How To Deal With A Demanding Adult Child

How To Deal With A Demanding Adult Child

Is your grown-up child demanding? Maybe they keep asking for money or wanting your constant attention. It can be hard to know how to deal with a demanding adult child, but the solution is always to be found in setting the right boundaries.

Here's a case study from my book How Kind People Get Tough.

Beth, 47

Beth was having a problem with her daughter, Emma, twenty-four. She had brought up Emma and her twin brother Daniel by herself, and for many years they’d been a tight family unit, until they left home.

Much as Beth missed having them around the house, she also felt that it was an opportunity for her to take some time for herself; to pursue new interests and start a new chapter in her life.

Whilst Daniel was very independent, Emma was just the opposite. She would call her mother, sometimes several times a day, and spend hours on the phone talking about all her life’s worries.

The situation was beginning to weigh on Beth.

How Kind People Get Tough

Don't let guilt stop you from setting boundaries with your adult Son or Daughter

Beth wanted to be there for her daughter, of course—but she was beginning to recognise that her urge to respond to Emma’s needs was also much to do with feelings of guilt.

The fact is that feeling guilty about 'something or other' is very often part of the parent experience. Most parents do their best for their kids, but most also look back and regret some perceived mistake or misjudged action. So if this is you, you're certainly not alone!

Beth felt guilty because the kids had grown up without their father. Even though it had been his choice to leave, she still felt huge regret and responsibility about the situation. 

So when Emma called and wanted Beth to spend hours on the phone, Beth felt compelled to be there for her. ‘It’s like compensation,’ she told me. ‘I feel like I have to give my time to recompense her for the time she lost with her father.’

However, despite her feelings of guilt, Beth was growing tired of having to be there for Emma’s every whim. She was beginning to feel resentful that her newfound freedom was being taken from her.

Something needed to change.

From the way Beth talked about Emma, I could see that, despite their issues, there was much love between mother and daughter. However there was an unhelpful dynamic happening which kept being reinforced. Beth’s guilt led her to overcompensate by always being there for Emma. Subliminally, this gave Emma the message that she couldn’t cope without her mother, so she leant even more on Beth, which only served to reinforce Beth’s guilt. And on it went!

These hidden patterns can be very powerful and they’ll go on forever until someone recognises the pattern and does something to break it.

your adult child Will become more independent when you set the right Boundaries.

Beth had tried to be more assertive with Emma in the past. On occasion she had messaged Emma saying she was too busy to talk, or she’d just avoided answering the phone altogether.

As we explored this, Beth realised that by ignoring Emma’s calls, she hadn’t been setting healthy boundaries at all—actually, she’d been putting up barriers. Beth realised that her options were not limited to either giving Emma all of her time, or none of her time. Instead, she could establish stronger boundaries around time itself, so that she could respond to Emma in a more compassionate way, but within limits. This would lovingly encourage Emma to develop greater confidence and resilience.

How To Communicate Boundaries With Your Adult Son or Daughter

Beth came up with a plan to set some boundaries and let Emma know that she only had a certain amount of free time to offer. She came up with some phrases, ready to say the next time she felt that Emma was being demanding. She wrote them down so that she had them rehearsed and ready.

Here they are:

For a text message: I missed your call. I’m caught up now but I’m free at 6pm, I’ll call you back then.

For a phone call: I’m free now for twenty minutes, then I have to go out, so do you want to chat until then, or would you rather call back later?

For an email: I always enjoy having a catch up with you, you know how much I love you. I have every faith in you being able to sort out [problem]: I’m so proud of all you do in your life. I’m free tomorrow morning after 10 if you want to call and give me an update.

There were a few awkward moments at first, but soon Emma adjusted to Beth’s new boundaries. Emma became a lot happier in herself; her confidence grew as she learnt to be more resilient, knowing that her mother would always be there for her - but within respectful limits.

Now when they chatted, Beth really enjoyed the conversation rather than having a niggling feeling of resentment, and their relationship became more adult to adult, rather than parent to child.

Do you identify with Beth's situation?

Most of us get caught up in people-pleasing on occasion. But when we spend a lot of time trying not to rock the boat, and saying yes when we want to say no, we can end up feeling resentful, unhappy  -  it spoils the relationship. All that's needed to remedy this is to set some loving boundaries. However, it's not unusual to find this a challenge. Many people struggle to set boundaries, and stick to them.

If this is you, I want to reassure you that you can learn to set boundaries and communicate them well. You can learn to overcome fear and overwhelming emotions that get in the way.

You can learn to practise a little more self-love every day, until one day you'll realise you've changed. You've become the confident person that gains respect and acknowledgment from others.

It all starts with you taking small steps.

Thank You


  • Marléne Shaw

    It sounds like youve been through a lot and it’s only natural that you want your life back. It’s likely that the therapy group will help him to start being more focused and able to feel more independent. Encourage hin to join groups and get outside help as much as possible.

  • Monkey Peanut

    My 32 yr old son has been living with me for almost 10 years… Initially he had a mental break down claiming he wanted a sex change. I knew it not to be true.. eventually after 2 psyc hospital interns and a difficult passage home with me. He changed his mind…then there have been years of him ‘ healing’ Now hes studying coding but decides he wants to be a writer,but also has intermittent rage moments ( often at himself) yesterday he was in tears saying he couldnt find his direction, I consoled him and now he wants to be a part of a therapy/ chat group with once avweek therapy. Thats sounds great..only I am worn out and resentful. I want my life back. But hes never seems to be able to stand on his own two feet. His father (separated since 19 yrs) died in April

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons