Sometimes our parents can’t turn off parent mode, even when they may need to. It’s ingrained in them to help you since they’ve done it for all of your life, after all!
But what do we do when it becomes overbearing – when our parent’s opinions are unwarranted or even slightly embarrassing because they reprimand and comment on our choices in front of others? In these situations setting boundaries with parents can be helpful.
Sometimes our parents know best. They may have gone through a similar situation before and can offer sound advice. We can look to them for wisdom and knowledge or a shoulder to cry on when things aren’t going exactly how we want them to.
It’s only when it turns into a form of overinvolvement that their input becomes a problem.
This behavior may rear its ugly head early on in your childhood, but it’s most noticeable in an adult child. As you begin to consider yourself an adult separated from your parents’ guidance, they can find it challenging to understand the demotion from all-knowing toxic parents to sideline watcher.
You may find that your parents are so overbearing that you feel guilty when you don’t take their advice. This can also happen if they rely on you for their own self-care or things they can do themselves, such as grocery store trips, house maintenance, or therapy-like conversations.
If you are your parents’ personal delivery service, or if you must have their approval before you engage in something, that is not a healthy relationship!
It’s important to learn how to make our own decisions in order to learn and grow as an adult, as well as develop confidence in ourselves and our choices. Setting boundaries can help us feel comfortable in our relationship with our parents.
Essentially, you should be searching for a balanced parent child relationship that benefits both parties and makes you feel good.
Before we learn how to establish those healthy relationships, let’s take a closer look at some more specific examples of what not settling boundaries with toxic parents can look like.
What is an enmeshed parent?
The word “enmeshed” may come up if you are scouring the internet for possible reasons for your toxic parenting and upbringing.
Salvador Minuchin originally coined the term in the 1970s.
Minuchin was a family therapist who determined that boundaries typically showed how close family members were to each other and established their “role” within the group.
Enmeshment is essentially a good thing. It creates a sense of belonging within a group, as long as boundaries exist between the members.
However, when those boundaries begin to get crossed or blurred, family members find it difficult to establish independence and self-identity, which is important in maintaining the family’s balance.
Signs of enmeshment
- parents being over-involved in their children’s activities
- lack of privacy between parent and child
- guilt (for several reasons)
- child feels controlled
- no independence
- the child feels like they are taking care of the parent
Why is setting healthy boundaries important?
First and foremost, creating healthy boundaries with your parents makes your relationship sturdy and stable. Without boundaries, you may feel anger or resentment towards your parents, this anger typically takes a second to settle in, but once it does, it’s hard to make it go away.
Boundaries also set precedence. Once they are established, it’s easier for both parties to understand how to treat the other and how they can expect to be treated, as well.
Lastly, setting boundaries helps you establish new relationship grounds with your parents that you can then use as an example with your own adult children, should you choose to have any.
So what can you expect when attempting to set boundaries with your parents? Most likely, a sense of guilt and discomfort, but this is normal.
There’s a reason why we, as humans, shy away from change. It makes us feel scared, guilty, and uncertain. But often, it’s for the better.
Signs of unhealthy boundaries
- parents that interfere in your personal life
- unexpected visits
- parents continue to call even when you have said you are busy
- unsolicited advice
- high expectations (that you cannot possibly achieve)
Signs of healthy boundaries
- parent recognizes their child as a functioning adult who can make decisions (and mistakes) for themselves
- the parent does not depend on their children
- parent offers advice gently and when prompted or needed
- the parent does not make their child feel bad about their appearance or relationships
It’s okay to feel guilty at first
Because you’ve most likely been conditioned to tuck your tail when you go against your parent’s wishes, it’s normal to feel a little guilty for standing up for yourself. Years of not doing so have made you question your own judgment, so you feel guilty because you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing.
You are not hurting your parents by putting your needs and wants first.
Read that again.
When establishing boundaries, there’s a way to be considerate of them and for them to be considerate of you and still be your own person who makes your own decisions, ultimately.
Get comfortable with “no”
A lot of times, the reason why we fail to set boundaries with parents is because we are afraid to tell them no. We may be afraid of how may make our parents feel bad when we decline their requests.
If your mom calls you to take her to the store even though she has a perfectly working car and a license, you may be used to dropping everything to take her because that’s how it’s always been.
Parents may get used to this kind of treatment when there are no boundaries, and the first step in bettering your relationship is to learn how to let them down.
It will take some getting used to saying no, and it doesn’t have to be forceful and rude when you do so!
Saying no can ultimately be worded in many different ways. Take the scenario above, for example. As a response, you can say, “Sorry, I know going to the store is important to you, but I’m busy right now. Is there any way we can do it later?”
Or, “I can’t do that for you right now, but maybe you can see if Dad can take you?”
Change can be positive
Change is scary. It can make us feel anxious when we change even the smallest parts of our routines because we’re not sure what the outcome of our actions will be.
However, change is a part of life. And when it comes to setting boundaries with parents, it’s essentially a good thing.
Another important thing to remember is that you may embrace change in a healthy way, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will.
If you start to set boundaries with your parents, it may lead to some awkward moments or even moments where you feel upset or guilty because of what you chose to say.
Remember that others have to learn how to be considerate of you and your feelings, and changes like that only come with time.
Once you set your foot down enough, your parents will start to recognize the importance of your choices to you and be more considerate.
Understand your limits
It’s important to establish your limits before you start to set boundaries with your parents.
Know your hard and soft lines: what you are willing to work around and what you absolutely will not tolerate from them any longer. This is especially pertinent during the initial talk because you may not feel confident going in.
If you don’t set these limitations, your mental health can take an incredible hit if you continue to deal with situations that you can’t control, or at the very least, have somewhat of a handle on.
How to set boundaries with your parents
If you’re unsure how to begin to set healthy boundaries with your parents, consider these tips to help the process go smoothly and efficiently:
1. Get both sides out on the table
It’s important to have an open communication, even if it is an extremely difficult conversation, when you are attempting to compromise with your parents.
Healthy boundaries are established when both parties are able to communicate efficiently. Therefore, it’s better to understand where they are coming from, and similarly, where you are coming from with your opinions, and see where you two can meet on a middle ground.
Try to set up a place and time where you can both sit down and spend time discussing the problems at hand. You may see their overbearingness as a way to control you, whereas they view it as a way to continue to be a part of your life.
Setting new boundaries will help clear the miscommunication between your actions and your intentions and make your relationship stronger. At the very least it will ensure that you are on the same page with your parents.
2. Use “I” statements
Using “I” statements can be helpful when you and your parents don’t agree on a new boundary.
Try framing the sentence in a way that explains yourself, rather than placing the blame on them or accusing them for the way your relationship is.
For example, you can say, “I get upset and feel hurt when you say I’m not raising my own children in the right way. I think I’m trying my best. Moving forward, I would appreciate if you didn’t critique my parenting”.
This will come off a lot better than if you were to say, “You’re making me upset because you think you know how to raise my kids better than I do.”
3. Show your appreciation and gratitude
Whenever you are attempting to talk about personal boundaries with your parents, it’s important to frame the conversation in a way that shows you are still grateful for the things they have done and are continuing to do for you.
What you’re doing isn’t disrespectful, even though your parents may see it that way. Let them know you appreciate them, then politely move the conversation in the direction of the things you’d like to change.
This way, you’re not setting the tone as harsh from the beginning.
By choosing your words carefully, you will most likely swing the conversation in your favor. Then, you can start addressing the problems while still maintaining a level of mutual respect for the conversation.
4. Keep calm
In most situations where two parties don’t agree, there may be an argument that arises when things get too personal or too heated.
It’s important to keep in mind that nothing good comes from getting annoyed, upset, or loud when attempting a compromise.
To stay calm under stressful situations, it can be good to remember that you can’t anticipate anyone else’s behavior. Even though you may have had some idea of how your parents will react to your setting some healthy boundaries, you won’t truly know how the situation will unfold until it’s time.
Try not to let the conversation go too much off of the rails. Keep everyone, especially yourself, level-headed so that you can have a positive outcome.
5. Work with a professional
Family therapy is always an option if you need a little more guidance to establish boundaries. In a session with your parents, you can listen to their feelings and have them recognize your own with the help of a counselor.
Assessing parent child relationship, even in the past can help in getting to the bottom of the problem. The counselor may get to the root of your parent’s behavior, which most often comes from how they were treated as a child. They can find out unhealthy patterns in the past, such as the possibility that your grandparents may greatly influence how your own life goes, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
Individual therapy can also be helpful for those who want to understand how their enmeshed family has affected them and how they can work to address those areas. An affordable and convenient option is through online therapy.
6. Give yourself and your parents time
Some parents may honor your wish for healthy boundaries quickly and without much more thought to the subject. For some parents, it won’t be as easy of an adjustment.
Going back to the topic of change that was touched on earlier, it’s important to offer these exceptions to the rule toward your parents, as well. Although you may have been stewing on the subject of boundaries for a while and are ready for immediate change, it most likely won’t happen overnight.
This is especially pertinent if your conversation went negatively the first time. Give everyone some time to think about the subjects and problems brought to the table and then return to them again.
Later, you’ll be able to address the topics with a clearer head and less anger.
Setting boundaries and enforcing them with your parents can be difficult. It’s a process that takes time, patience, and courage.
It’s important to remember that you can still respect your parents in asking that they respect you, in turn. Everyone deserves to be heard and understood, no matter where the hierarchy of their relationship falls.
If you are attempting to set boundaries with parents, remember to go into the conversation with confidence and a set goal in mind. This will make it easier to say “no” and to state your good intentions clearly and precisely.
Give your parents some time to adjust to your suggestions, as well. They may not know that their behavior is affecting you as much as it is.
This way, you all will be able to communicate effectively in the future and keep your family relationships strong.