setting boundaries with adult children

Krystal DeVille

Family adult children.

We’ve all heard the saying about kids “They grow up so fast!” But what happens when they’ve grown up, and the dynamics of your relationship need some tweaking? That’s where setting boundaries with adult children comes into play.


  • Boundaries Foster Growth and Respect: Setting boundaries with adult children, while challenging, promotes mutual understanding, respect, and personal growth for both parents and their offspring. They’re not barriers but bridges to a healthier relationship.
  • Communication is Crucial: Open and transparent dialogue is essential in establishing, understanding, and maintaining boundaries. Regular discussions prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parties are aligned in their expectations and understanding.
  • Adaptability is Key: As life situations and relationships evolve, so should boundaries. They are not static constructs but flexible guidelines that can be revisited and adjusted to reflect the current dynamics of the relationship.


Mother and daughter sitting on sofa.

Why Boundaries Matter

Boundaries set limits are the foundation of healthy relationships. They’re not just about setting limits; they’re about understanding and respecting individual needs, values, and feelings. Here’s a more in-depth look:

  • Personal Identity and Autonomy: Boundaries help both parents and adult children maintain their sense of self. As children grow, they develop their own beliefs, values, and priorities. Boundaries ensure that these individual identities are recognized and respected.
  • Preventing Resentment: Overstepping boundaries can lead to feelings of resentment. By setting clear boundaries, both parties can avoid feelings of being taken advantage of or feeling smothered.
  • Promoting Emotional Well-being: Boundaries allow for emotional space. This space is essential for personal growth, self-reflection, and emotional well-being. It ensures that both parents and adult children have the room to grow, make mistakes, learn, and evolve.
  • Safety and Security: Just as physical boundaries (like walls and fences) provide security, emotional and psychological boundaries provide a sense of safety in relationships. They ensure that interactions are predictable and respectful.

Think of boundaries as a garden fence. While it delineates where one’s property begins and ends, it also protects the garden, allowing flowers to bloom without the threat of being trampled.

The Challenges Of Setting Boundaries With Grown Children

.Setting healthy boundaries and boundaries with adult children can be akin to navigating a maze. You know there’s a way through, but it’s filled with twists, turns, and occasional dead ends. Here’s why it’s challenging:

  • History of Caregiving: Parents have spent years in a caregiving role. Transitioning from this role, where decisions were often made for the child, to one where the adult child is autonomous can be jarring.
  • Fear of Alienation: Many parents fear that setting boundaries might push their adult children away. The thought of causing a rift or creating distance can be paralyzing.
  • Guilt: Some parents feel guilty about setting boundaries. They might feel they’re being selfish or not supportive enough.
  • Cultural and Societal Expectations: In some cultures and societies, the idea of setting boundaries with family, especially children, might be frowned upon. This can add an external layer of pressure on parents.

However, it’s essential to remember that boundaries aren’t barriers. They’re not about keeping someone out but about fostering respect, understanding, and a healthier relationship. It’s about ensuring that both the parent and the adult child feel valued, heard, and respected.


Mature Parents Frustrated With Adult Son.

Navigating the financial dynamics between parents and their adult children can be complex. As these children enter adulthood, they often face financial and mental health challenges that might lead them back to their parents for assistance.

However, these interactions can lead to misunderstandings and strained relationships without clear financial boundaries. In this section, we will get into the intricacies of setting and maintaining financial boundaries, ensuring clarity in monetary support, and fostering a healthy, respectful relationship between parents and their adult children living elsewhere.

Financial Boundaries With Adult Children

Aspect of Financial BoundariesDescription
Nature of Financial RequestDetermine if the request is a one-time emergency (e.g., medical bills) or recurrent (e.g., monthly rent).
Clarity in Financial AidClearly define terms for loans (repayment, interest rates) and ensure gifts are understood as non-repayable.
Financial EnmeshmentAvoid blurred lines in financial responsibilities, like routinely paying an adult child’s bills without agreement.
Balance in Financial SupportAid in genuine needs but also guide adult children towards financial literacy and responsibility.
Evolving Financial LandscapesPeriodically revisit boundaries to adjust to changing financial situations for both parents and adult children.
Emotional Significance of MoneyRecognize that financial interactions carry emotional weight, symbolizing care, love, or influence.
Open Financial DialoguesFoster open discussions about financial expectations to prevent misunderstandings and ensure mutual respect.

Financial boundaries are the parameters we set around monetary interactions and support. As adult children wade through the intricacies of adulthood, they often encounter financial hurdles. These challenges might prompt them to turn to their parents for help. Yet, without well-defined boundaries, such monetary interactions can spiral into misunderstandings feelings of resentment, and even foster a sense of long-term dependency.

It’s crucial first to discern the nature of the financial request when setting boundaries. Are we addressing a one-time emergency like unexpected medical bills or car repairs? Or is the assistance sought more recurrent, such as help with monthly rent or bills? Recognizing the difference is pivotal in determining the kind of support one might be inclined to offer.

