More Boundaries with Parents

fence -- more boundaries with parents
Check out my first post on this topic

What if the military were ordered to set up a perimeter around a certain area and keep people out, but kept complaining, “People are always coming up to us and begging us to let them through. It’s really hard not to! Or they keep just slipping through our perimeter and doing whatever they want to do. They are out of control and there’s nothing we can do. They won’t honor our boundaries!”

What would you say to these military commanders? Probably something like, “Of course people won’t honor your boundaries! The reason the boundary is needed in the first place is because people so desperately wanted to get into this area where we don’t want them to go. Do your job!”

So it is with personal boundaries. Creating personal boundaries is like setting up a perimeter. You are determining that certain people will not be permitted into certain physical/emotional spaces in your life. It’s your job to keep them out.

Don’t expect the person you want to keep out to honor your boundaries. If they were the kind of person who honored boundaries, you wouldn’t have needed to strengthen them in the first place. They would already know that it violates your boundaries to criticize you or your child, to constantly come over without calling, or whatever they are doing.

It is up to you to enforce your boundaries, to not allow others to cross them. If others are constantly disregarding your boundaries, there is only one reason for it — you have not enforced them. It is up to you who gets to come into your home, have you over to theirs, enjoy your company, see your children, be part of your life.

In some cases, you may need to get the police involved. Granted, this is more often with former boyfriends/girlfriends than parents, but I may as well cover it here. There will be times a person will need to consider a restraining order against a parent.

What is a restraining order? It is a boundary you create that is enforced legally. You create this boundary when a person in your life has refused to honor any of the other boundaries you have set up.

Why are restraining orders sometimes violated? Because the kind of people who harass until a restraining order is required don’t know how to honor boundaries. If they did, it would never have come to this.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this. But if someone is harassing you and won’t honor any of your personal boundaries, you may need to seek this legal protection.

On the other hand, restraining orders could often be avoided if a person would simply enforce the boundaries they create in the first place. Most people, when you erect and enforce strong personal boundaries, will eventually get the message and leave you alone.

Bottom line — the only person responsible for honoring your boundaries is you. If you constantly allow people to violate your boundaries, the person really not honoring them is you. If you don’t honor your boundaries, why should anyone else?

If you find yourself incapable of setting and enforcing healthy boundaries, or need encouragement in setting some especially strict boundaries with people you dearly love (like parents), seek counseling.

A therapist can help you set appropriate boundaries, encourage you in your enforcement of them, and help you explore why you may be struggling to enforce boundaries with certain people.

Question: What kinds of struggles have you had in setting or maintaining boundaries?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Tonya

    Thanks for a great post. I am a 40 year old only child of very conservative Christian parents. You know the type that say the exact things you blog about driving you nuts. They are wonderful well meaning people and I believe they love me but it is conditional. They want to control every aspect of my life, from my education, where I live, how I parent, my finances, down to the vehicles I drive. They remind me of any help they have ever given me and of course any mistake I have ever made. I feel guilt and anxiety despite the fact that I am a successful professional. Sure, I’ve made mistakes like every human. Yes, my parents have helped me and I’m thankful for the help– gratitude which I’ve expressed and not taken for granted. When I express a difference in opinion, as I am much more liberal in my beliefs, I am told that they are disappointed in my way of thinking and they are worried about my soul. They have corrected me and told me about my shortcomings in front of my 12 year old son. My son has a very distorted view as to parental roles because my parents have been so active in his life, I think my son thinks I’m his sister sometimes. It is to the point my son wants to stay with them when things aren’t going his way at home because they have him so spoiled and encourage him to come over if he isn’t happy with mommy. I have allowed them way too much control in my life. I want my kids to have a relationship with their grandparents and I love my parents, but I need to establish boundaries because I realize how unhealthy this is. I feel like a little girl disobeying my parents when I try to establish boundaries. In dealing with my parents, I regress immediately returning to the role of a child. I still do not want to be in trouble, their disapproval brings me great anxiety. To know me on every other level, you would think this wasn’t possible as I run a successful non-profit managing 75 staff and crisis management. Professionally, I recognize how toxic this situation is. David, thank you for bringing this all to common subject to light.

    • That’s a really tough issue you’re dealing with there, Tonya. It’s proof positive that counseling-type stuff always looks easy in print, but it can be so difficult to actually put into practice. Those pesky emotions! Sincere best wishes to you.