7 Tips for Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children
It can be hard to imagine your grown children leaving home and going off on their own. When they are little, you may dread letting go and you may wish that they could live with you forever.
Well, this reality is becoming ever more common as many young people struggle to afford rising housing costs or can’t find a job right out of school.
Of course, you want to welcome your adult kids into your home and support them as long as you can. There's nothing wrong with continuing to provide a living space to your grown children. This can be just what they need to help them get on their own feet.
But, living with grown-up kids is different than raising children, and there are a few things to know.
Family dynamics change once kids are grown. It’s important to set and maintain healthy boundaries. On the one hand, you need to accept that these kids are fully grown and you should not be parenting them in the same way you did when they were adolescents (no more curfews!).
But on the other hand, it’s vital for your well-being and mental health to set limits of your own so that your kids know what is expected of them in your home.
Related: 10 Tips for Dealing with In-Laws and Setting Healthy Boundaries
There is a fine line between helping adult children find their own way in life, and letting them become too dependent on you. Over the long term, you want them to develop their own independence even as you offer them support.
Ahead we share some tips on maintaining a healthy relationship with adult children living at home, and how to continue to support your older children when they need it without enabling them too much.
Are Your Grown Children Too Dependent?
Sometimes adult children living at home fail to launch. If your kids are remaining at home and taking advantage of your support without working to fix things like mental health issues or substance abuse problems, you may need to sit down with them and make a plan.
If you are not sure but you suspect that your child may be having a hard time, trust your instincts. When in doubt, assume that your kid needs some extra help, rather than just letting it go.
Try some visualization and goal setting with your child. Have them write up a list of long-term goals in different areas of their life, such as career, family, financial, and health. Then help them come up with a timeline for their goals.
Next, help them craft short term goals that will lead directly to their long term goals. If necessary, give them some assistance getting started with their short term goals.
How to Stop Enabling Adult Children and Teach Independence
Helping and supporting your young adult is a positive thing at any age. That being said, there is a fine line between helping out in a healthy way and enabling. Whether or not they live at home, your adult daughter or son needs to develop their independence.
If the stay at home is meant to be temporary, make sure your child is taking steps in the right direction. You might expect them to hold down a job or attend some kind of schooling that will help them meet their long term goals. Implement rules that promote your child’s independence.
How to Set Boundaries With Adult Children
Boundaries are important in keeping a peaceful home where everyone living there is getting their needs met. Your child may move back in and expect to have all the attention on them, while you and your spouse may also want some time to yourselves.
How do you make your expectations for this new living arrangement clear? Here are a few ways to set boundaries with your adult kids.
Set Clear Expectations
Make a list of expectations for your adult children living at home. This could include rules about chores, curfew, guests, and financial contributions. These rules may apply to all family members.
Expectation should be clear and specific. Here is a sample list of expectations:
- Evening guests on the weekends only
- If you take something out, put it away
- After making a meal or snack, rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher
- Contribute $200 each month to cover increased water and electricity bills
- After finishing a food item such as a box of cookies or a carton of milk, add that item to the shared family shopping list
- Buy and make your own breakfasts and lunches
You should communicate these expectations to your children in a clear and honest way. Hold them accountable if they are not meeting the expectations, while remaining kind and respectful.
2. Communicate Clearly and Respectfully
Open communication is key to setting boundaries. It’s fine to come up with expectations together, but ensure that you are getting your own needs met, and not just listening to your child’s. There should be an ongoing conversation about this, such as weekly family meetings.
Talk to your adult children about your expectations and boundaries in a calm and respectful manner. They are no longer little kids, so avoid lectures. Listen to their perspective and concerns, and be open to compromise.
3. Setting Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries are important if your kids move back in, because they are their own person now. Grown children have their own feelings and beliefs and some of them may be different than your own.
If you are not sure if you have good emotional boundaries, ask yourself if you feel any resentment towards your child or vice versa. Each person has a right to their own feelings and no one should tell them how to feel. That goes both ways—parents need to respect children’s feelings and vice versa.
Consider how much privacy and personal space you will expect to have and make sure your child understands this. Maybe you like to spend your mornings alone in the kitchen for half an hour and you don’t want to give this peaceful time up. You don’t have to!
4. Setting Financial Boundaries With Adult Children
Financial conflict can be a source of stress if you are supporting your adult child. It’s important to consider your own financial situation. Sure you may have a spare bedroom, but can you budget for the increase electricity, water, and food bills?
Or maybe you were hoping to downsize to a condo and live simply once your nest is empty, but now it isn’t empty anymore.
Decide what you can afford and what sacrifices you are willing to make and for how long. Also figure out how much, if any, of a financial contribution you expect from your child. Communicate this clearly from the get-go, and address it right away if your expectations are not being met.
5. Hold Regular Family Meetings
Most likely, you and your adult children will clash at some point. Maybe you are frustrated that they leave piles on clutter in their wake or you don’t want to keep doing their laundry. Maybe you are tired about discussing politics at the dinner table.
They may also have issues with you or your rules at home. For example, perhaps they find your “no guests ever” rule a little too extreme.
Having weekly family meetings is a good way to make sure any issues are addressed before they blow up into major conflicts. Maybe every Friday you order pizza and have a family discussion. Everyone should get a chance to voice their concerns without being interrupted. Likewise, everyone should be allowed to respond to concerns and suggest solutions.
It’s a good idea to assign one family member as “note taker” at family meetings. Writing things down as the discussion progresses can help you stay focused and work towards solutions.
6. Practice Active Listening
When tensions are high, people tend to talk over one another, each trying to drive their own point home. However, this rarely solves problems. Practicing active listening can help you and your adult children find positive solutions together.
Active listening means that you listen to the other person without interrupting or judging. Everyone should feel heard and understood. Only after truly understanding the other person’s point of view can you find a solution.
7. Use "I" Statements
It’s natural to feel attacked when someone is telling you what you have done wrong. If you want to express yourself to your child, using “I” statements is a good way to invite them to really listen and care about your concerns.
For example, replace “You always leave piles of dirty laundry around the house,” with “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the piles of dirty laundry in the house. What ideas do you have for fixing this issue?”
Never feel like you are doing the wrong thing by housing your adult child. There is nothing wrong with providing a safe and loving place for them at any age. However, if you suspect that they are struggling to develop independence or you feel resentful, something is not right. Setting clear boundaries and maintaining respectful communication can be a game changer.
For more help with boundaries, we recommend checking out the book “Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children” by Allison Bottke and following our Family Budget Template Printable to come to a plan together.
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer. She is an expert on child behavior and certified in Positive Discipline.