Is Your Family Holding You Back?

meme with a picture of a young woman sitting on a wall that overlooks at city. It says, No one can become a truly biblical adult without setting some limits, leaving home, and cleaving somewhere else.When some individuals begin to develop boundaries, they say, “But my mother (or father, or sister, or brother) is my best friend.” They often feel fortunate that, in times of family stress, their best friends are the family in which they were raised. They don’t think they need an intimate circle of friends besides their own parents and siblings.

They misunderstand the biblical function of the family. God intended the family to be an incubator in which we grow the maturity, tools, and abilities we need. Once the incubator has done its job, it’s supposed to encourage the young adult to leave the nest, connect to the outside world (see Genesis 2:24), and establish a spiritual and emotional family system on one’s own. The adult is free to do whatever God has designed for him or her.

Over time, we are to accomplish God’s purposes of spreading his love to the world, to make disciples of all the nations (see Matthew 28:19–20). Staying emotionally locked in to the family of origin frustrates this purpose. It’s hard to see how we’ll change the world when we live on the same street.

No one can become a truly biblical adult without setting some limits, leaving home, and cleaving somewhere else. Otherwise, we never know if we have forged our own values, beliefs, and convictions—our very identity—or if we are mimicking the ideas of our family.

Can family be friends? Absolutely. But if you have never questioned, set boundaries, or experienced conflict with your family members, you may not have an adult-to-adult connection with your family. If you have no other “best friends” than your family, you need to take a close look at those relationships. You may be afraid of separating, individuating, and becoming an autonomous adult.


Learn more about how to say no and really mean it by reading The New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries, now updated and expanded!

➡️  Get The 10 Laws of Boundaries eBook when you subscribe to the Boundaries Weekly email newsletter. Learn More


  1. Mary Ann says

    Interesting article, Yes my family has been my whole like now that my husband of 57yrs died. I’m alone and need to find a life. Very difficult for me at the age of 78. I will need to make a life for myself and find friends. Thank you for this article. It was an conviction. My family would like for me to move closer not sure if that is the right move for me. So please pray for me I have asked the Lord for his direction.

  2. Mary says

    This is good for those that had a good family foundation growing up, responsible parents, both parents at home but can you tell me if the same rules apply for the opposite of this. Love to hear some encouraging feedback. I’m certain that many of us can benefit from it. Thanks & God Bless!

  3. Luann says

    Dear Mary Ann,

    I believe that keeping your own life is the best direction for you! Stay connected to
    your family but also discover new ways of fulfillment, God knows your needs He will
    not fail you. Ask Him and He will direct you!

    Trust in the Lord

  4. Jenn says

    I will be praying for you, Mary Ann! Moving closer to family members when you are older and have been out of your family home for a long time seems not to be the worst thing. I know I want my mom close, for when she needs help with yard-work or if she is ill and needs me to bring her chicken noodle soup. 🙂

    I would like prayer for my husband. He has never lived away from his parents’ farm, except for 2 years of college. We have been married for a little over 2 years and I agreed to move in to the farmhouse because his parents are in their 70’s and have health problems.

    The longer I am there and the more that I see of the dynamics, the more unhealthy the relationships seem to be. He feels obligated to care for them and the farm and they depend too heavily on him. It would be better for them to live in a smaller, single floor plan house that would be more affordable and it would be better for our little family (hubby, me, and 8 year old step son 50% of the time) to live on our own. But no one will make the first move and I will be the scapegoat if I insist that we go.

    Prayers for wisdom and clear vision much appreciated!

    • Dj says

      Tough situation Jen. Hopefully you can get some good advise on how to handle it. Are there any community supports for the inlaws? Sounds like your husband needs to work out what he can and can’t do comfortably taking into account cleaving to you and your step son (which I assume is his son) and taking into account the 2 of you may have kids in the future

      • Jenn says

        Thanks, DJ. I’ll be praying for your situation, too.
        My husband may not have ever considered cleaving. He is a creature of routine and he does not voice any discomfort with living with his folks and doing what he has always done. He mostly spends time with family members (his and my mom) and rarely socializes with anyone else. We will not have children of our own, due to a medical procedure that I had to have done.
        He is a hard worker and a good man, but feels like it is his job to stay and support them, since they raised him. He has 2 sisters and a brother who live nearby, with their own families to care for.
        I would prefer to honor and respect them, without feeling obligated to live with them. Until God shows that to my husband, I will believe that I am where He wants me.

        Like you, I have to do some things by myself, because hubby is not comfortable socializing. But if I want to do it bad enough, I do. He says he’s fine with that, just doesn’t want to do it, himself. So I go visit my brother in NYC sometimes.

  5. DJ says

    Great read. My partner’s never been able to leave his family of origin emotionally and financially. This has impacted on so many areas of our lives including building our own community as he didn’t want to go it and make friends with me only wanting to socialise with his brother who reacted by emotionally moving away, not starting a family of our own and so forth. Finding friends of my own in a couples/family world has been very hard as most want my partner to come to things with me.

    I just wished I’d had access to boundaries material and education on relationships years ago. But sadly in Australia there aren’t any courses for individuals to learn about relationships and with marriage enhancement courses won’t let one attend unless the partner comes too.. After having stumbled upon the boundaries book it took years of looking to find a boundaries course.

    So important that any individual be able to access both boundaries and relationship education courses at any stage of their life without it being conditional they have a partner to attend with them.

  6. Valaree Weiss says

    I recently set boundaries with a family member. I had to, our relationship wasn’t healthy. I’ve with fought with my self over it. This is an answer to prayer the missing puzzle piece I needed. Thank you.

  7. Sean C. says

    Great article, I recently stopped contact with my mother due to a lack of boundaries which has created an enmeshment with me, my wife, and our children. Over the last year I’ve confronted her with behaviors that indicated abuse of medications which she acknowledged about 3-4 different times. She revealed during a conversation she had with my wife and I about our poor parenting that she actually was abusing medications quite consistently for the past 8 years which was the catalyst for us pulling away. However through this I’ve realized how enmeshed our relationship really was and how stunted I’ve been in my growth and development as a man. One quote from her was “Your (name omitted – 5y/o) daughter doesn’t know the difference between Mom, dad, or Grammie.” That was a big revelation in how she thought of herself in regards to our family and relationship. Unfortunately my father passed when I was 16 and never had a good male mentor. Regardless, I’ve purchased the Boundaries book and workbook and look forward to getting through it help my development. I’m also reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters which has been insightful in regards to the importance of fathers in daughters lives.

    Sorry for the boundaries throw up.

    Many blessings,


    • Sue F says

      My family of origin didn’t have boundaries…don’t even think they know what the word means. It took me until I was in my 60’s and reading the books of Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend to really get a grip on things. I loved the books about the button pushers and also the entitlement trap. So enlightening!

  8. Erica Farley says

    I think family, especially parents also will hold their children back from living their life out of fear of the unknown. Parents or relatives who haven’t stretched themselves throughout their life, try to keep other family members from stretching themselves. It’s like a pail full of crabs. One crab tries to get out and the rest try to pull him back down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *