4 tips for setting boundaries with your adult children

A senior and her grown child hug.

Do you have a 27 year old who still lives in your home, eats all your food and doesn’t pay rent? A 37 year old who always seems to be having money emergencies?

We know how much you love your child and want to support them throughout their life. But sometimes, the best way to support them is to set up boundaries to make sure you both can maintain a fair and healthy relationship. Here’s a look at how to do that.

Set limits with money

Are you paying your child’s cell phone bill because they’re still on the family plan? Do you give your child cash to pay for their gas when they drive home? Did you loan them money for a down payment on their home—and you aren’t being repaid?

These scenarios are likely to happen if you haven’t been clear and firm about your expectations with finances. Always remember that you’re the one who is responsible for your money. It’s yours to give or not to give. You shouldn’t feel pressured to give your child money that puts your financial health in jeopardy.

Give them the chance to learn from their mistakes

It’s an instinct to want to help your child. From the moment they started walking—and from the moment they started stumbling while they were learning how to walk—you might’ve felt a strong urge to scoop them up and protect them from getting hurt. But you’re not dealing with a toddler anymore. Throughout adulthood, your child might make some risky or unconventional choices that leave you scratching your head, but those are their choices to make. So are the consequences of their choices. Provide a listening ear when they are going through hard times, but you don’t always have to be the one who puts them back together.

Address mental health issues

Your child might be struggling with a mental health issue, such as: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a personality disorder. The American Psychiatric Association reports that 50% of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% of mental illness begins by age 24.1 And while it’s important to be there for your child, it’s also important to provide non-judgmental support and encourage them to seek help. Mental illness may be both financically and emotionally taxing as a parent, so remember to take care of yourself. You may want to consider joining a support group for parents of children with mental illness or speaking with your doctor about additional resources and support that is available to you.

Discover who you are

If you feel like your identity is only defined as being mom or dad, you might find it hard to create a new life for yourself after your children have moved away. But that’s exactly what you should challenge yourself to do. Whether it’s taking a watercolor class, joining a gym or reconnecting with old friends (or making new ones), spending time with yourself can help create a healthy space between you and your child. Here’s an example: you won’t feel obligated to answer a text message the second your child sends you one. Why? Because you’re not glued to your phone all day, waiting for them to contact you. You’re busy having fun.


  1. “Warning Signs of Mental Illness,” American Psychiatric Association, last accessed December 3, 2021, https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness.