Setting Boundaries

We create boundaries all the time. We have all created reasons to be unavailable to a friend who is requiring more time, energy or patience than we are willing to give. When we make ourselves unavailable often enough the relationship will be moved to a distance we can manage.  It is in our professional interest to set a boundary that will keep our personal life away from the workplace.

Why is it so difficult to set boundaries with family?

With whom are our relationships the most complicated?   Who has the ability to inflict a wound that can take a lifetime to heal?  The answer is, family. Primarily spouses, parents and children.  We rarely, if ever set boundaries with our families. Yet we’re confounded when they seem to have the ability to turn our lives around on a dime.

We do not set adequate boundaries with family for two reasons: self-induced guilt or the external fear of “what will people think?”  I don’t believe we even consider that we have a right to set boundaries with family, “after all, they are family.”

There are times when we need to set a boundary by saying ”no” to an unreasonable request, or stay home when we know we need rest.  To the person who demands more of us than we can give, we appear to be selfish. It is not selfish to take care of yourself.  A person with no boundaries, who functions with knee jerk reactions to every demand, is too tired, angry and resentful to be kind and loving.

Setting boundaries with aging parents may be a daunting challenge if we did not create a natural break between our parents and ourselves when we reached our early 30’s or when our first child was born.  If you haven’t created a healthy distance between you and your parents, start with small changes. A boundary that is set with kindness and a smile lays down the line with invisible ink. As an example: if dad criticizes you unkindly or treats you like an employee in low regard, respond by saying, “You seem to be having a bad day today, I’ll come by another time.”  Smile and leave!   If you are on the phone, say, “You must have missed some sleep last night, I’ll call you when you are feeling better, bye.”  Your dad may be startled, but do that consistently and he will alter his behavior toward you. He wants your presence in his life.  You may not change his basic disposition, but he will learn to be careful how he deals with you.

My favorite way to set a boundary is never say yes to anything without taking time to think it through.  Stress is what happens when your insides are saying, “I can’t do this” and your mouth is saying, “of course I would be happy to…”  As an example, your mother calls and wants you to take her to the library tomorrow afternoon.  Tell her you will look at your calendar and get back to her.  Put her off for 30 minutes before you agree to do it. This accomplishes two things.  It tells her you have a schedule that you need to consider and you cannot be expected to automatically say yes to her every request.  If you have a visit with an old friend planned tomorrow afternoon, offer to take her on a different day.

Relationships without healthy boundaries breed resentment.  Don’t forget to look in the mirror.  If you micro-manage your family, they will soon build a wall of resentment toward you which protects them from your intrusiveness.

Have you built healthy boundaries?  Look at your family. If your relationships with them are relaxed and loving, the boundaries are healthy on both sides.  If not, start now by setting your boundaries.  Consider the pie chart. If one segment changes every other segment must adjust to that change.

An Article by Suzanne Roberts, author of The Handbook for Children of Aging Parents

© 2000-2014 Suzanne Roberts