Setting Boundaries with Your Parents as an Adult

Does your mother meddle? Do you feel like your dad is critical of the way you live your life?

You may be grown up, but do you find you're still setting boundaries with your parents? Here's how to address the challenges of an overbearing parent.


Do you find your parents offer up little comments and bits of advice whenever they’re around? Do they ever critique your parenting style?

Many of us think setting boundaries with our parents is something that happens when we’re teenagers. We see helicopter parenting as a playground occurrence, not something that will follow us around into midlife.

We may imagine when we move out of the house at 18, our parents will suddenly recognize us as an adult, capable of our own choices and lifestyle. Or maybe we think it happens when we graduate college? Get married? Have children of our own?

Yet, I’ve seen people who struggle with setting boundaries with their parents at age 60! Believe it or not, overbearing parents happen at every age. Here’s how to put a stop to the struggle.

Parents Inform Our Views

One of the most challenging aspects of growing up—for most human beings—is setting limits, boundaries, and expectations with their parents. It’s difficult at almost any age, and we may find trouble with boundaries well into midlife.

The origins of our struggle begin early on. As young children, we need our moms and dads to help us navigate the world around us. We look to our parents for cues on how we’re supposed to act, react, and feel in any given situation. Our parents inform our beliefs about the world around us.

Have you ever seen a child refuse to taste a vegetable because Mom or Dad doesn’t like it? Or have you seen a child look to their parents when they’re asked a question, to ensure they give the “right” response? If so, you realize the tremendous influence parents possess over their kids.

Now, it’s not to say this influence is wrong or harmful. In most cases, it’s entirely appropriate as children are learning about their environment. No matter how much parents scale their response to empower their children, there are still limitations we face as youngsters.

We grow up in a world that’s big when we’re small. As a child, you can’t drive a car, use the stove, or get a job. You’re dependent on your parents for nearly everything in life. You face limitations because of your age and size. These limitations come up as we’re forming our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

Even in a “perfect” childhood (which doesn’t exist), we will form limiting beliefs. We carry these beliefs with us throughout our lives. They inform our future interactions and our views on the world.

If we believe the world is unsafe or we’re not good enough, we may carry those beliefs with us into adulthood. We may still view our world as a place of danger and insecurity, where we’re inadequately equipped to deal with our circumstances.

Compounding our limiting beliefs is falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy trap. We believe we’re not enough, so we act as though we aren’t enough when we walk in the room. People see us, shoulders hunched, head down, and assume we aren’t capable. They don’t call on us to rise to the occasion, which reaffirms our self-fulfilling prophecy, “I’m not enough.”

Now, as adults, when we’re working through this “unfinished business,” we may become aware of the role our parents play in empowering or disempowering us. So how do we repair the rift? How do we address the fact that we’re no longer a helpless child on the playground?

Parents Over-Control or Under-Control

At the Wright Foundation, we work with many families—parents and their children. Getting parents to set appropriate boundaries early in life is one of the biggest challenges. Almost all parents struggle to navigate limits, boundaries, and expectations.

Some parents over-control and some parents under-control their children. They never internalized expectations, limits, and boundaries themselves.

Failing to receive consistent boundaries, limits, and expectations when they have children, they struggle. If their parents were over-controlling, they tend to be under-controlling. Then they get frustrated and blow up. They’re inconsistent, which is confusing for their children.

When their kids grow up, they face the same challenges we’re addressing today. They don’t know how to set consistent boundaries, limits, and expectations with their parents…and the cycle goes on.

It becomes laughable to me when I meet people who are 30, 40, and even 50 years old, and still receiving unsolicited advice from their parents! They’re still allowing their parents to overstep and set the boundaries in their life, even as adults.

At a recent seminar, a man in his late-30s or early 40s stood up and shared what his mother said to him about what he should do and how he should act in the seminar.

I said, “Well, how did you feel about it?”

He said, “Actually, it REALLY pissed me off!”

