Boundaries are essential to all healthy relationships, and this is especially true in our relationships with our parents. Trouble is, it’s not always easy setting effective boundaries with mom and dad. In fact, parental relationships can often be the hardest of all when it comes to boundary setting.
There’s not only the potential for pushback and criticism.
And there’s a chance that, even if you do set boundaries, your parents may never respect them.
But fear not. In this blog post, I’m going to share with you 4 straightforward steps for how to set boundaries with your parents. The process isn’t always easy. But when you know the right steps to take, it’s totally doable and well worth it.
What are the benefits of setting boundaries with your parents?
Before we look at the steps themselves, let’s consider the benefits of having boundaries in place with your parents. Since setting boundaries isn’t always easy, it helps to understand what you stand to gain from putting boundaries in place.
The first benefit of setting boundaries with our parents is the benefit most of us probably think of when we think about boundaries. When we set boundaries with our parents, we’re essentially communicating to them what we consider acceptable in the relationship, as well as what we don’t. So, simply put, boundaries establish limits in our relationships with others that help us to get our needs met.
But there’s another benefit to setting boundaries with our parents, one that’s maybe even more important than the first. When you set boundaries with your parents, you’re basically establishing that you’re an adult with your own rights, preferences and autonomy.
This doesn’t mean that setting boundaries with your parents will automatically result in them starting to see and respect you as an adult. That may never happen.
What setting boundaries with your parent can do, however, is help you to take on a new, more empowered role in the relationship. Setting boundaries, in other words, allows you to exercise and take ownership of your adulthood in your relationships with your parents.
So, with these benefits in mind, let’s turn to the 4 steps for how to set boundaries with your parents.
STEP 1 – Identify the boundaries you need to set
There’s an endless number of boundaries we can set in our relationships. So rather than trying to consider all the possible boundaries you could set with your parents, start by asking yourself some basic questions about how you would like these relationships to work.
Try imagining you had already done all the hard work of establishing effective boundaries with your parents. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- How often would you and your parents talk?
- What would you talk about?
- What would you not talk about?
- How much time would you spend together?
- What would you do and not do when spending time together?
- What kind of physical contact would you have, if any?
- What behaviors, including comments, would be off-limits?
Let’s look at an example of how this works:
For years, Jessica’s mom has been letting herself into Jessica’s house to clean, without Jessica’s permission, while Jessica’s at work.
Jessica’s been frustrated by her mom’s lack of respect for her personal space for as long as she can remember. But setting a boundary with her mom is something that’s proven difficult for her. For one thing, all her friends keep telling her that her mom’s just trying to be helpful, and that if were them, they’d gladly let their moms clean their homes.
But after years of Jessica’s mom letting herself into her home, she’s accepted that this irritates the hell out of her and that that’s all that really matters.
So, the boundary Jessica comes up with is that her mom is not going to be welcome in her home unless Jessica has given her permission to be there.
Notice here that this boundary makes it absolutely clear what behavior will no longer be tolerated—Jessica’s mom entering her home without permission.
STEP 2 – Prepare what you’re going to say
The next step is to plan out how you’re going to communicate your boundary to your parent, what you’re actually going to say.
And, yes, boundaries require communication. Communicating your boundary to your parents not only makes your boundary known to them; it also demonstrates to them that you’re an adult and the old parent-child dynamic that once was has changed.
Initially, Jessica’s plan was to just change out the locks on her doors and leave it at that. But after giving it some thought, she’s decided that, though it’s not going to be easy, communicating her boundary to her mom in an adult way is likely going to be a lot more effective than changing her locks without saying anything.
Here’s the script Jessica develops:
“Mom, I know that you’re only trying to help when you clean my house, and I appreciate your intention. But I’m just not comfortable with you letting yourself into my house when I’m not there, and I’d like you to please stop doing that. When I do need your help, I’ll certainly let you know.”
STEP 3 – Determine what happens when your boundaries are not upheld
The third step is to determine the consequences of your parent not respecting your boundary. Consequences are an essential part of establishing effective boundaries, especially with a toxic parent.
For Jessica, if her mom lets herself back into Jessica’s house without permission, the consequence will be Jessica changing her door locks.
STEP 4 – Communicate your boundary to your parent
The fourth and final step is to communicate your boundary.
I highly recommend doing this in person if possible. And one way you might go about getting yourself prepared for this conversation is to remind yourself that you’re an adult with your own rights, preferences, and autonomy.
Setting boundaries with our parents isn’t always easy, but getting your needs met and feeling more empowered are well worth the effort.
Looking for some additional support in your relationships with your parents? Contact Modern Era Counseling today. Our counselors are dedicated to providing the support you deserve.