Raising Adult Children

Boundaries with Your Adult Child

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mother crossing boundaries with adult child

The Basis of The Adult Child/Parent Relationship

There is a foundation that underpins every interaction with your adult child. It is something that should guide you whenever you wonder if you should say or do something. That foundation is: boundaries. Boundaries with our adult child to be specific.

Definition of Boundaries

The University Health Services at The University of California, Berkeley, defines personal boundaries as “…the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships”

But what does this mean in a parent/adult child relationship? The tricky thing about boundaries is there are no right and wrong answers, depending on you and your relationship. It also depends on what is important to you and your child. However, there are some boundary basics that could be considered the hallmark of a healthy relationship.

You Are You and I Am I

Establishing a clear boundary that says I am responsible for me and you are responsible for you. This can be hard for parents, because we often feel responsible for our child.

If it helps, keep in mind that setting a clear delineation between you and your child is part of parenting. In order for your adult child to be independent and a contributing member of society, they need to own themselves. This isn’t just some kind of psycho-babble, it has some very real applications.

Part of setting healthy boundaries with our adult child, they need to know their role and you need to know yours. Your role is to be responsible for your words and actions and they are responsible for theirs.

Lucy‘s twenty-four-year-old son was caught shoplifting and she was mortified. She wondered how this could happen; he was raised in a good home with loving parents who taught him right from wrong. She had a friend who was a lawyer and she considered asking him if he could get her son off on the charge. In the meantime, she knew he would have to move home when his work found out.

Lucy was confusing what was hers and what was her son’s to own. When something happens to your child, no one expects you not to worry or be upset. But taking on the solving of their problem is not hers to own, it is her son’s. Her son made a decision to shop lift. The consequences of that decision are his.

Letting her son suffer the consequences of his decision is a gift to him. If she bails him out of feeling the ramifications of his actions, then she robs him of his independence. By taking on the role of taking care of someone, she would put him in the position of being a small child.

Boundaries with Our Adult Children Go Two Ways

Now, before you start thinking the hard work is all on the parent’s end, let’s talk about the adult child. You see, boundaries work both ways.

If an adult child expects to cross their parent’s boundaries, they are again placing themselves in the child position.

Amy was twenty-six-years-old when she decided she was fed up with Daniel, her partner. They had been living together for four years and all he did was play games. Daniel sat at his computer for hours on end and didn’t contribute to the upkeep of their home. Leaving was hard because she relied on him for things like taking care of her finances and giving her a ride to work.

But she wasn’t worried, she had her parents. She showed up on their doorstep that night with her bags in hand. Amy informed them that she would be moving in now that she left Daniel. She was sad, but excited because this would be the ideal time to quit her job and work on her lifelong dream of becoming a yoga teacher. Once she had her credentials, then she could start saving for a studio.  

Amy not only crossed her parent’s boundaries, she blew right past them. She was an adult acting like a child. She didn’t ask her parents if she could move home, she told them. Amy assumed that of course they would take care of her, they are her parents. She put herself in the role of a child who needed to be taken care of by her parents.

The ironic part is that Amy, at some point will probably complain about her parents treating her like a child. She will be able to identify where her boundaries lay If they ask her to do chores, have a curfew and follow their rules.

Easy Way to Approach Boundaries With Our Adult Child

When in doubt, there is one easy way to determine if you and your adult child have healthy boundaries. Simply imagine it with the other party as an acquaintance or friend.

Would it be appropriate to show up on a friend’s doorstep and announce you are moving in? Would you expect them to house and feed you for years while you pursue your dream? If a friend commits a crime, would you automatically think that they will now have to move in with you?

Would you ask a friend how much money they have in their bank? Or if they are looking for a job hard enough?

This idea of owning your own stuff is a basic boundary that are at the core of healthy relationships. There are other, more specific boundaries that you may wish to establish that are personal to you and your adult child. One person may decide they won’t act as a babysitter for their grandchild while another is willing to while the adult child works. But that is another story… Personal Boundaries With Your Adult Child.

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