Your relationship with your parents changes throughout life. It’s never static. When we marry, our center of gravity changes as we leave our fathers and mothers and become one with our spouse. Sometimes, that means you and your spouse must place limits around parents to care for the health of your family.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
These boundaries could be how often visits will happen, or negotiating with whom you will spend the holidays. Many issues need negotiating to keep relationships peaceful. It's stressful and overwhelming to broach these discussions--setting limits with others is challenging enough, but setting limits around parents can feel overwhelming. Why is this so hard?
When we were children, our parents were the ones in charge of us, so it is difficult to turn the tables and set limits around them. It is awkward to set boundaries around those who used to set your boundaries. It doesn't feel right to be taking charge. In some ways we always feel like children in the eyes of our parents. We should be respectful of the role that our parents have played in our lives and whenever possible work to establish boundaries together.
We don't like to make waves or to be the initiator of tensions within our families. We want to have peace within the family instead of living with tension and conflict. But there’s is a difference between being a peacemaker and a doormat. We promote peace through establishing good boundaries so that everyone is aware of the expectations and limits.
Once you decide what boundaries will be the healthiest for your family, those guidelines need to be spelled out. It takes a lot of assertiveness to address those concerns with those involved. Standing up for ourselves and our families takes a lot of courage. It is hard not to be anxious about how others might respond to our limit setting. Establishing healthy boundaries is not a job for sissies! It is healthier to upset family for a moment to establish limits that will be a blessing to everyone over the long run.
Even after clarifying expectations, it can be difficult to stick to the boundaries you have chosen. It’s easier to fall back into patterns that have been the norm over the years. Patterns we grew up with are ingrained in us, so it takes real effort to change them to keep our new relationships healthy. Setting limits can also be a strain on your marriage. Choose to be united as a couple in your boundary setting, but let the each spouse set limits with their own family. Children rather than in-laws should take the lead in boundary setting. We are more willing to accept correction when it is coming from within a long-established, loving relationship. Affirm their love and care as parents, but be clear about your new expectations.
It is normal to seek the affirmation of our parents. We want to please our parents and we hate to disappoint them. We want to be their source of pride, not a source of frustration. But there are some who will never be pleased no matter what we do, which says more about them than you. Set the boundaries you need for you and your relationships to be healthy.
Although parents may not appreciate this initially, in the long run they should value your honesty and your desire to protect your family. Relationships will grow best where there is honest communication and healthy boundaries. You may well be surprised how resetting expectations can make the whole family healthier. It is difficult to draw boundaries with parents, but it is also very worth the effort!
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster