How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Your Folks
A Mini-Guide for Strong, Young Adults Who Need More Independence
I’m an aspiring therapist who has worked closely with many young adults for a long time. Like some of you do, they too struggle to maintain professional and personal boundaries in close relationships like with their parents, guardians, or friends.
Growing up, you and I had to follow the rules our parents established in our home like doing our chores, working on our homework, etc. It was okay for our parents to do so when we were kids, because the rules shaped us into the wonderful people we are today.
What’s not okay is when our parents overstep those boundaries, hurting us in the process, and we then find ourselves following suit in an effort to please them. It can be hard to remain independent when your parents treat you as they did when you were younger. This might feel natural to them as technically, you are still their child. However, the relationship you have with them should change appropriately as you grow up, and they need to understand this.
Types of Boundaries
According to the University of California at Berkeley (2016), personal boundaries are limits and rules that we can set within our relationships, and these can further be categorised as rigid, porous, or healthy boundaries.
Rigid boundaries are relationships where we avoid becoming intimate or close towards others. We are unlikely to seek help from them, and as a result, we become overprotective or somewhat detached to avoid potential rejection.
Porous boundaries refer to when we overshare personal information and have a hard time saying “no’’ to requests. In this scenario, we become over-involved in the problems of others, dependent on them, and fear rejection.
Healthy boundaries are generally balanced. We value our own opinions, share personal information appropriately, accept when others say “no” to us, and can communicate our needs or desires.
Why Am I Having Trouble with my Parents?
It’s natural to get worried when your guardian(s) make(s) you question your decisions about your life. Maybe they’re making invasive or hurtful commentary when you’re working on a project you enjoy. Are they providing unsolicited feedback on your dreams and current goals? They might be commenting negatively on your appearances on a regular basis. Perhaps they’re acting on your behalf without consulting you?
Just as our parents once taught us to create boundaries, we need to cultivate our own. We can try to nurture our identity independent of their beliefs about who we “should be”. You might be tempted to please your guardians, but it is your life at the end of the day. It is your choice. They can still provide helpful advice or moral support, but it’s not on them to decide if you are successful.
What Can I Do?
Some ways you can set boundaries include:
Identifying personal interests, values, and beliefs.
Being clear on what you need.
Establishing rules on how you would like to be treated.
Acting in ways that match up with your values and beliefs.
While it’s hard to establish proper boundaries with our parents, as we get older, we need them more and more to form other healthy relationships. To gain your own sense of self-respect, you might need to ensure that they respect your boundaries, and ultimately, for who you are.
If we have guardians who like to overstep boundaries, we can set gentle boundaries that limit the level of control that your parents have over you hold. It sets clear direction and expectations which is necessary when times are tough.
1. Be Concise and Clear
When something is bothering you, ask yourself ‘why’ and ‘how’ this situation is bothering you. Brainstorming or breaking the issue down into smaller pieces might help you with this process.
If you know what is bothering you, then perhaps you will feel more confident in what you need. When talking to your parents about what you need, you can teach yourself to say things like:
“It is sometimes difficult for me to stay on track if you suddenly interrupt me while I’m working on an important time-sensitive project. Can you let me know if you need something ahead of time, or write it down so that we can talk about it later, please?”
“I’m busy studying for exams right now. Is there another time that works for you to talk instead?”
2. Be Kind, Assertive, and Appreciative
Learning to be assertive with boundaries is tricky, but we can state how we feel and what we need without hurting the feelings of our guardians. Maintain eye contact, monitor your tone, speak calmly, and actively listen.
You can be kind and assertive simultaneously. For example, you can try to respect the perspectives of your parents on a topic while making it clear that you’re slowly becoming more and more independent as an adult. It may take some time, but compassion can keep us grounded, and a little practice will go a long way.
When we create boundaries, we can also show our parents that we are appreciative of the things that they have done for us, including the well-intentioned meanings behind their specific behaviours. For instance, if your parents like to send hundreds of encouraging phone calls during your studying session, you can bring up that you are grateful that they want to encourage you, but would prefer if you could have some freedom in how you studied.
“Hi (Mom/Dad/Guardian’s name)! Thanks so much for checking in on me. I’m working on my presentation so I can’t talk right now. Please give me 20 minutes. Speak to you soon.”
3. Practice Beliefs and Know Your Limits
Our parents might not accept our boundaries willingly, or will struggle to do so. They might repeatedly do things that bother us. Though it might not be intentional, it can cause stress and fear to build up nonetheless. You might need to use some techniques to calm down.
Moreover, you should practice reiterating what you require from your guardians. For example, if you ask your parents to not call you all the time, you can mention this to them across different occasions when they’re in a good mood. You could even thank them for not calling sometimes as this might have allowed you to study without any interruptions on certain occasions.
By standing by your boundaries, they are less likely to violate them, respecting you and your interests in the long run. Also, you might consider your limits around how much you’re willing to tolerate when it comes to certain parental behaviours.
##. Release Burden
You might worry about offending your guardians, experiencing feelings of doubt, fear, guilt, or mistrust. To continue communicating assertively yet compassionately, we need to get into the practice of recognizing these feelings.
Guilt might make us feel that we are doing something wrong. However, it’s not our fault if our parents are unwilling to accept your boundaries. If it is helpful, we can even set aside time for self-affirming statements like:
“I am allowed to express myself.”
“I am allowed to have dreams and goals.”
“I am worthy of being respected.”
When it comes down to it, you will determine the kinds of boundaries you need to set between you and your parents! Reminding yourself of the reasons why you set these boundaries, and the practices of assertive communication or self-affirmation statements will go a long way.
SynSavory (she/her/hers) is an active, verified Listener who has been part of the 7 Cups listening community for the past 2–3 years. In addition to volunteering, Syn is pursuing full-time graduate studies as a student in counselling psychology. Currently in the practicum portion of her degree, Syn has the opportunity to engage with her passion for helping those in need using the skills she has developed on 7 Cups and during her degree.
Other 7 Cups roles she is interested in include being a peer supporter for other active listeners, posting in the forums, and safety patrolling. With a lifelong love of learning, it’s no wonder that Syn appreciates the experience this platform has offered her, especially when it comes to strengthening her writing skills. In her free time, Syn enjoys listening to music, doodling, and writing.