Be Clear About Expectations

The key to setting boundaries is making sure your expectations are clear from the start. This means that everyone involved—you, your partner, and your adult child—must communicate openly and honestly about what is acceptable behavior and where you plan to draw the line. When you are clear about expectations up front, there will be fewer misunderstandings down the road.  

Set Consequences Ahead of Time

Once you have established expectations, it’s important that you also set consequences ahead of time if those expectations are not met. Setting consequences ahead of time communicates respect for yourself and for your adult child by establishing a safe environment for both of you to grow as individuals without worrying about stepping on each other’s toes or hurting each other’s feelings. This will help ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what constitutes unacceptable behavior and what the repercussions will be for breaking the agreed-upon rules.

Be Flexible & Adaptable

Finally, it’s important to remember that parenting doesn’t stop just because children become adults —it just takes on a different form. As life changes, so too may our boundaries with our adult children; therefore, it’s important that we remain flexible while still holding firm to our expectations and consequences. That way we can make sure our relationships with our adult children remain strong even as they move into adulthood.

Putting It All Together

Here is an example of how to institute healthy boundaries with your adult children. 

Maddy has asked to move back home while she goes to graduate school. Maddy’s parents are thrilled she is pursuing higher education and are excited to have more time with her. Seems perfect, right?  It can be with the right boundaries.  Maddy and her parents need to define what living back home means.  Will Maddy be expected to pay some amount of money towards expenses?  What chores will she be responsible for?  Maddy and her parents need to establish when and how many friends she can have over and if her boyfriend will be allowed to spend the night.  All three of them need to discuss how they will handle conflicts, as well.  Lastly, Maddy should lay out her plan with them. Specifically, how long does she expect graduate school to take and will she live at home the entire time. 

Mother and daughter laughing on sofa.
Photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash retrieved 2/17/2023

As parents of adult children, there comes a point when we need to let go and step back so they can experience life on their own terms while maintaining appropriate boundaries along the way. With open communication, clear expectations, pre-set consequences, and flexibility as needed, all parties can benefit from healthy relationships between parent and child no matter what age they may be!

Sharon P. Fisher, PMHNP-BC, PMH-C is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. She founded Nurtured Well, LLC to help Maryland and D.C. women through all stages of their adult life.

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