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By Alana Gregg, MS

As we get older, the process of separating from our parents becomes a normal part of growing up. All parents have a hard time letting go of their kids at some point. Depending on your family dynamic, that process can be really tricky. This tends to be something that a lot of young adults struggle with as they are navigating the process of moving out and establishing themselves. But sometimes even as adults with kids themselves, it is very easy to fall back into old patterns the second you are around your parents. 

How can you tell if there is something wrong? Ask yourself…

Have you ever felt guilty for wanting to grow up? Have you ever felt like it was wrong to make a different choice than your family? Have you ever felt afraid that you would lose that relationship if you didn’t do what was expected of you? Have you ever been told you don’t love your parents if you don’t do what they want you to? Have your parents ever been angry with you for respectfully offering a different perspective? Have you ever been made to feel ashamed for saying no to your parent’s request in order to take care of your own needs?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be living in an enmeshed family. This is where there is no separation between you and your family because there is no line that shows where they end and you begin. Trying to have your own identity as an adult is seen as wrong. You may have a parent who lacks some emotional stability or has an untreated mental health issue or addiction.  Whatever the cause, you tend to be made to feel responsible for your parent’s emotional and physical well being. This can cause resentment over time because there is no room for your own needs and feelings.

What do healthy boundaries with parents look like?

1) You can make your own choices without feeling guilty

If you are responsible for your parent’s happiness and well being then that impacts every choice you make. Having healthy boundaries means not being controlled by the guilt trip that will come your way when you try to do something for yourself.

2) Your own needs are allowed to come before theirs

You need to be able to have a life that is separate from your parents. This does not mean that we do not consider others feelings. Being human means having your own needs and feelings that need to be cared for. It is not your job to take care of everyone else. You are not the parent.

3) You can talk to your parents about your feelings without feeling bad

Parents need to be able to validate their kids feelings and try to understand where they are coming from. Healthy people learn how to separate their feelings from other people. As a parent, it may be hard to hear that you made a mistake or hurt your kid. Good parents know how to calm themselves down and separate their worth from being right all the time.

4) You can move away or take a trip without them

Parents need to be able to let their kids have new experiences and pursue their goals. Maybe you want to move out of state for a great job opportunity but are made to feel like you don’t love your parents for wanting to leave. Good parents know that part of their job is teaching their kids how to stand on their own no matter how painful it is when they leave. Our kid’s needs are more important than what makes us feel good.

5) You can decide how often to call or spend time with them

It is ok to need to say no to spending time with your parents. For instance, you may need to spend the holidays with your in-laws or with friends this year. They may be disappointed but that is different than making you feel like you are a disappointment. 

6) Parents can have conflict without involving you

Do your parents regularly bring you into their arguments or complain to you about the other person afterwards? This is called triangulation where instead of dealing with the conflict directly, a third person is brought into the conflict. This third person tends to learn to be the mediator or rescuer because the other two people choose not to deal with their own issues. Your parents need their own support and people to talk to about their feelings that do not include you.


When to Get Help

If you are struggling with your relationship with your parents or don’t know how to set healthy boundaries, our trained counselors at Lime Tree Counseling would love to help. We understand how hard it is to say no if you’ve learned that means you are letting people down or failing in some way. But that is not the truth! We want to help you become healthy adults who can stand up for themselves and what they need. We offer anxiety counseling, depression counseling, trauma counseling, grief counseling, and addiction counseling. We are currently seeing clients in our Lower Gwynedd office as well as online counseling for Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Give us a call today to schedule a free phone consultation or to set up an initial session.