When offering financial aid, clarity becomes paramount. If the support is a loan, laying out the repayment terms, potential interest rates, and a clear repayment schedule is essential. On the other hand, if it’s a gift, it’s important to ensure the recipient comprehends its non-repayable nature, warding off potential future disputes.

A phenomenon known as financial enmeshment can emerge when the demarcation between individual financial responsibilities becomes fuzzy. A classic example is a parent habitually settling an adult child’s credit card bills without prior discussion or mutual agreement. Such practices can inadvertently cultivate a sense of dependency and diminish the child’s financial accountability.

Moreover, balancing aiding a person in genuine times of need and inadvertently promoting unsound financial behaviors is essential. Rather than perpetually rescuing an adult child from financial pitfalls, it might be more beneficial in the long run to steer them toward financial literacy.

This could involve nudging them to participate in budgeting workshops or even gifting them a consultation with a financial advisor.

Financial landscapes are ever-evolving. A parent’s retirement fund might suffer a setback, or an adult child might secure a stable employment opportunity. Such shifts underscore the importance of periodically revisiting and recalibrating financial boundaries to reflect current realities.

Furthermore, monetary interactions often carry more than just their face value; they bear emotional significance. Money can be emblematic of care, affection, authority, or influence. It’s vital to be attuned to these emotional undercurrents. For instance, while an adult child might interpret financial support as an expression of parental love, for young adults, the parent might view it as a conduit to sustain a bond or exert a degree of influence.

Financial discussions can be somewhat taboo in many familial settings, leading to baseless assumptions or misunderstandings, so it’s imperative to champion open dialogues about financial anticipations, requirements, and boundaries. Such candid conversations can act as a bulwark against feelings of bitterness or perceptions of exploitation.

While we’ve discussed the intricacies of parent-adult child relationships, it’s equally important to nurture bonds between siblings. Get into our piece on The Art of Fostering Sibling Bonding to explore strategies and insights on strengthening these invaluable familial connections.

Emotional Boundaries

  • Emotional boundaries serve as the buffer between individuals’ emotions and responsibilities, ensuring that feelings are both acknowledged and respected. This becomes especially pertinent in parent-adult child dynamics.
  • Parents naturally harbor a profound desire to support their children emotionally, a sentiment that persists even as children mature. Yet, the nature of this support must adapt with time.
  • While parents can be foundational emotional pillars:
    • It’s crucial to avoid becoming an emotional crutch, where the adult child leans excessively on the parent for validation or decision-making.
    • Over-reliance can stifle the child’s emotional development and resilience.
  • Parents should encourage adult children to:
    • Seek external support systems, such as professional counseling or support groups.
    • Cultivate robust friendships, allowing them to approach emotional challenges from varied angles.

Physical Boundaries

  • Physical boundaries relate to tangible interactions and the preservation of personal space, emphasizing respect, privacy, and mutual comprehension.
  • As adult children carve their own life trajectories:
    • Their interactions with the parental home shift, with actions like spontaneous visits or decisions to move back home potentially becoming contentious.
    • Though often rooted in affection, such unannounced visits might unintentionally breach the parents’ privacy or disrupt their schedules.
  • Conversely, parents might also feel compelled to drop by their adult child’s residence without notice, potentially infringing on the child’s autonomy.
  • When adult children opt to “boomerang” back home due to reasons like financial constraints or emotional challenges:
    • It’s imperative to outline the specifics of this arrangement, from the stay’s duration to household expense contributions and privacy expectations.

In sum, both setting emotional boundaries and physical boundaries underscore the importance of mutual respect and understanding. They highlight the need to acknowledge the evolving dynamics of the parent-adult-child relationship, ensuring the bond remains robust, nurturing, and balanced.


Father upset with adult daughter.

When navigating the intricate dynamics of parent-adult-child relationships, encountering resistance is an expected part of the journey. This resistance can manifest in various forms, from overt disagreements to subtle passive-aggressive behaviors. The key to effectively managing such resistance lies in truly understanding its root cause.

Resistance, at its core, is a natural human response to change or perceived challenges to one’s autonomy or beliefs.

When an adult child resists, it often reflects underlying emotions or beliefs.

It could be driven by fear—perhaps a fear of change, of losing parental support, or even of stepping into the vast realm of independence. On the other hand, resistance might also stem from a sense of entitlement, where the adult child feels they have an inherent right to certain privileges or support without corresponding responsibilities.

It’s essential to delve deep into these underlying emotions and beliefs to navigate this resistance. Engaging in open, non-confrontational conversations can shed light on the true drivers of resistance. By understanding the heart of the matter, parents can tailor their approach, ensuring that appropriate boundaries and expectations are set to acknowledge these feelings while still upholding the core principles.

However, understanding the root cause doesn’t mean always acquiescing to the resistance. There’s a delicate balance to be struck between staying firm and being compassionate. Setting and maintaining boundaries with adult children is not a competition or a power struggle; it’s a journey of mutual growth and understanding.

