Boundaries with Failure to Launch

This week, Imagine Hope is discussing "failure to launch"-- the issue that many parents of adult children in their 20's and 30's are recently facing.  Failure to launch is where a family is anticipating a stage in their family life cycle where the grown children have left the home to venture off in their own career and life paths, but find them back at home again and still dependent on their parents for care.  This dependency can be financial (paying for things you would expect an adult to be providing for themselves), physical (providing a place to live, a car to drive, food to eat), emotional, or mental.

Today, we will be talking about a very important part of failure to launch:  The importance of parents setting firm boundaries and limits with their grown children who haven't "left the nest".  

Empowering adult children is essential to their success.  But empowerment does not mean enabling them, being their cheerleader, and working harder than they are at getting them to success, and expecting nothing in return.  Empowerment can come from setting boundaries with adult children who have struggled with leaving home.  This might entail holding them accountable for financial responsibility to the family (for example, having a source of income that part of it goes towards groceries and household expenses).  Another possibility is setting limits and naming expectations for chores or tasks that need to be done around the house.  For example, if finding a source of income is difficult, setting a boundary that laundry, yardwork, household cleaning, and/or family errands are the responsibility of the adult child and are their contribution to the family residence.  Setting boundaries, in essence, is telling your adult child that you believe in them-- you trust them to be able to complete things, and you trust they are a competent individual.  Not having boundaries and limits, and having no expectations at all not only keeps them comfortable, but it inadvertently tells them you don't think they have what it takes to be a successful adult!

Boundaries are also essential to protect yourselves as parents.  Most adults anticipate the empty nest phase of life to be one of reconnection to the marriage-- a time to do things that turn the focus back on things that are enjoyable and having more freedom.  When parents find themselves in this situation and don't set boundaries with their adult children, it can often produce feelings of resentment.  Finances that are set aside to take care of themselves at retirement can be drained, and underlying resentment or disappointment can potentially have a negative impact on the parent/adult child relationship.

So, if you are struggling with setting boundaries with your adult child who is back in the marital residence and struggling to "launch", remember that these boundaries actually help everyone involved in the long run.  Even if they are uncomfortable in the short term.  

Joleen Watson, MS, LMFT, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling,relationship counseling,couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.