• Nicole Arzt

How To Transition From A Parent-Child Relationship To A Parent-Adult Relationship



As a parent, you spent many years changing diapers, chasing after your little one, and teaching them the morals and rules for living a good life. But what happens when your baby grows up, and you're still in a parent-child relationship?

Adult children flourish when they have a healthy independence and detachment from their parents. That said, moving into a parent-adult relationship isn't always easy. Let's get into what you need to know.


How Do You Know If You’re Still Parenting An Adult Child?

As your children mature into adults, it can feel incredibly challenging to establish appropriate boundaries. Furthermore, the transition from caring for a child to sending them off on their own is often tricky to navigate. It may seem like the change happens overnight: one day, they needed you for everything, and the next, it's time for them to spread their adult wings.

First, you should identify how you are still parenting your adult child. For example, they may present as helpless and needy, which results in you consistently helping them. It’s also possible that you are the one enabling their dependence on you. Either way, it’s essential to recognize the way your relationship is changing as you both grow older.

Ask yourself: Do you feel like they have grown as an independent adult, or are you concerned their growth is stunted?


Here are some signs you can look out for to recognize if you’re still parenting your adult child:

  • You still make decisions for them.

  • They rely on you for basic needs like meals.

  • They often ask for financial help (without paying you back).

  • You feel like you fulfill their emotional needs.

  • You feel exhausted after conversations with them.

  • They manipulate you into helping them even when you don’t necessarily feel it's appropriate.

  • They don’t keep the promises you made to each other.

  • They make immature decisions that result in poor consequences.

  • They seem caught in a cycle of bad choices and seemingly always have excuses for why they did what they did.

  • They can’t hold a job, and they rely on your house and money as a safety net.

  • You don’t feel like they respect you.

How Can You Help Your Adult Child (Without Enabling Them?)

It might be hard to realize you are enabling your child. After all, you want them to feel safe and happy. And since you love them, it’s natural to want to step in when they show signs of struggling.

You might feel obligated to continue caring for your child in their adult life. Many parents fear their child failing, and so they feel the need to maintain the parent-child relationship. Subsequently, they might also guilt you into helping them.

It's important to remember that, even if you enable your child, you’re not a bad parent. A parent-adult relationship doesn't mean you never enable your child- it just means you are conscious and intentional with how you act with them.

There are several ways to change this toxic cycle to form a healthy relationship that benefits both you and your child. Consider these tips:

  • As they grow older, anticipate and encourage their growing independence. Don’t take it personally if they want to talk less. As we move into our adult lives, it's normal to rely on friends, coworkers, or romantic partners for advice and socialization. Support your child in making these efforts.

  • Give them space to work out problems on their own. Educate yourself on the concept of natural consequences and consider their merit.

  • Use conflict resolution skills if you two disagree.

  • Find something in common to enjoy together. It's still important to have quality time.

  • Encourage critical thinking. Praise and validate your child when they take steps towards independence.

  • Give them responsibilities to contribute to the household: make them pay rent and require that they engage in appropriate household chores.

  • Be consistent and firm in the boundaries you set.

How Can Family Therapy Help?

Family therapy can help parents and children work on their relationship, so it is healthy for both of you. With an unbiased third party's help, you can define your parenting goals and establish appropriate boundaries. Your child will also have the chance to express their needs and concerns.

Family therapy offers a safe place to transition away from a parent-child relationship. You will discuss the barriers that have prevented this transition in the past. You will also learn strategies for ensuring movement towards a sustainable parent-adult relationship.

Final Thoughts On Having a Parent-Adult Relationship

Parent-adult relationships are mutually satisfying for children and their parents. As a parent, you've been there for your child since day one. You aren't going anywhere now- you're just shifting into a more productive role. You deserve this growth, and they deserve it, too.

At The Resurface Group, we support families to navigate obstacles related to codependency, recovery, and boundaries. We are here for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to learn more about our program.


Get Updates

Subscribe to the Resurface newsletter

Enter your email to receive our bi-weekly newsletter emails with our latest findings.

Orange County Addiction Recovery • 2900 Bristol St Suite 320, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 • Main (509) 319-0845

© 2020 by The Resurface Group LLC

  • Facebook