Why Parents Struggle to Set Effective Boundaries with Young Adults

setting boundaries with young adults

Parenting is a dance of love, guidance, frustration, and setting healthy boundaries. Especially when it comes to parenting the emerging adult.

As children grow into young adults, the dynamic shifts, presenting a unique set of challenges.
One common hurdle parents face is their struggle to establish effective boundaries
during this parenting stage. More often than not, this difficulty is because of
emotions that are coming up in the parents, primarily guilt and fear.  Let’s talk about why parents find it challenging to set boundaries and look into the impact of their emotions on this important part of parenting.

Understanding the Parent-Young Adult Dynamic:

The transition from adolescence (the teen years) to young adulthood is a crucial phase, marked by
increased independence and the building of individual identities. Young adults are
exploring their independence, making decisions, and navigating the complexities of
life. For parents, this transition can be emotionally charged as they wrestle with the
balance between nurturing their children and allowing them the space to grow.
One of the primary emotions that hinders parents from setting boundaries is guilt.
This guilt often comes from the fear of being perceived as restrictive or hindering
their young adult’s growth. Parents may feel guilty for saying no or enforcing limits, fearing it might impact the relationship negatively. 

Fear, another potent emotion, plays a significant role in the boundary-setting challenge. Parents may fear setting boundaries will lead to rebellion, strained relationships, or even rejection from their young adults. The fear of being seen as the “bad guy” can weaken parents, making them reluctant to establish the necessary guidelines. While we want to progressively give our kids choice and autonomy where we can, there are still certain non-negotiable boundaries needed for their safety. An example of this would be underage drinking or drug use.  When parents buckle to guilt and fear, they may accidentally enable unhealthy. patterns in their young adults. Without clear boundaries, young adults might struggle with decision-making, responsibility, and accountability, hindering their overall development.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere, communication often becomes strained.
Parents may resort to talking at their young adults instead of engaging in healthy, open dialogues with them. This breakdown in communication further exacerbates the challenges in setting effective boundaries.  The first step in overcoming these emotional hurdles is self-reflection. Parents need to examine their own beliefs, fears, and values that contribute to the guilt and fear associated with setting boundaries. They can then establish and communicate clear values and expectations. When values are defined, setting boundaries becomes an
extension of these shared principles rather than restrictions. This clarity helps both parties understand the reasoning behind the boundaries. It’s easier to make the best choice or decision when the boundaries are clearly stated and followed.

Communication is the key to overcoming emotional barriers. Parents who strive to create a safe space for open and honest communication will find boundary setting easier. Listening actively to their emerging adult’s perspectives fosters mutual understanding and strengthens the relationship.

Navigating the delicate balance of setting boundaries with young adults requires a
deep understanding of parental emotions and a commitment to adopting healthy communication. Addressing the root causes of guilt and fear, you can pave the way for the establishment of effective boundaries that support the growth and development of your young adult children. It is a journey of self-discovery, compassion, and resilience that ultimately contributes to the strength and resilience of the parent-child relationship.