Making Friends With Your Parents: Setting Healthy Boundaries
- Have the Conversation
- Frame it in the Positive
- Be Clear
- Be Loving
- Hold Firm
The phone rings for the third time that evening, and the adult daughter sighs before answering. Yes, the guests are still there. No, she doesn’t know what time the dinner party will be over. No, she will not call after everyone goes home. When she returns to her guests, she feels aggravated and frustrated, and just a little guilty. Something has got to change, she reminds herself. Somehow there must be some boundaries for her relationship with her parents. Many adult children struggle with the need to set boundaries. How do you do it? Here are five tips that may help.
Related resource: Top 20 Psychology Degree Programs in the North
Have the Conversation
Unless it is planned, it probably won’t happen. The reason is simple: emotional strings get tangled. It is too easy for something to go wrong, or for guilt to keep it from happening. A reactionary response to a situation can cause hurt and bad feelings. That means an adult child must sit down and think about her goals, then plan a time when the conversation won’t be rushed and when she is not reacting to the latest boundary incursion. Set a time, then make it a priority.
Frame it in the Positive
An article in Psychology Today states that boundaries actually provide a sense of predictability that makes people feel more secure and safe. The fact that their child is now an adult with a life of her own and a right to her privacy is a huge change from the relationship her parents had with her when they were raising her. Change is usually hard. Setting up protocols for the relationship can reassure parents that they are still an important part of their child’s life. That frustrated daughter will accomplish more by framing the intervention as a way of improving their relationship and making certain they don’t get pushed aside by the demands of her adult life than she will accomplish by continuing to avoid calling them back or hanging up on them.
This is not the time to “waffle.” Stop signs and speed limits are not suggestions. Decide what behaviors are unacceptable and write them down. Start small, and don’t make it sound like a punishment. The adult child must be clear from the start; the boundaries are not suggestions. They are behaviors that damage the friendship and partnership that can develop between an adult child and her parents. Instead of an accusatory “I can’t even have a life of my own without you needing to know my every move,” she can say, “I have decided to have a weekly watch party with some of my friends. Please don’t call at that time.” Draw the line clearly whether it is asking them to respect your privacy in finances, in relationships or in other matters.
Being told that their relationship with their daughter has changed can feel threatening. Now is the time to offer a trade or an incentive for respecting the boundaries. Maybe a monthly dinner out could be planned, or a weekly call or visit arranged. If the adult child has plans for the holidays that don’t include their parents, an early holiday celebration, or a late one, might be planned.
There must be consequences for violating the boundaries. Whether that frustrated daughter refuses to answer the phone when she is entertaining, or simply hangs up, something should happen if parents refuse to respect the boundaries. Emotional blackmail should have no part in response to broken boundaries because that damages the powerful relationship that can develop as parents realize what a good person their child has become.
It all begins with that changed relationship. If an adult child does a good job of setting boundaries the mutually respectful friendship between her and her parents can flourish.