Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Parenting Adult Children: Six Steps to Sanity

  • Allison Bottke Author, Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children
  • Published Aug 04, 2009
Parenting Adult Children: Six Steps to Sanity

Editor's Note: This article is fifth in a 6-part series on how parents can stop enabling unhealthy behaviors in their adult children. Read Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Let’s say we’re diagnosed with a severe illness—“Sickness X.”

Sickness X is a serious illness, to be sure, yet it can be cured by following a prescription that includes taking medicine and changing some specific habits. We trust our physician to know what he’s doing, so we get the prescription filled, begin taking the medicine, and follow the doctor’s orders so we’ll get better. Some medications are short term, some are long term, and others are for life. Some medicines have a bitter taste; others have no taste.  Many have side effects; others do not.

But if the medicine will cure us, we gladly suffer the bitterness, the side effects, and even endure the long road to recovery. We know that treatment is better than leaving the disease in its present state.

Consider the “Six Steps to SANITY,” outlined below, as our medication to help cure our illness of enabling. One dose won’t do it; we’ll need to stay on this prescription for quite some time until we return to full health. Just as our adult children may slip back and forth into their dependency on us, so, too, we may slip back and forth into our habit of coming to their rescue. Therefore, we must pray for the strength to remain firm in our resolve to make changes. Backsliding at this point is very dangerous, as we will lose not only our credibility but any momentum we may have gained as a result of the changes we are making. It is vital to continue on this prescribed course of “medication” for the duration of the treatment—no matter how difficult it may be.

I must caution you, however, that there is a possibility of a long-term side effect in following this course of treatment. In time we will begin to regain our SANITY, and we will begin to feel a sense of self-respect and peace despite any crisis.

Exactly What Is SANITY?

SANITY is what we gain when we stop focusing on our adult children and begin to focus on changing our own attitudes and behaviors.

How do we get SANITY? By recognizing and identifying the false conceptions we believe about ourselves and our adult children and replacing worldly lies with spiritually empowering truths.

In what situations will SANITY work? We can implement the six steps to SANITY to help an adult child grow up wh

  • Has never left our home
  • Has returned home (with or without mate/children)
  • Considers our home a revolving door
  • Lives on his own (or with others/roommates)
  • Is a full- or part-time college student

I trust you’ve begun to realize the part you’ve played in this ongoing drama of enabling, as well as the enemy’s tactics in using these negative feelings against you. I pray you have realized the futility of harboring the negative feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, fear, and inadequacy—and that you are ready to develop new strengths to begin living a life of freedom from bondage. It’s time for healing—emotionally, spiritually, financially, and psychologically. So let’s look at the six steps to SANITY so you can begin to implement them into your life at last.

Six Steps to SANITY

S = Stop our own negative behaviors (especially stop the flow of money!). One of the critical first things we must immediately stop is the flow of money to our adult child.  We must stop being the First Bank of Mom and Dad or the Community Bank of Grandpa and Grandma.

A = Assemble a support group. Stop by our SANITY support group website (visit  and follow the links) and consider getting involved. Remember, there is strength in numbers!

N = Nip excuses in the bud. You must no longer accept excuses. Period. Make it evident early on that you have no intention of being swayed by clichés or con games or lame excuses.

I = Implement rules and boundaries. These rules and boundaries must be well thought-out and non-negotiable, with firm but reasonable consequences and timeframes. And they must be written down and included in your action plan.

T = Trust your instincts. Nowhere does the need to trust our instincts hold truer than when we suspect our adult children are on drugs, have alcohol problems, or are involved in illegal activity. Intuition is a powerful tool. However, that still small voice will eventually stop talking altogether if we continue to ignore it.

Y = Yield everything to God (let go and let God). For some parents perhaps religious faith hasn’t been much of an issue as you brought up your child. But that’s one thing about being a parent in pain—you realize the help you need is going to have to come from some source other than self.

As we begin to follow the six steps to SANITY, we often discover that one of the benefits could be that our adult child may actually become the person we’ve been pretending they were or dreaming they could be all along. Now, wouldn’t that make all the tough-love pain worthwhile?

It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey of enabling an adult child. What matters is that you can stop the insanity right now—today—this very minute. You can gain SANITY, and in doing so, begin an amazing adventure of self-discovery.

I have walked in your shoes, and I have discovered the secret of SANITY, that no matter what happens, I am never alone. God is in control.

August 10, 2009

Next Time: It's Time to Change!

If you’re a hurting parent who dearly loves your adult child but longs to see him at last take responsibility for his life, please take a moment to watch the videos on the audio/video page of our web site. It could save your sanity—and maybe even your adult child’s life. Video clip at: 

Adapted from Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, Six Steps to Hope and Healing by Allison Bottke © 2008. Harvest House Publishers. All rights reserved. Visit