Setting Boundaries With Your Parents

Dear Mamas,
How do I tell my mother to call before she comes over? She is wonderful but I need my privacy and I never know when she will pop in. Help!

Susan C.

Dear Susan,
This is a GREAT question because it’s one that every single new couple, or young adult for that matter, must face once they step out into their adult lives. We’re talking about how to kindly and respectfully convince your parents that you are no longer the little girl being raised by them but a full-fledged grown-up in the midst of creating your own kingdom, and that you need to be in control of your space. It doesn’t mean that you love them less, or that you no longer need or want their guidance, it’s just that you need it in a different way.

Basically, it’s about establishing a different set of boundaries than the ones that operated when you were a kid, and it can be difficult and confusing for everyone, including your mom and dad (maybe especially your mom and dad). As we move through the family life cycle these interpersonal boundaries change. What was healthy and functional when you were a child or adolescent can become invasive and frustrating when you become an adult.

This is a process that takes some time, but how do you start? One thing you can do right away is to become the one who’s extending the invitation versus the one who’s always scrambling to accommodate the unexpected guests. Give your mom a call on Monday morning and say something like, “Hi Mom. You know, I’m going to have a crazy week but I really want to see you, so let’s get our calendars out and find a time when you can come for a visit.” Make this new kind of conversation, with you being the one taking the initiative, the norm.

Since you are working on changing an unspoken, but firmly established “family rule,” (Mom and Dad can drop by unannounced and uninvited whenever they want to) this may be harder than it sounds. So write yourself a script and practice it until you don’t feel like you’re going to have a nervous breakdown when you deliver it. And be prepared for the questions, “Where are you going?,” “What are you doing?” Blame it on the preschool or obligations to other friends. Be truthful, but you can leave it kind of vague.

Keep your tone light and friendly and keep the conversation on the short side. Basically, you want to start helping her to see that you are a busy, grown-up person and that your time, space and privacy need to be respected. But make plenty of time available for her. Her presence in the life of your family is a gift. You don’t want to kick her out, you just want to remind her that you have your own home now, and that it has a door.
Good luck!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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2 responses to “Setting Boundaries With Your Parents”

  1. My In-Laws Are Guilt Tripping Us! Help!

    […] more about this subject check out an earlier post that I wrote on this topic and also another about setting boundaries with your parents. Best of […]

  2. In-Laws Out To Get Me!

    […] For more on establishing boundaries with your moms and dads check out this post.  Email This […]

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