Yes, read the title again: boundary setting with family and relatives is TOTALLY appropriate. For someone who has struggled with poor boundaries with her family, especially parents, saying that out loud is weird but feels good! Boundary setting with our parents is probably one of the more challenging ones to set for some people. We love our parents. For most families, the parents provided so much while the kids grew up into adults. They made sure you were fed, had a roof over your head, helped with schoolwork, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there are some parents who may have been struggling with their own challenges and created toxic environments in the home, but there typically is still a piece of us that loves them and wishes things could have been different. In either case, if you are not comfortable with something, and your parents are disrespecting you, you can set a boundary. There will absolutely be some pushback. How much are we willing to give up our own self-respect to keep our parents from having a tantrum? Is it worth it to keep the peace while you feel stressed and anxious?
I recently picked up a book at my local bookstore called “The Book of Boundaries: Set The Limits That Will Set You Free” by Melissa Urban. First off, I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who needs to hear that boundary setting in general is appropriate. There are chapters on setting boundaries at work, friends, and co-parenting to name a few. Reading through the chapter “When the Drama is Your Mama” the author gives great advice on creating boundaries with parents and in-laws, provides scenarios and scripts on what can be said. However, the last paragraph of the chapter stuck out to me:
“Remember when things feel scary or challenging that boundaries are designed to make your relationships better, and someone has to go first to create a new generational pattern for your family.”
We learn from our families growing up, from their values, the way they run the house, the way they talk and interact with one another. It takes one generation to make changes and break the generational patterns. It is up to us to break those generational patterns and create healthier relationships for ourselves, our parents, and our kids (for me, future kids).
So, what kind of boundaries could your parents be breaking? Some examples are:
- Talking negatively about one another to you (especially if they are divorced/separated)
- Providing unhelpful comments and criticism to you
- Refusing to use correct pronouns, names or gender identities
- Saying hurtful things out of “love and care for you”
- Forcing or guilting you and/or your kids to give hugs and kisses
- Showing up to your home or space unannounced
- Guilting you into letting them borrow money, cars, or other items
- Pressuring you to come to visit them, or come to family gatherings/events
Do any of those resonate with you? If so, does it stress you out? Or is it something you really don’t mind. How people feel about these situations can vary person to person. Some may not mind if their parents show up to their home unannounced, or maybe want to store their boat in your driveway. If it is something that causes stress and anxiety for you, then you may want to think about and consider setting some boundaries.
As mentioned earlier, we can expect some pushback. The good ole “I am your parent” before expressing why they can push that boundary. Or when other family members find out about the boundary, “but that’s your mom”. Those statements can have us feeling guilty, not in control, invalidated and even resentful. We can acknowledge their feelings and then share what we need. Some examples can be:
- “Thank you, mom, for your help in watching my child, I really appreciate it. We are currently limiting his candy intake; I am trusting you to not give him chocolate while he’s with you. It’d be a great help in getting him to take a nap after I pick him up.”
- “I can see it’s hard to leave without giving you a kiss and hug goodbye, and I value consent. I’m asking that you do not force a hug and kiss goodbye and I will give them if I am comfortable.”
- “I appreciate you feeling worried about me, however commenting on how I look is not helpful”
- “Please don’t talk about mom/dad in front of me. I love you both, let’s talk about something else.
Preparing ahead of time on how you will take care of yourself mentally and emotionally is an important step before setting the boundary. Plan to go for a walk, meditate, or find an activity that would help you relax, especially if you received a lot of heat from setting the boundary. Remember why the boundary is important to you, know what you want out of it, expect pushback and expect to have to repeat the boundary more than once. If you set the boundary once and parents are respectful, that’s awesome! If you have to repeat the boundary and it seems parents are struggling with it, my advice is to be patient, stay consistent and don’t go back on it. Your parents may have done a lot for you as a child, teen and even as an adult, and you are still allowed to set boundaries with them in order to have a healthy relationship.