Creating Boundaries with Dependent Adult Children
Stop Enabling Your Overly Dependent Adult Child
Does helping your adult child tend to become a pattern of unhealthy rescuing? If you try to “save” your adult child every time he or she is in trouble, you may be making things worse in the long run. Do you struggle with knowing where to draw that fine (or not so fine) line between letting him learn how to stand on his own two feet and bailing him out? Parents, for sure, need to be thoughtful about how to assist their adult children without enabling them.
Adult children who remain overly dependent on their parents often are allowed to get into this situation because their parents enable them. Perhaps this relationship dynamic stems from parents who want to be needed. Setting boundaries with your adult child can sometimes be the best thing to do, even when it is hard to say, “I am here to listen and here’s what I can offer, but I also think you will feel better about yourself if you figure this out on your own.”
Whether you’ve got a 35 year old daughter who keeps asking for money while falsely claiming she will pay you back, or a 25 year old son who just can’t keep a job, adult children who behave immaturely can be stressful. I have seen many sad stories in my office of families with children over age 21 (in one case age 44!) who still are overly dependent on their parents. It can be very challenging for parents to set limits with adult children whom have become overly dependent. The parents often feel drained and emotionally depleted. They want their child to be happy on his own, yet they live in fear of not doing enough to help their child get there. This is by no means an easy situation!
In some cases these adult children may have significant mental health issues, including addictions, which need to be addressed. At the same time, mental health treatment does not have to be mutually exclusive from the adult child contributing to their recovery in any way they can. Too many times, however, I see parents overly rescuing their children from their problems. While it may feel good for parents to do this, the implicit (or even explicit) message to the child is, “You’re not competent to make it on your own.” Parents in this situation can help themselves to be mindful of enabling their child by being carefully considering the following questions:
- Does your child now act entitled to, and demand, things you once enjoyed giving—car privileges, gifts, perks at home, or rent money?
- Does it feel like you are living from crisis to crisis with your adult child?
- Do you sacrifice too much to meet your adult child’s needs?
- Are you afraid of hurting your child?
- Are you feeling burdened, used, resentful, or burnt out?
Encouraging Them To LIve In Their Own Skin—Skin That’s Also in The Game
As children either graduate or quit school, they need to increasingly have “skin in the game” and strive toward being self-sufficient. This does not mean parents should abruptly put their adult child on the street. At the same time, the adult child needs to “own” his or her goals and plans to become self-reliant.
Sometimes, crises occur that send children back home such as a bad breakup, problems at college, or health issues. This is acceptable as long as there is a plan in place for the adult child to become independent.