So, as we discussed it further, I said to him, “Imagine saying to your mother, ‘Mom, if I want advice from you, I’ll ask for it. In the meantime, unsolicited advice will garner an unpleasant response from me until you learn to keep your advice to yourself. Furthermore, I don’t see you as such an exemplary human being I should take your advice in the first place! Why don’t you get help to become a human being who is a living model for me? Someone who doesn’t need to give advice, because she’s living her life so beautifully, I want to be like her?’”

“I know you are capable of keeping your advice to yourself. If you were visiting the President of the United States, I doubt you’d give him unsolicited advice.”

(As a side note: if your mother gives so much unsolicited advice, she would even offer it to the President, she may be deeply gone, and that’s a whole other issue.)

The main point is, share your feelings with openness and honesty. If you’ve had enough of your parents’ overbearing advice, say so! Let them know it needs to stop!

Even though we looked to our parents to lead us in setting boundaries as children, it’s within each of us to set appropriate boundaries as an adult. We don’t need to wait to take our cue from Mom or Dad.

What Does Unsolicited Advice Really Say to Us?

When we get unsolicited advice from a parent, it tells us they don’t believe we can do something correctly. This advice taps into those limiting beliefs and reinforces them.

If your mother says, “You’re not going to let your daughter go out without a coat, are you?” or, “You should get rid of the tree in your front yard,” the comments may seem off-the-cuff. But the underlying message is, “you don’t know how to keep your child warm,” or, “you don’t know how to take care of your yard.”

This critiquing reinforces our beliefs and keeps us in the trap of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Instead, one way to deal with unsolicited advice from family is to say, “Gee, I didn’t ask for advice. Are you criticizing me? Are you telling me I’m inadequate or something?”

Our world today talks a great deal about toxic and overbearing parents. But here’s the truth: They are only toxic because you allow it—you are not the victim!

Toxic parents and overbearing parents require victim-y, submissive children. When we choose to step out of the pattern of drama, stop taking on the role of victim, and stop letting our parents take on the part of persecutor or rescuer, we break the cycle.

Many of us are drawn to drama because it feels productive. It feels like something is happening and we’re making progress. Really, we’re trapped in the same patterns over and over. Instead of falling into the roles, we can empower ourselves to break free.

Remember, you are an adult, and you are 100% responsible for your own happiness. You don’t need to beat up on your parents, but you should stand up for yourself. Handle the situation with humor and honesty, but don’t fall into the same patterns.

For more ways to empower yourself, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training seminar, where we’ll discuss new ways to address your unfinished business. We’re also happy to announce that many of our courses are now available online at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about yourself!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Men: Are You Strong Enough to Win and Secure Enough to Lose?

You might be good at winning, but are you secure enough to lose?

You might be good at winning, but are you secure enough to lose? Here's why it's essential to put yourself out there (even if you aren't the best).


Recently, I was working with a group of men. We were discussing security and strength. The question came up: are you strong enough to win and secure enough to lose?

Now, I realize this topic applies to all people (not only men), but I thought it was an interesting discussion considering the role many men take or believe they’re supposed to take. Society tells men they’re supposed to be strong. They’re supposed to win. They’re supposed to go for the championship and be driven.

But on the other side of this competitive drive is loss. When we go all out and fully engage, we become strong enough to win, but we also become secure enough to accept that losing is the other side of the coin. If we don’t accept the possibility of losing, then we may be holding back too much.

Being Strong Means Putting Yourself Out There

It’s easy to compete with others when we know we’re good at something. When we’re assured a win (or at least a fair shot), we go into the situation with confidence and self-assuredness.

On the other hand, when you aren’t sure you’re skilled at a task, do you still give it your all? Do you go in and give it your full effort, even if you know it’s going to be hard? Do you try it, even though you might not win?

Many of us get stuck because we stop pushing ourselves beyond our areas of mastery. We get tied up in the pleasure of being great at what we’re doing. It feeds our ego, and we feel on top of our game. But after a while, we also get bored.

Now when this boredom sets in, we may not recognize our feelings as boredom. We may instead think we’re not happy with our job or we haven’t found our passion. We may feel, neutral, or blah about our situation. Similarly, we may think our relationship isn’t as novel and exciting anymore. We may believe that our romantic feelings for our partner are waning. Our eye may even start to wander.

