Setting boundaries with our parents as adults is essential. As we age and have our own children, our parents may still feel they need to try and help and give criticism and suggestions, even without solicitation. We must allow our parents to recognize us for who we are as adults, not who we were as children.
Why Is Setting Boundaries With Parents Important?
Setting healthy boundaries with parents is a big step for all of us. This step is especially crucial when our parent’s perception of us may differ significantly from how our experiences have shaped us. Developing new relationships with these boundaries keeps us from becoming angry or resentful towards our parents as we settle into our adult lives. Adding these boundaries is meant to help people stay in each other’s lives. However, these limitations are also fundamental if a person has toxic parents, abusive parents, gaslighting parents, or narcissistic parents.1
What Are Normal Boundaries With Parents?
We should expect our parents to respect our decisions even if there is a difference of opinion or priorities. These include having our own space and being seen as an adult capable of making decisions on our own. Healthy boundaries include appreciating one another and each other’s time and feeling safe enough to share sensitive information. Our parents must understand that we are not children and that we can enforce limits when we see fit.
Examples of common boundaries we should set with parents include:
- Having them call you before coming over instead of dropping in any time
- Not giving unsolicited relationship or marriage advice
- Respect and not comment on your life choices just because they disagree with them.
- Understand that if you are not able to speak when they call, it might be that you have other priorities to touch on.
- Giving you a physical space to be yourself if you share a home and not invade your privacy
- Not sharing personal information about you with their friends
Is It Disrespectful to Set Boundaries With Parents?
Boundaries set by their children can feel disrespectful to some parents, making you feel worse for enforcing them. Just like we keep a fence around our yard, boundaries are not to be hurtful or disrespectful. It is how we give compassion and love to ourselves, so we can be who we are without judgment or interference. Parents, who do not understand that boundaries are a way to keep their children in their lives usually deal with their issues by projecting them onto their children.2
5 General Tips to Set Boundaries With Parents
If you are unsure where to start when setting boundaries with your parents, you can learn the best practices of setting healthy boundaries. It can also be helpful to find out if you may have controlling parents or overprotective parents before taking any step to set boundaries.
Here are five tips on how to set healthy boundaries with your parents:
1. Know Your Limits
Knowing your limits is the first step before setting boundaries. If you know what boundaries you will need and know your parents may violate them, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. Understanding your limits can help your parents adjust and inspire them to reevaluate their boundaries.
2. Let Go of Guilt Over Having Boundaries
Guilting yourself for wanting or having boundaries is putting yourself through the tough emotions twice. Guilt can help you understand your views on life’s experiences, but having guilt about knowing what you need for yourself isn’t helpful. Remind yourself that your feelings of guilt do not mean that your needs are less valid.
3. Frame Boundaries as a Sign of Appreciation
Let your parents know you appreciate their handling of boundaries, and watch them give you more space. We all want to receive appreciation for what we do, and healthy parents recognize that and will have gratitude towards us for involving them in the process.
4. Be Direct
It may be challenging, but being direct about your feelings can go a long way. If you tiptoe or allude to how you are feeling, you are not helping anyone as you are not being honest and shouldn’t expect your parents to read your mind. Learning healthy communication is a great way to start if you want healthy boundaries with your parents.
5. Know When You Need Space
Similar to knowing yourself and your limits, knowing when you may need a time out is vital. If you need space or alone time, that is nothing to feel guilt over. Communicating your limits when you need space and how to re-establish communication is essential so they know how to get in touch with you if something significant happens.
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9 Tips on How to Set Boundaries With Toxic Parents
Setting boundaries with toxic parents can look a lot different as there are many other factors to consider. Toxic parents might react in a destructive way to healthy attempts to set boundaries. For example, they might lie and make up stories to create animosity between family members, such as siblings or adult children and the other parent. These tips should be handled very carefully, as if you are walking on eggshells.
Here are nine tips for setting boundaries with toxic parents:
1. Stick to Your Boundaries
Parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will always try to push their boundaries with you, so setting clear and firm limitations gives you leverage to lean on. Make sure they know there will also be consequences if the limits are violated repeatedly and enact them when needed.
2. Communicate Clearly
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Toxic parents will use vague and incomplete information or communicate against you to manipulate or guilt-trip you into conforming however they expect you to be. Ask them to clarify what they mean when they are being vague. For example, if they say that you aren’t helping them enough, ask them exactly what they need help with so they won’t try to make you chase an elusive and impossible request.
3. Accept They Won’t Change
You won’t be able to change the narcissist in the family. Understanding the narcissistic relationship and relieving yourself of the responsibility will let you move forward. Allowing yourself to let go of the desire to change them will save you time and heartache.
4. Avoid Conflict
If possible, try to avoid conflict and consider what adverse reactions may come from your parents and you if you engage in the conflict. This doesn’t mean that you should succumb to whatever the narcissist wants or their gaslighting. It is more about protecting your peace and the ability to rebuild your relationship with them.
5. Build a Support Network
Having friends, a therapist, and relatives outside your immediate family can be very helpful for you when dealing with a toxic or narcissistic parent. The people who support you and give you unconditional love are who will help keep you going.
