In our premarrieds class we teach about the differences between dependent, independent and codependent relationships, with the goal of becoming interdependent. But I think this same teaching can apply to family relationships as well when it comes to adult children.
We define interdependence as the ability to operate independently in life circumstances, but choose to be connected to others.
When we are not able to do that we are usually either dependent or co-dependent.
The two main types of dependency that I am concerned with are emotional and financial dependency. There is a third, physical dependency, that transcends normal relationships that comes from factors such as illnesses or disabilities, but I want to focus on the first two.
The goal of healthy parents is to effectively “launch” their children into adulthood, and for the children, to differentiate and detach from parents. This can be difficult for both the parents and the adult children and a lot has been written on this subject. So what input would I want to give? Perhaps nothing new, but maybe just offer my opinion on boundaries that I believe are healthy for both parents and children.
Adult children should learn to care for themselves prior to entering into a marriage. This means living separately from their parents, but not necessarily alone. Especially here in California life is expensive, so living with same sex roommates may be necessary. But it does mean earning and paying one’s own expenses and not depending on parents (or roommates) to provide for them financially. I acknowledge that there could be some cultural norms that will be challenged with this point of view.
Adult children should not live with their parents once they are married. That kind of arrangement is overt dependency and is not biblical. We are to “leave and cleave” (Gen 2:24). Sometimes there are temporary setbacks for either the parents or children that must be accommodated, but if living with parents is necessary in order to get married, we are not ready. In essence the parents just gained an additional child to support.
Adult children should not need to make daily contact with their parents. This is another indication that they have not left home emotionally. Either that or the parent(s) have not let go sufficiently. We want the desire to connect to rule here, not guilt or neediness. Just because it is easy to connect through texting or other media does not mean it is healthy. Just ask any spouse of an overly connected adult child.
Coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, too much distance or emotionally cutting off a family member is not the goal either. This is usually a reactive response to unresolved hurt or grief. There may be times when this is an appropriate response to an unsafe family member, but we must be careful when we navigate this issue. Are they truly unsafe? Are we holding onto resentments that requires forgiveness? Have we been too dependent and are blaming them? Or are they too controlling and we must draw a hard line?
Sometimes when parents draw a financial boundary with adult children, the kids become angry and act like a victim. They may use emotional cutoff as a manipulation to try to restore the financial help. The parents are usually right when trying to help their adult child grow in this area towards independence.
Because dependence can come from either or both directions, it might be hard to find the right balance between closeness and separateness in parent-child relationships. The goal is to honor both parties even though it often involves some pain. When we hold unselfish love as our aim, it makes it a worthy pursuit.
1 Cor 16:14 “Let all that you do be done in love.”