It was hard not to overhear the conversation taking place in the corner booth of the restaurant. It went something like this; “My mom controls what I eat, what I drink, what I wear, what I say, what I buy, where I go and how long I can be away. I know she’s only visiting for two weeks but I don’t think I can make it. Doesn’t she realize I’m in my forties?”

Someone was asked when do you stop being a parent and their answer was, “When you die; that’s when you stop being a parent.” While technically this may be true, the actual role the parent plays does and should change over time.

As infants, children completely rely on their parents for everything; feeding, clothing, shelter, mobility, etc. As the child grows, they hopefully become more independent in some of these basic areas of living while still needing and depending on the parent for protection, guidance, love and support, both physically and emotionally.

Over time, the process of the parent being in total control of the child slowly ebbs away as the child continually gains independence. And with each act of independence emotions can be quite different. When the child takes his/her first step, the parent is ecstatic. However when that same child drives off for the first time in a car by themselves, the parent feels anything but ecstatic!

Even though the level of responsibility is gradually handed over to the child it can seem to the parent that overnight they have a full fledged adult standing before them. While one of the most important goals as a parent (or should be) is to raise children who become independent and self-reliant people, the transition of power can be somewhat troublesome for some.

Everyone has their own unique relationship with their parents. However, if you are an adult having boundary issues with your parents, chances are, it is not something new. The pattern was probably set in place during childhood.

As a child, if your parents set healthy boundaries for you and you learned to stay within those boundaries and why it mattered, chances are good that as an adult you know how to set and enforce boundaries of your own. However, if those boundary lines were blurred or not clearly marked with an understanding of why they were relevant, it might be challenging for you to identify and state your boundaries to others.

Setting limits and boundaries is an important part of every relationship. But this can be a somewhat difficult when dealing with the relationship between parents and adult children. So, let’s say you are having a hard time dealing with a parent who keeps forgetting that you are an adult now. If we are to give them the benefit of the doubt, they might not knowingly be infringing upon your boundaries. If you haven’t been clear that you have a boundary it’s somewhat unfair to expect the other person to honor it. This can hold true in other relationships as well. So the first thing you need to do is figure out what boundaries need to be set in place.

Only you can know what boundaries need to be put into place according to your family’s specific history. Consider the areas of your life where you feel that your parent is overstepping their bounds. As you think of the situations, identify what specific behavior do you find unacceptable. Taking it a step further, ask yourself why do you find it unacceptable. Some common areas where parents can overstep are, finances, interfering with choice of partner, careers, religion or lack thereof, parenting styles, demanding time at every holiday, etc. Really, the list can be endless which is why it is so specific to each individuals family.

Now that you know what your boundaries are, you are ready to convey them. Generally the best time to sit down with your parent is when you can calmly discuss the situation, when things are going well vs. in the heat of the moment. However, sometimes this cannot be avoided. Start out by telling the other person how important the relationship is to you.  Then honestly but respectfully communicate to them what your boundaries are and why they are important to you. Depending upon your relationship, this can be easier said than done but nevertheless, necessary.

More often than not when you begin to create a new boundary with someone, that person might push against the boundary for a short time. It’s important to hold firm. When you set a limit—stick to it. If you don’t you will be sending a message that your boundary does not really matter. If there is a boundary that has already been violated and you’re giving the person another chance, you may need to let them know what the consequences will be if they violate the boundary again.

By saying this I do not mean for you to stuff your feelings away or pretend they don’t exist. What I am saying however, is to prioritize the relationship over being right. The next time you and your parent are on the verge of a battle, take a moment to ask yourself a couple of questions: “Is there a right and wrong in this situation?” “Does it matter if I am right?” “Is this something that I’ll still feel strongly about in a year?” If not then could I gently suggest that you give them a little slack? You know there is an old saying that says; “What goes around, comes around.” That is another way of me saying, chances are one day you might be the parent having to learn how to let go or back off. “Just sayin!”

Even in the best of familial relationships there might be times when you will need to set some boundaries with “the parents” so you can live your life. Boundaries actually help to create more secure and healthy relationships. It is usually when there is a lack of boundaries that it leads to issues among families. Sometimes setting boundaries with a parent can create guilt on the part of the child or a sense of rejection on the part of the parent. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that you are rejecting behaviors and NOT the person.

Let’s face it: every relationship is unique with some being much more difficult to manage than others. There is no shame in asking for help when the relationship with your parents feels overwhelming or even toxic. Therefore, if this applies to you then I invite you to call me (Kris Henderson) at 616-516-1570 or click on the website link to schedule an appointment. Together we will work to better understand your relationship with your parents in addition to setting and practicing boundaries with the goal of promoting a happy, healthy, and balanced relationship with your parents.

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