Parents have a challenging task—to raise children in a loving environment with Godly values and to the point where they have their own wings, and then to let go and watch them fly. 

But what if your children struggle, flounder and lose altitude in their flight? Worse yet, what if they rebound back into the nest? What should parents do then? 

These are incredibly difficult questions. When children grow up and leave home we, as parents, are forced to let them go. But when they struggle and maintain dependence on us, well beyond their youth, our job title becomes murkier. Boundaries are muddier. We become unclear about how much counsel we can rightly give, what kind of limits we can legitimately set and exactly what our role should be. 

In a recent email the parent of a grown daughter asks what to do if his daughter is dating an egotist. He shares his feelings of confusion about his role, given that his daughter is still living in their home, but is old enough to make her own decisions. He and his wife watch her making mistake after mistake, yet feel helpless to intervene. 

Dear Dr. David. I’ve been reading your book, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and fear that my twenty-five year old daughter is dating an egotist. He is full of himself, thinks only of his needs and treats our daughter badly. He’s older than she is and has been married before and has children from another marriage. Our daughter has never been married. 

My wife and I believe this man uses our daughter who has come back to live with us. When we try to talk to her about what we see, she becomes defensive. While she seems to love him, we don’t think he is good for her. In spite of everyone’s advice, she keeps trying to make this impossible relationship work. She works much harder at saving their relationship than he does. But, what can we do? She ignores our advice and in fact seems to resent it. As her parents, is there anything we can do to help her with this relationship? It is so hard to watch a child you love continue on a path of destruction. Why does someone stay in a destructive relationship? Any advice would be appreciated. 

Your letter is certain to interest many readers, especially parents who have “boomerang” kids and those trapped in destructive relationships. Your daughter appears to be both a “boomerang” kid as well as one who is involved in a destructive relationship. What can parents in similar situations do? 

First, we must remember that our grown children are responsible for their own lives. While it is easy for us to look over their shoulders and second-guess their choices, they are the ones responsible for their actions. Your daughter may, sadly, need to learn some difficult lessons before letting go of this destructive relationship. 

Second, while we may view their choices as destructive, this reaction may be simplistic. In other words, there may be more to your daughter’s relationship than meets the eye. Is it possible that her boyfriend has some wonderful traits you’re overlooking? You are focused on the destructive aspects to their relationship and may miss some of the positive qualities. 

Third, destructive relationships can be particularly binding. Research suggests there is a dynamic known as “trauma bonding” that occurs in relationships which have a mixture of very positive and very negative qualities. These relationships can be very strong, in a negative way. It may be that your daughter is caught in the throes of an abusive relationship. Sadly, it may take her hitting some kind of bottom before she lets go of him. 

Fourth, since she is in your home, you still can set some limits on her. You have the right to determine such issues as curfew and behavior within the home. You should not be expected to tolerate any abusive behavior that occurs in your home, to you or to your daughter. Should your daughter fail to abide by your boundaries, you may have to ask her to leave. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of setting a positive example for your daughter. As you exemplify a loving relationship between you and your wife, her mother, you provide a power example that will impact your daughter. You can pray for her and be available to her for counsel when she hits the hard times that seem to be inevitable. 

We would love to hear how others have handled both “boomerang” kids, as well as giving counsel to adult children who are making poor decisions. What works and what doesn’t? Please contact me at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com, or email me at yourrelationshipdoctor@yahoo.com

Publication date: November 12, 2012