Establishing Boundaries With Adult Kids

By Allison Bottke
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How can parents stop enabling and set boundaries for adult children?

Enabling parents know that we live either smack dab in the middle of crisis or we’re simply in between crises, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Every time the phone rings at night, we are catapulted to a place of despair. Will it be our adult child in a drunken stupor, will it be the police, or will it be the morgue?

Let’s look at these two ways we live and what we need to do to implement the decision we’ve made to stop enabling and set boundaries for our adult children.

  1. In between crises. Without a doubt, this is the best time to put our decision into motion. We would be wise to develop our action plan during this time, then present it to our adult children and get out of the way.
  2. In crisis mode. This is a harder time to implement your decision, but it can also show an immediate effect. If, for instance, your adult child has been arrested, do not intervene this time. If your adult child lives at home and is involved in anything related to drugs, alcohol, crime, violence, unacceptable behavior, or any type of illegal activity whatsoever, insist on his immediate departure from your home. Call the authorities if necessary. He can choose to go to rehab or to a friend’s home, or anywhere he’d like, including living on the street — whatever he decides — but it is not your responsibility to find somewhere for him to go.

    Remember, if he has broken the law, you may be considered an accessory to his crime. Calling the police will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, but it may be necessary.

If your adult child lives outside the home and is calling for money or a place to live, or is requesting (in many cases, begging) for your signature on a contract or rental agreement, do not give it to him.

There’s an old saying, “You can’t paddle another man’s canoe for him.” We’ve been paddling our adult children’s canoes for far too long. It’s time they learned how to paddle for themselves.

Knowing that we need to change and taking the steps necessary to make changes are, sadly, often two entirely different things. In the next article, let’s look at a very real family dealing with a very real situation. This couple sought my advice when I shared my situation with them and told them about the book I was working on that would help parents establish proper boundaries with their adult children. Names have been changed to protect their privacy; any resemblance to your situation is purely accidental. Their story is typical of many.

Taken from: Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children. Copyright © 2008 by Allison Bottke. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

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About the Author

Allison Bottke

Allison Bottke is the author of Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children and general editor of the popular God Allows U-Turns series, and has written or edited over 23 non-fiction and fiction books, including six books for children and youth. Allison is in frequent demand as a speaker and has been featured on Focus on the Family, The 700 Club, …