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Boundaries with Adult Children

Jul 21, 2023

Raising children to be independent adults is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood. It demands a shift in roles and responsibilities as children grow and navigate their way towards adulthood. Parenting essentially has a shelf life, meaning that, as much as parents are vital in the nurturing, guarding, and resourcing phases, their roles change when their children grow into adults.

Parenthood consists of three main roles – a guardian, manager, and a source. As a guardian, a parent safeguards their child from potential harm. As a manager, they guide their child in managing resources and setting expectations, ultimately grooming them to be independent. As a source, parents provide the necessary resources, enabling their children to eventually become self-sufficient.

When a child reaches adulthood, a shift occurs. They are now expected to protect themselves, manage their resources, and be their own source. They should be capable of making decisions, assuming responsibility for their actions, and living independently. The term "parenting adult children" is, therefore, an oxymoron because parenting involves guiding children, and adult children are no longer children.

In today's ever-evolving society, traditional milestones like owning a house or starting a family by a certain age may not be feasible. Parents must then adapt their roles, supporting their adult children in their unique journey towards independence. The crucial aspect here is enabling them to guard, manage, and resource themselves.

Moreover, open conversations about the shifting roles between parents and their adult children are essential. Clearly defining expectations and boundaries, particularly concerning finances, time, and respect, aids in this transition. Replacing the word 'parenting' with 'helping' may alleviate any feelings of dependency and instead promote growth and independence.

However, parents must be mindful of the fine line between 'helping' and 'enabling.' Their assistance should be aimed at strengthening their adult child and preparing them for the next step, not cushioning them from the realities of life. This mindset extends to various aspects of life, from finances to emotional support. Ideally, adult children should establish their own support systems, relying primarily on their peers rather than their parents.

The ultimate goal is to facilitate their adult children's transition to complete self-reliance. The task of being a parent is indeed demanding, but the satisfaction of seeing your children thrive independently is an unparalleled reward.

Some questions to ask:

1. What steps are you currently taking to encourage your adult child's independence?
2. How do you communicate your expectations and boundaries to your adult child?
3. How can you help your adult child form a support system outside of their relationship with you?
4. How do you manage the delicate balance between helping your adult child and enabling them?

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