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Setting Win-Win Boundaries With Your Adult Child

Staying true to yourself while building mutual respect.

Key points

  • Setting boundaries with your adult child is about promoting healthy relationships and mutual respect. 
  • Win-win boundaries include listening to each other, avoiding criticism, and kindness even in disagreements.
  • Be patient and understanding as you create and navigate new boundaries and their related dynamics.

Setting boundaries with our adult children, especially those who are articulate, manipulative, and can present very persuasive arguments, can be very challenging. Does helping your adult child tend to become a pattern of unhealthy rescuing?

If you try to "save" your adult child every time they are 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.

Over the years, I have repeatedly seen how it is easier to build a child than it is to repair an adult. As I write in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, healthy boundaries between adult children and their parents are crucial for them to function as healthy adults. Boundaries with our adult children must, of course, come from a place of love, compassion, and respect—that is for sure.

Boundaries That Work

As a coach for parents of struggling adult children, here are some examples of boundaries I have seen prove very helpful:

  • Financial Support: Parents may establish boundaries regarding financial assistance to their adult children. For instance, they may set a limit on the amount of money they are willing to provide or specify the purposes for which they are comfortable offering financial support.
  • Living Arrangements: Parents may establish boundaries regarding living arrangements. They might set expectations for when and under what circumstances their adult children can continue living at home, or they may communicate expectations for contributing to household expenses if they choose to live with their parents.
  • Privacy: Parents may set boundaries related to privacy. They might ask their adult children to respect their personal space, establish guidelines for accessing their rooms or personal belongings, or request advance notice if the adult child plans to bring guests or have parties at the family home.
  • Communication: Parents may establish boundaries around communication. This can include specifying preferred methods of contact, setting limits on how often they expect to hear from their adult children, or requesting respectful and considerate communication.
  • Personal Choices: Parents may set boundaries regarding personal choices. While respecting their adult child's autonomy, they may communicate their expectations about certain behaviors, such as not vaping in their presence, not using offensive language, or refraining from engaging in illegal activities while living under their roof.
  • Mutual Respect: Parents may set boundaries centered around mutual respect. They might establish guidelines for conversations, emphasizing the importance of listening to each other, avoiding judgment or criticism, and speaking kindly even during disagreements.
  • Time and Availability: Parents may set boundaries regarding their time and availability. They might specify when they are available for socializing, family events, or providing assistance, and communicate the need for their time and space.

It's important to note that every family dynamic is different, and the boundaries established will depend on individual circumstances and relationships. Open and respectful communication is crucial when setting and discussing boundaries between parents and adult children.

Tips To Keep You Setting Win-Win Boundaries For The Long Run

While it can be challenging, here are some suggestions for maintaining those healthy boundaries:

1. Recognize their adulthood: Acknowledge that your child is now an adult and deserves autonomy and independence. Respect their opinions, choices, and lifestyle.

2. Communicate openly: Have open and honest conversations about boundaries. Clearly express your expectations and concerns while also listening to their perspective. Effective communication is key to establishing mutual understanding.

3. Define your limits: Identify your limits and what is acceptable to you. This could include areas such as financial support, emotional involvement, personal space, or involvement in decision-making. Be firm and consistent in asserting your boundaries.

4. Be respectful and understanding: It's important to respect your child's boundaries as well. Understand that they may have different needs, values, and priorities than you do. Avoid being judgmental or critical, and strive to find a middle ground where both parties feel heard and respected.

5. Allow for mistakes and growth: Remember that setting boundaries is a learning process for both you and your child. Mistakes can happen, and it's essential to allow room for growth and adjustment. Be patient and understanding as you navigate these new dynamics.

6. Practice self-care: Taking care of your well-being is crucial when setting boundaries. Understand your own needs and prioritize self-care to avoid becoming overwhelmed or resentful. By maintaining your boundaries and demonstrating self-respect, you set an example for your child to do the same.

7. Seek professional help if needed: If you find it difficult to establish healthy boundaries or if conflicts persist, consider seeking guidance from a family therapist or counselor. A professional can provide valuable insights and techniques to navigate complex family dynamics.

Final Thoughts

Remember, setting boundaries with your adult child is about promoting healthy relationships and mutual respect. It's an ongoing process that requires open communication, understanding, and flexibility from both parties. Setting healthy boundaries with your adult child is an important aspect of maintaining a balanced and respectful relationship.


Bernstein, J. (2023) 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, Perseus Books, New York, NY.

Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox For Teens, PESI Publications, Eu Claire, WI.

Birditt, K. S., Miller, L. M., Fingerman, K. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2009). Tensions in the parent and adult child relationship: Links to solidarity and ambivalence. Psychology and Aging, 24(2), 287–295.

Gunderson G. (2020) Serving Others Is As Important As Food And Sex.

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