How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents as an Adult

how to set boundaries with your parents

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.”

– Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, from their book Boundaries

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Learning how to set boundaries with your parents isn’t easy. Where do you start, and how do you set them effectively, so your parents respect them? There’s always a fear that by expressing your boundaries, you’ll hurt them or appear ungrateful. I know I struggle with feeling selfish for having them at all.

But it’s important to remember that having boundaries is important for any healthy relationship, even the one with our parents.

I recently read a book called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It inspired me to start learning how to set boundaries and respect the boundaries of other people. 

You should definitely read it if you’re like me and this is something you struggle with too.

I’m a conflict avoider, so expressing my boundaries is hard when I know it can result in anger from the other person.

I’m definitely not an expert in this subject as someone who is still learning to do this in her own life. But I do have a lot of experience setting boundaries as an adult with my mom since I recently moved back home after graduation.

So why do you need boundaries?

boundaries tell people how to treat you
boundaries tell people how to treat you

It’s important to set boundaries with your parents because it helps them understand that you are no longer a child, and that they need to stop treating you like one.

Growing up is a transition for you, but also for your parents because they have to change the way they see and treat you. Just like how you need to learn how to take care of yourself, they need to learn how to stop taking care of you.

Having boundaries is also the cornerstone of a healthy relationship and prevents built up resentment towards your parents. If you don’t let them know that what they’re doing bothers you, and that you need them to stop, they’re going to keep doing it. 

Sure, you’re avoiding the conflict in the moment, but when you keep being hurt in the same way, it chips away at you and breeds resentment.

It’s important to set boundaries with your parents to stop that from happening. You’re essentially setting guidelines for them on how to treat you now that you’re an adult.

7 Ways to Set Boundaries with Your Parents

suggestions not commands
suggestions not commands

1. Take your parents words as suggestions and not commandments

A healthy boundary to set with your parents is to show them that although you value their advice and their life experience, you also have your own values and experience that influence your decisions.

You need to communicate to them that you’ll take their words into consideration, but you’re no longer bound to do things their way, like you were when you were a child.

Let them know that you appreciate their suggestions, but they’re just that, suggestions. You will ultimately choose what is best for you in the situation, and you hope that they trust that they raised you well enough to make the right decision.

I’m not saying that you should refuse all of their advice to do things your way no matter what. Definitely don’t do that because they’ve probably already been through whatever you’re dealing with, and have some helpful insights to share with you. Whether that’s helping you learn how to buy your first house, do your taxes, or let go of a friendship that is no longer healthy for you to maintain.

However, your parents should no longer expect that you always take their advice and do things exactly as they instruct because ultimately you are a fully functioning adult with your own opinions and experiences. What worked for them in the past may not work for you now.

Your parents need to understand that they can offer advice, but you might not always follow it, and you need to have that conversation with them.

stop being a parent pleaser
stop being a parent pleaser

2. Stop trying to please your parents and set boundaries with them about their expectations

If you were that child that always needed to ace that test, win that award, or get that scholarship, this boundary is for you. You need to stop living your life to please them because you’re actually living in fear of disappointing them.

All parents have expectations for their children to do well and succeed in life. Some parents are very specific about what that looks like for their children. When you grow up following such a strict path, it’s hard to stray from it even as an adult.

I’m sure that we all worry about disappointing our parents. Some of us have a severe fear of failure because of it. We have this idea that if we don’t meet their expectations for our lives, we’ve failed because our definition of success is linked to pleasing them.

But the truth is most parents have these expectations because their goal is for you to be happy. And in their mind, there is a specific road to happiness that you must follow for your own good.

It’s important to let your parents know that you might not always meet their expectations and to set boundaries with them about their vision for your life vs your own. They need to understand that what they view as being successful and happy may not be what you want for your life.

