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Tips for Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children

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Good parents establish healthy boundaries for their kids and then hold them accountable.

The goal is take the monkey of responsibility off your back and put it on theirs. This goes right along with the saying, "They will never know how far the town is if you carry them on your back." One mom said to me, "I wish my 22 year old would schedule her own dentist appointments." I smiled because the mom didn't get the irony in her statement.

4 Helpful Phrases to Remember When Setting Boundaries

  1. "You earned it." In other words, "You earned your negative outcome and consequences." This is the principle that you reap what you sow. This is often used with alcohol and drug abusers. But, it also works well when setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. When adult children make poor choices, we can say they earned their consequences. This principle is an essential life lesson for adolescents and young adults.
  2. "You can choose the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret." Everyone knows there is pain in life. We either chose the pain of self-discipline or the pain of living with regrets. Enabling takes away the opportunity for our adult children to grow in self-discipline.
  3. "You can't want it more than they want it." If your kids don't want to make good choices, no amount of wanting them to will change things. Even when our adult children make poor decisions, we must let them clean up their own messes. There are consequences for our choices, both good and bad. Until your kids decide they want good consequences, you can't want them into good choices.
  4. "When the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of changing, they will change." One parent said to me, "I knew my daughter was making some poor choices. I also knew that when the pain threshold of her decisions got to a breaking point, she had the skills to make better decisions." It seems like most of life's lessons come through the school of hard knocks. Sometimes adult kids learn best through the pain of poor choices.

Negotiating boundaries can be tough, but the saying is true, "Good fences make good neighbors." Boundaries give your adult children the opportunity to thrive by providing a structure for healthy independence.

Some might ask, "Can I set boundaries and still be a loving parent?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Establishing boundaries isn't selfish or unloving. It's the best way to give your children the wings they need to become responsible adults. If you take on the responsibilities your children should be carrying, you will only perpetuate an unhealthy dependency.

You're living out a biblical mandate by creating healthy boundaries. "Each one should carry their own load" ( ). Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. Boundaries are a loving way to create a path toward responsibility for one's own actions.

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About The Author

Image of Jim Burns

Jim Burns is president of HomeWord and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. Jim and his wife, Cathy, and their daughters Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi, live in Southern California. Visit for more.