Looking at the menu, I was trying to choose between a hamburger or a dinner salad. However, I couldn’t help but overhear a fellow diner lamenting the fact (and quite loudly by the way), that her parents were driving her nuts. If what she was stating was in fact true, it was a clear example of parents overstepping boundaries. Her complaint went like this; “I can’t stand it when my parents want to control everything I do. My mom tells me how to dress. My dad tells me what I should and shouldn’t spend my money on. You name it– they tell me how, when, and why I should do it. I know they’re only visiting for two weeks, but I don’t think I can make it! When are they going to realize I’m in my forties?”
As infants, children completely rely on their parents for everything, such as feeding, clothing, shelter, mobility, etc. Through the growing years, however, they should be learning to 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.
THE CHANGING ROLE OF A PARENT
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. I myself experienced this as a first time mom when my firstborn finally let go of my hand and took his first toddling steps all by himself. I couldn’t have been more excited and praised him over and over. However, when that same child drove off for the first time in a car by himself? I’m here to tell you, I was a ball of nerves! Even though the level of responsibility had been gradually handed over to my child, it seemed to me that overnight I was looking at a young adult standing before me. And let me tell you, it brought up a whole host of conflicting emotions.
While most parents strive to raise children to become independent and self-reliant individuals, the transition of power for some can be a real struggle. If, as an adult, your parents are overstepping boundaries, chances are, it is not something new. The pattern was likely set during childhood. For example, growing up in a household where boundary lines were muddy or not clear-cut. Or, if you didn’t have an understanding of why they were important, the odds are greater you will struggle to identify and state your boundaries not only to your parents but to others as well.
So because setting limits and boundaries are such an important part of every relationship, including those between parents and adult children let’s talk about what you can do to improve the situation you now find yourself in. First, let’s give your parent the benefit of the doubt. They might not know they are overstepping boundaries. Have you expressed that you have a boundary? If not, it’s somewhat unfair to expect your parent to honor it. You will find this to be true in other relationships as well. So, with all this being said, I’d like to give you four steps to carry out if and when you need boundaries to be set in place.
4 Steps to take to tell parents they are overstepping boundaries
- FIGURING OUT WHAT BOUNDARIES YOU NEED. 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 boundaries. As you think of the situations, identify what specific behavior 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. The list can be endless, which is why it is so specific to each individual’s family.
- HAVE THE TALK. 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 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.
- HOLD FIRM. 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.
- CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. This doesn’t 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 the following 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 I gently suggest that you give them a little slack. You know why? Because chances are, one day you might be the parent having to learn how to let go or back off. “Just sayin!”
Without a doubt, having to tell a parent they are overstepping boundaries can be somewhat difficult and nerve-racking. I get it! I also realize it may create a sense of guilt on your part. Or, a sense of rejection on the part of your parent. Therefore, it’s important to tell yourself you are only rejecting behaviors and NOT the person. Working this through with an anxiety coach can be a great help reinforcing the reason you want to set some boundaries in the first place is that you desire a more secure and healthy relationship with your parent. And, that even in the best of familial relationships the need for setting boundaries comes along once in a while.
Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, LPC. I want you to know that I am here to help. I invite you to contact me or make an appointment online. Together we will work toward a better understanding of your relationship with your parents to promote a happy, healthy, and balanced relationship.
This article originally appeared on Counseling Solutions of West Michigan