6. Have Self-Compassion
Be kind to yourself since the toxic parent is already negatively affecting your life. Giving yourself a break and having self-love is critical when dealing with a toxic parent.
7. Begin Journaling
Journaling is a great way to channel emotions and help you provide specific examples of why these boundaries are needed. Do this by keeping a record for yourself of what happened during intense moments with your parent. Having this record can be helpful if you are feeling confused or are being gaslighted by a toxic parent, as it can be the source of truth when all they are telling you is lies.
8. Seek Therapy
Speaking with a therapist about how a toxic parent treats you is a crucial step, even if you have used all these other ways of dealing with the narcissistic parent. Therapists can give an objective view and help you feel more empowered in your situation. Therapy can help build your self-esteem to create solutions and cope with negative feelings.
9. Cut Them Off if Necessary
If your parents continue to disrespect your boundaries and violate your limits, cutting them out is an appropriate response to protect yourself and honor your needs. It can be tricky, but allowing yourself to tolerate poor behavior will only continue to enable the negative behavior of your toxic parents.
3 Tips for Setting Boundaries With Parents After Marriage
Setting boundaries after you get married can be challenging as parents are interested in your new marriage and want to know how things are going. Regardless of their interest, it’s vital that you prioritize the needs of the marriage above what your parents may want to know.
Here are three tips for setting boundaries with parents after getting married:
1. Establish New Expectations of Family Time
Before you were married or lived with your partner, they may have called or dropped in at any time. That may have worked for you, but it likely will not be healthy if too much of your time as a couple includes your parents. Setting that boundary now can go a long way, especially if you have children in the future.
2. Address Unhelpful Comments
It is important to clarify that their comments or perceptions aren’t helpful for you or your marriage. If parents witness one of you stressed out and now consider this as a representation of your whole relationship, it can make it frustrating for you and your partner. You should redirect or shut down these comments before they create genuine issues in your marriage.
3. Call Out Their Projections
We are all human, and our parents are no different. If your parent is going through a rough patch in their relationship, they may project their issues onto what they see going on in your marriage. Call it out for what it is, and remind them your relationship is different and doesn’t require knowledge of their experiences.
3 Tips for Boundaries With Parents After Having Children
Setting boundaries after you have children can be challenging as your parents are now grandparents and may want to share their parenting ideas with you. Regardless of their experience, it’s essential that you figure out the needs of your children and establish those boundaries now. Teach your children to develop those boundaries as well.
Here are three tips for setting boundaries with parents after having children:
1. Limit Their Advice on Your Parenting Style
Make it clear that your parent’s comments or perceptions of your parenting or children are not helpful. Suppose your parents witnessed one of you not handling an upset child in the best way possible and take that as a representation of your parenting. In that case, it can frustrate you, your partner, and your children as it doesn’t match your new family’s expectations and living arrangements.
2. Set Ground Rules for Babysitting
Make sure to discuss how they should follow your expectations for parenting if they were to babysit your children. They may have done a fine job raising you, but you need to ensure your child is cared for in a new generation and family dynamic the way you see fit. Of course, grandparents will spoil their grandkids, but there is a difference between honoring your parenting styles. One of the most significant issues around this boundary is foul language and negative talk about one’s body or commenting about others’ appearances. You need to discuss that with your parents, do so immediately in a private matter away from your child.
3. Address Their Challenge to Your Authority
Set a boundary immediately if your parents challenge your parenting or engage in triangulation with your children. For example, comparing the grandchildren to each other, or saying, “Don’t tell your parents about the candy,” or “Your parents are too strict.” These actions can make the child feel special in the moment but overall will harm the family dynamic and the child’s sense of security.
Your parents should support your decisions as long as they maintain your child’s health and safety. They are yours, after all, not your parents. They need to understand that their place is not to create conflict. You need to speak with them and set up that boundary if they are.
How Therapy Can Help
It can be challenging to talk about, so it’s essential to consider individual or family therapy, depending on your issues and living situation. Given the emotional volatility and potential abuse of a toxic parent, such as narcissistic abuse & narcissistic rage, it’s important to seek help immediately if you are in danger. Even with healthy parent relationships, anger at parents in adulthood may come up, and it is essential to work through that. Trying family therapy with your parents may help as well.
Remember that feelings of guilt just mean you have a tremendous amount of compassion for your parents. Acknowledging your feelings should be a part of the decision-making process to set boundaries without compromising your own peace and well being. If you feel guilty, a therapist can help identify where that comes from and how limits will help you feel better. You must look out for yourself, especially if you are newly married or a new parent. 3
One great way to find an online therapist for these issues is by searching an online directory. All licensed therapists can help people struggling with boundaries. Reading reviews and looking at clinician bios to understand their scope of practice can give you an idea of whether their experience suits your situation.
Setting boundaries with parents can be challenging, but it’s crucial for your mental health in the long run. If you struggle with this and are unsure where to start, talking with a therapist can be a great way to learn techniques and what to do to preserve your relationships. There is hope for a healthy, balanced future between you and your loved ones.