Boredom masked as contentment isn’t a failure on the part of those around us. We may feel like we’re coasting along, going through the same motions every day because our job isn’t stimulating, or our spouse isn’t thrilling. The reality is, we’re coasting because we’ve decided to dial it in.

The truth is, if you’re bored, it’s because you’re not pushing yourself further. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t putting yourself out there enough. If you’re feeling unexcited, it’s because you aren’t pushing yourself to engage and get more involved. You aren’t challenging yourself enough.

With growth comes challenges, and even failure. If you aren’t experiencing challenges, whether at work or in your relationship, it’s not a sign that those around you are inadequate. It’s often a sign that you aren’t allowing your guard to come down.

I’ve met many men who are extremely strong, smart, and competitive. They’re strong, and they believe others aren’t driven enough to keep them interested. They may feel like their job isn’t keeping up with them. They may feel like their partner isn’t meeting with their expectations.

The reality is, they’re not keeping themselves interested. They’re able to say, “other people bore me because they can’t keep up,” but it’s really on them to continue exceeding their expectations. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to hang on to your interest or keep you engaged.

If you’re bored with always coming in first, you aren’t playing the game hard enough. You’re getting comfortable as a big fish in a small pond.

So, you may be strong enough to win at the game you’re playing now and to compete on the level that you’re currently at. But can you beat yourself? Can you push yourself to continue moving into spaces where you aren’t the smartest, strongest, or most competitive in the room?

Does Your Partner Cater to Your Ego?

So, men, let’s talk for a minute about your romantic relationships. Did you know most romantic partners cater to you? They manage your fragile ego. They allow you to pretend you’re dominant in a few zones.

Think about it—when you come home after a long day, you get to be the hero. You get to be the big dog who comes home and gets the fun. You play with the kids and rile them up. You may do a few dishes or help with the laundry and then you feel like the hero. Meanwhile, your wife or partner is managing the rest of the game. She’s dealing with the day-to-day nitty-gritty. She’s cleaning up the messes and getting everything taken care of.

Again, it’s a broad generalization, but many men are too insecure to be fully engaged with their whole family. To be fully engaged, you need to be vulnerable. You have to be open and emotional. This may mean doing things that feel silly, embarrassing, or difficult. It may mean helping out in ways that aren’t comfortable for you (or don’t align with your ego).

Once again, it’s about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

For both men and women engaged in a relationship, it becomes a question of truth. Are you strong enough to tell the truth that needs to be said? When the truth is told to you (no matter how difficult), do you listen? Or do you defend and make pitched battles?

There is a vulnerability in “losing” fights with our partner. We have to admit we’re wrong and agree with the truth when it’s told to us. That means, if your wife says, “you’re not doing enough around the house.” You need to listen. She’s probably right. (It also means women need to speak up and say something when they’re dissatisfied.)

In our book, The Heart of the Fight, we discuss the importance of telling and agreeing with the truth. It’s one of the rules of engagement to help you have better fights. It’s not that conflict is wrong or needs to be avoided; conflict makes your relationship stronger! But each person needs to go in to fight FOR the relationship, rather than against.

If you tell the truth and always agree with the truth, fights don’t break down into petty battles. You stop attacking each other or fighting to be “right.” It takes vulnerability to admit when you’re wrong. It takes vulnerability to listen to the input of your partner and make adjustments. It also requires vulnerability to speak up even when you’re afraid you’re going to piss off the other person.

If both partners follow the rules of engagement—agreeing with the truth, fighting for the relationship (not against), and realizing each person is 100% responsible for his or her emotions—you may find yourself battling towards bliss. Allow yourself to lose, admit fault, and engage in activities when you aren’t guaranteed a win.

Your satisfaction and fulfillment exist outside of your comfort zone. If you want to live a life of greater happiness, success, and purpose, you must test your limits. Push yourself to go further, branch out, and get a little uncomfortable. Learn to become strong enough to lose, rather than relying on the safe wins.

For more ways to get more out of life, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. We’re excited to announce our courses are now available for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about your relationships and yourself!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.