In the long run, you’re saving yourself years of trying to earn their approval and love. That type of relationship with your parents or anyone only leads to resentment in the end.

financial boundaries
financial boundaries

3. Set financial boundaries with your parents

There are so many ways to set financial boundaries with your parents depending on your situation in life. But the main reason why it’s healthy to have these boundaries with them is because it shows that you are no longer completely dependent on them. 

It helps them understand that even though you will always be their child, you are an adult, capable of taking care of yourself. Remember that it’s a transition for them too.

A few examples of healthy financial boundaries with your parents are:

  1. Paying rent if you’re still living at home with them.
  2. Not asking them for money every time you need something.
  3. Budgeting your money to pay for your monthly expenses and saving what you have left over.
  4. If they loan you money, pay them back.

A lot of us in our twenties are still living at home with our parents because of the current state of the economy, the housing market, and of course insurmountable student debt, and that’s okay.

It’s normal for our parents to want to help us out, so that we’re not struggling to make ends meet right after graduation.

But we shouldn’t take advantage of their kindness, especially since most of them are either retired or retiring soon. They need to put money towards that stage of their lives. They can’t work to support us forever.

Setting financial boundaries with your parents shows that you appreciate what they do for you, and that you are a responsible capable adult.

emotional boundaries
emotional boundaries

4. Set emotional boundaries with your parents

Depending on the type of relationship you have with your parents, it can be very important for you to set emotional boundaries with them. Not everyone has a healthy relationship with their parents.

It’s important to understand what unhealthy relationships look like first, so here are a few examples:

Your parents constantly try to make you feel guilty for having your own life and other responsibilities. 

This looks like getting upset with you when you can’t come over every time they ask because you have a prior commitment or making you feel guilty for not calling as often as they’d like.

It sounds like, “But you never come over anymore. You’re never there when I need you. How could you treat the person who raised you this way? You don’t love me.” These are all examples of guilt trip statements.

Your parents aren’t considerate of your time or schedule and expect that their needs always come first. 

This looks like not asking you if you’re available to take them somewhere, but expecting that you’ll drop everything to drive them.

It sounds like, “I need you to drive me to the grocery store this morning. Your brother needs to borrow your car on Monday. You need to be at the family function today even though I just told you about it now.”

None of these statements are considerate of your time. They’re not questions. They’re demands that you’re expected to comply with.

Your parents interfere with your relationships.

This looks like meddling in your romantic relationships and friendships by going behind your back and speaking with your partner or friend about you.

It sounds like, “You need to break up with them because I don’t like them. You can only date or be friends with the people I approve of.” They’re telling you that their opinion matters more than yours, and you have no choice, but to do what they say. 

All of these examples are forms of emotional control because your parents expect that they come first. Whether that’s their emotional and physical needs or their opinions.

Healthy Emotional Boundaries

Healthy emotional boundaries with your parents show consideration for your responsibilities, schedule, and feelings. They look like:

  1. Making plans with you in advance to come visit or talk on the phone.
  2. Not making you feel guilty for having other responsibilities or other plans that don’t include them.
  3. Asking if you’re available to take them somewhere, and not expecting you to always be free for them.
  4. Listening to your problems when you share them, and not offering unsolicited advice.
  5. Not interfering with your relationships because they feel they know better.
  6. Not sharing your personal business with their friends or family.
physical boundaries
physical boundaries

5. Set physical boundaries with your parents

Sometimes financial and emotional boundaries aren’t enough, and you need physical boundaries with your parents for them to understand that you’re an adult. 

Here are some examples of physical boundaries with your parents when you still live at home:

Let them know they can’t just come into your room whenever they feel like it. 

They need to knock before they come in. They can’t go in when you’re not home without asking first. A certain level of privacy between you and your parents should be respected when you’re an adult.

Let them know that they shouldn’t clean your room or do your laundry. 

These are important skills that you need to learn, if you haven’t already. They also set the tone for your new relationship with your parents. If they’re still cleaning up after you, it’s hard for your parents to treat you like an adult. You’re still a kid that needs them to take care of you.

Start cooking for yourself and your family. 

When you still live with your parents, it’s easy for them to continue to cook for you and take care of you in this way. And that’s fine because it’s their house, and a lot of parents like to show their love for their children this way.

But by not learning how to cook or helping out, you’re still depending on your parents to take care of you. You’re not showing them that you’re capable of doing it yourself.

How are they supposed to treat you like an adult, when they’re still doing everything they did for you when you were a kid?

These physical boundaries with your parents, help them understand that you’re an adult and to treat you that way.

communicate your boundaries
communicate your boundaries

6. Communicate your boundaries clearly

The most important thing to do when you’re setting boundaries with your parents is to communicate them clearly. You can’t expect your parents to read your mind, and know what you need without telling them straightforwardly.

I understand that not all parents will be understanding of boundaries, but you still need to try if it’s something you want.

Here are some helpful tips for communicating your boundaries clearly to your parents:

  1. Use “I” statements when describing your boundaries, like, “I need you to ask me for my car, and not just tell me you need it.”

  2. Be specific about what your boundaries are. Don’t say, “I need you to treat me like an adult,” because that’s too broad and can be left up to their interpretation.

    Instead say, “I need you to understand that I appreciate your advice. However, I’m not always going to do things exactly the way you would want me to. I’m an adult, and I have my own way of doing things based on my lifestyle and values. Please be respectful of that, and don’t put those expectations on me.”

  3. Acknowledge that this is a hard transition for them too. Remember that they have spent your whole life looking at you as a child, as someone who needs them. It’s hard for them to step back from that role and deal with the changes in your relationship. Be sympathetic to that and let them know that you do still need them, just in a different way.

  4. Give examples of when you felt your boundaries were not respected and how that made you feel. This lets your parents know why you need these boundaries and how their actions affect you as a person. Sometimes our parents need to know that what they do hurts us, so that they can change.

Do your best to communicate your boundaries clearly to your parents without having the expectations that they’ll immediately agree to them or that the conversation will go smoothly.

It’s okay if the conversation isn’t perfect. All that matters is that you’re taking steps to have a healthy relationship with them.

stop feeling guilty
stop feeling guilty

7. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty about your boundaries 

Finally, the hardest part about setting boundaries with your parents, is to not feel guilty about them. I don’t know about you, but when I first started setting boundaries, I felt like I was being so selfish. 

For some reason asking someone to respect my time, things, or feelings felt so bad, like I was hurting the other person. Even though I was just asking them to stop hurting me, I felt like the bad guy.

It’s important for you to remember that boundaries aren’t bad, and you’re allowed to have them. You don’t have to feel guilty for having boundaries with your parents just because they raised you.

Think about it this way, when you become friends with someone does that mean they are giving you the right to disrespect them? Do you have the expectation that you get all of their time, and you always come first? Of course not because that’s not friendship, that’s called slavery.

Then what about this, when you have a child, do you have the expectation that because you raised them, you get to treat them however you want? Or they have to do whatever you want because you gave birth to them? No, because that’s child abuse.

My point is that expressing how you would like to be treated to someone who loves you, is not something to feel guilty about. It’s healthy to have boundaries and express them, so set them and stop feeling guilty.

7 ways to set boundaries with your parents
7 ways to set boundaries with your parents

Setting boundaries is a good thing

Set boundaries with your parents because it’s healthy and will improve your relationship with them. Do it sooner rather than later because it’s better than spending years being disrespected and hurt to keep the peace, only to resent your parents later.

And honestly the same goes for them to have boundaries of their own, so we as their adult children don’t take advantage of them.

No relationship is perfect. They all come with conflict and hardship. It’s up to you on how to deal with that. You can either keep it all inside and pretend like you have a perfect relationship. Or you can accept that it’s not perfect and put boundaries in place to make sure it’s at least healthy.

So go set your boundaries and remember they’re a good thing!

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4 Comments

  1. Love this! I’m a college student right now soon to be moving out and so it’s awkward setting boundaries with my parents but this helps a lot, thank you!

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