While it’s crucial for parents to remain steadfast in their own boundaries with your adult, to ensure clarity and consistency, it’s equally vital to approach the situation with empathy and compassion. This duality of firmness and compassion acknowledges the adult child’s feelings and experiences while also emphasizing the importance of the boundaries in place.


Setting boundaries, especially with adult children, might initially appear as a restrictive measure. However, these boundaries serve as catalysts for numerous positive outcomes. Two of the most profound benefits include strengthening personal relationships and promoting personal growth and independence.

Strengthened Relationships

At first glance, boundaries might be misconstrued as barriers or walls, designed to keep individuals apart. However, a deeper understanding reveals a different perspective:

  • Bridges, Not Walls: Unlike walls that separate, boundaries act more like bridges. They create a structured space where both parties can interact with clarity, understanding each other’s limits and expectations.
  • Foundation of Respect: By setting and respecting boundaries, both parents and adult children demonstrate mutual respect. This respect forms the bedrock of a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
  • Clear Communication: Boundaries necessitate open dialogue. This continuous communication ensures that both parties are on the same page, reducing misunderstandings and fostering trust.

Personal Growth And Independence

The establishment of boundaries isn’t just about managing interactions with adult kids; it’s also about personal development for both parents and their adult children:

  • Learning Autonomy: For the adult child, boundaries often serve as a nudge toward self-reliance. They provide the framework within which the child can make decisions, face consequences, and ultimately stand on their own two feet.
  • Embracing Detachment: For parents, setting boundaries is a lesson in letting go. It’s a realization that their role is evolving from a primary caregiver to more of a guide or consultant. This detachment, while challenging, can be liberating, allowing parents to rediscover themselves outside of just the parental role.
  • Shared Growth: Interestingly, as adult children grow and become more independent, parents too undergo a parallel journey of growth. They learn to navigate the new dynamics, finding a balance between involvement and detachment.


Why Is It Hard To Set Boundaries With Adult Children?

Setting boundaries with a father and adult children is a complex endeavor, deeply rooted in years of shared history and profound emotional connections.

For many parents, most of their child’s life has been spent in a caregiving role, where they are responsible for making decisions in the child’s best interest.

Transitioning from this protective, decision-making role to one that resembles more of a peer or advisory relationship with adult daughter can be a challenging shift. It’s a delicate balance of acknowledging the adult child’s autonomy while still maintaining the parental instinct to guide and protect.

How Can I Ensure My Adult Child Understands The Boundaries?

The cornerstone of ensuring understanding and healthy boundaries is open and transparent communication. It’s essential to initiate discussions about boundaries, providing clear explanations and rationales. Clarifying any ambiguities and being open to questions can further solidify understanding. As life progresses and situations change, revisiting these boundaries is beneficial, ensuring they remain relevant and understood by all parties involved.

What If My Adult Child Refuses To Respect The Boundaries?

Consistency is paramount when faced with resistance. If a particular boundary is crucial for the well-being of the relationship or individuals involved, it’s essential to reinforce its significance. Reiterate the reasons behind the boundary, emphasizing its importance for mutual respect and understanding. While it’s essential to remain firm, approaching the situation with empathy can facilitate a more productive conversation.

Can Boundaries Change Over Time?

Yes, boundaries are not static constructs. As individuals grow, relationships evolve, and life circumstances shift, the boundaries that once seemed fitting might need adjustments. It’s natural for boundaries to be revisited and recalibrated to reflect the current dynamics of the relationship and the needs of both parties.

How Can I Support My Adult Child Without Overstepping?

Supporting an adult child without infringing on their autonomy requires a mindful approach. It’s beneficial to offer guidance when solicited rather than imposing unsolicited advice. Encouraging them to make decisions, face challenges, and learn from experiences fosters their independence. Above all, maintaining open communication channels ensures that support is provided in a manner that’s both appreciated and respectful of boundaries.


Parenting is an ever-evolving journey, with each stage bringing its own challenges and rewards. As children mature into adults, the parent-child dynamic shifts, emphasizing the importance of boundaries. While initially seeming restrictive, these boundaries are liberating tools that foster mutual respect and understanding. They allow parents to transition from primary caregivers to mentors while adult children learn autonomy and responsibility.

Despite the challenges in establishing these boundaries, the result is a balanced, deeply connected, healthy relationship built on mutual growth and respect. The effort invested in this transformative journey is undeniably worth the enriched relationship it cultivates.

As we cover the nuances of parent-adult child relationships, it’s important to understand the foundational approaches that shape these dynamics. For a comprehensive look at various approaches to parenting, check out our guide on Parenting Styles.

About Krystal DeVille

Hello! I’m Krystal DeVille. By day, I wear many hats: a homeschool teacher, wife, and mother. By night, I’m a fervent journalist, pouring my thoughts and experiences onto paper. Parenthood, for me, has been an exhilarating roller-coaster filled with emotions, invaluable lessons, and moments of sheer joy. With three wonderful kids of my own, I’ve journeyed through the highs and lows — from sleepless nights to their very first steps and those unforgettable proud parent moments.

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