How to Set Boundaries with Adult Children 

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children

Adult children can actually wreak more havoc on your marriage than young children sometimes. When parents disagree on how much support to offer their adult children, it can result in feelings of hurt, anger, and resentment.

It’s important to learn how to define your relationship with adult children. Once they are grown up, parents often become more like friends or a mentor. However, many parents struggle with their relationship with their adult children. This can lead to a variety of marital problems.

Adults Acting Like Children

Plenty of adults just don’t act grown up. Whether you’ve got a 40 year old son who chooses to play video games over mowing the lawn or a daughter who just can’t keep a job, adult children who behave immaturely can be stressful.

Perhaps you have adult children who want to borrow money. Or maybe they even live with you. Learning how to set limits and boundaries is important.

The Danger of Enabling

There’s an art to supporting someone without enabling them. Adult children who still depend on their parents often are allowed to get into this situation because their parents enable them.

Perhaps this relationship stems from parents who want to be needed. The empty nest syndrome leads to lots of adults feeling lonely and empty. This can make them desire to have their children still need them as it gives them a purpose.

Often parents engage in an enabling relationship because they feel sorry for their grandchildren. They may say something like, “I just don’t want the kids to suffer.” Although well-intentioned, these sorts of sentiments can often foster dependency if the parents are constantly bailing out their kids for the sake of the grandchildren.

Develop a Plan as a Team

It’s important that you and your spouse work together on determining how to respond to your adult child’s requests. If your child is asking you for money, a place to stay, or favors, talk about how to respond. Develop a plan together as a team.

One of the worst things that can happen is if one spouse secretly helps out without telling the other. Although you may think “slipping a $20 bill” to your child is helping, it may be very harmful to your marriage if your spouse hasn’t agreed to it.

This can become especially complicated when adult step-children are involved. You may think it’s not up to your spouse to have any input into whether or not you loan your child money or babysit the grandchildren for free. However, it is important to work as a team together on all of these sorts of decisions.

Set Limits and Consequences

Setting healthy boundaries and limits is important. If you’ve been overextending yourself or giving too much, you may need to step back. Also, just because you want to feel needed or you want to help out, doesn’t mean you should.

If you rescue your child every time he’s in trouble, you may be making things worse in the long run. How will he ever learn how to stand on his own two feet if you always bail him out? Saying no to your child can sometimes be the best thing to do, even when it is hard to say.

It can be hard to make those changes. If you’ve been loaning your child money every time he calls, saying no won’t be easy the next time he asks. It’s likely if he’s used to you doing it, he may resist as well. This is why it is important to work together as a team with your spouse.

Develop a response that you can offer in the event you are caught off guard. Agree that you won’t give an answer for at least 24 hours. So the next time you get a call that says, “We need money,” respond by saying, “I’ll have to talk it over with your father and we’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This will allow you time to consider it and give you a chance to talk about it beforehand. It will also show you are presenting a united front.

Seeking Marriage Help

Sadly, many marriages end up in crisis due to conflict over adult children. Sometimes one parent reaches the boiling point and just can’t take it anymore.

If this is the case, make sure to seek professional help. A marriage counselor can assist you in working together on being supportive without enabling. Counseling can also help restore your marriage as you work to negotiate a healthy relationship with each other and your adult children.

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