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How do I set boundaries with my birth daughter?

Dear Megan,

How do I set boundaries with my birth daughter?  I’ve been reunited with my birth daughter since she turned 18, and now she’s nearly 30.  We’ve had many close times and many distant times over the years.  She is currently going through a very difficult time in her life and has recently moved in with me.  She’s been here a month, and it has been difficult at times to talk with her.  I know she’s going through a rough time emotionally, and I’m trying to be there for her, but she keeps pulling me back and forth.  Sometimes I don’t know what to do.

Recently, her boyfriend has moved in with us as well.  I’m trying to set boundaries with him because the first night he was here he got into a fight with the neighbors.  I’ve never seen such violence and I kicked him out.  He is very manipulative and my daughter keeps breaking up and getting back together with him.  I’ve told her I’m not comfortable with him in my house.  She hasn’t said much in response to me, but I know she’s mad at me.

I just don’t know how to handle our relationship.  I treat her like a daughter but she rebels against that.  Should I just be like a concerned aunt to her?  I know I need to have rules and set boundaries, but I also want her to know how much I love her and want her to stay with me.  I’m afraid this jerk has brainwashed her.  I have turned my whole life upside down for her and she doesn’t seem grateful for it.

How do I handle this adult birth daughter relationship?  I know she’s depressed and her boyfriend is an addict.  Ugh.  Any advice would be so appreciated.  E.H.

Dear E.H.,

This is a tough and heart-breaking situation.  I think you’ve been handling it really well and doing all the right things.  You are right, you have to set boundaries.  This is key in your situation.  Be very clear about what you can and cannot do.  I think it’s very reasonable that you cannot support a relationship with a violent addict who fights with neighbors, putting your housing, not to mention your physical well-being, at risk.

Set boundaries and don’t let her manipulate you

You need to set boundaries because from the outside looking in, it’s possible, from my perspective, that your birth daughter might be manipulating you, too.  I would make it clear to her that you want her in your life, but you can’t provide her a place to live if that includes this boyfriend.  Continue to hold firm and don’t let her talk you into anything, even if this makes her mad.  She should respect your house rules if you are going to provide her with a safe and loving place to live.

If thinking about the relationship as a “concerned aunt” helps you keep things in perspective, and create some distance from the responsibility you are feeling for her well-being, then I’d do that.  You have done so much for her already, and like a concerned aunt, you don’t owe your birth daughter anything.  What you have done for her so far feels really generous and thoughtful.

One thing you might do is ask yourself if this is the relationship you want with your birth daughter.  Maybe you will decide that some space is what you both need, especially so she can get her life together.  This could lead to a healthier, mutually thoughtful and respectful relationship that is more fulfilling for you both.

Best of luck to you both!

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Megan Cohen, Birth Attorney

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