What You'll Learn
- Evaluating Your Parents’ Parenting
- Setting Boundaries Without Upsetting Anyone
- Boundary Setting As Mental Health
- Dealing With Inappropriate Gift Giving
- Helping Our Kids Set Boundaries With Physical Touch
- The Boundary Violator vs. Boundary Errors
Do you struggle with family showing up unannounced? Does your family buy too many gifts for your child? Does your mother or mother-in-law ignore your parenting values and do things their own way? You are not alone. In today’s episode, Dr. Ream and I answer your questions to help unpack why boundary setting feels so difficult especially when it comes to dealing with our moms and mothers-in-law, and provide some advice for how to set those boundaries.
Evaluating Your Parents’ Parenting
Once you have a child, you start to see your parents differently, because now you’re a parent. If you have a challenging relationship with your parents or a traumatic upbringing all of that can resurface as you enter parenthood, because you’re seeing things from a new perspective.
You’re seeing things from a new perspective.
Dr. Ream and her husband recently talked about how day-to-day interactions with their parents shaped how they respond to things. Her mother lives nearby and when she sees similar interactions between her mother and her son, it bothers her because she doesn’t want it to affect him the same way.
“We feel like we need to change something because we know the impact,” she said. “And that’s not necessarily to place blame or say you did it to hurt me.” But now that we understand the impact these interactions have, we want to do better for our children.
“What we’re doing is internal work for ourselves,” Dr. Ream said. When we set boundaries, we have to decide what we’re going to tolerate and what we’re not. We have to decide what we were programmed to think we need versus what we actually need.
We may be afraid that setting boundaries will be met with a hostile reaction. If we have a parent who may be a little bit narcissistic, we have actually been met with these hostile reactions in the past. We may have been taught to prioritize our parents' needs over our own.
Setting boundaries is hard work. It’s not always going to feel nice, but not setting the boundaries feels worse. We can be brave for a few minutes, or deal with the alternative indefinitely.
We may not set the boundary thinking we can avoid conflict, but putting someone else’s need above our own is a great way to fester resentment. Not saying anything when we’re bothered by something—not setting the boundary—sets up the space for resentment to grow in our relationships.
Our needs have to be met somewhere. Without setting the boundary it could become passive-aggressive comments or riffs with our partner because they’re not setting boundaries with their mom, or even because they are and we wish we were too.
“My mom had a really hard time setting boundaries when I was growing up,” Dr. Ream said. “And I noticed how this impacted me, because I kind of latched onto a lot of the same patterns, but then when she didn’t want to do something she would avoid it and tell a white lie.”
Dr. Ream felt she picked up these behaviours to the point she couldn’t even talk to people about potential conflicts without becoming really emotional, so she had to start doing the work of setting small boundaries every day.
“If we don’t have something that contains us, surrounds us, defines us then people won’t know who we are,” Dr. Ream said. Without boundaries, people don’t know what we’re okay with.
Without boundaries, people don’t know what we’re okay with.
Boundary setting is a skill that we learn that may not have been modeled for us. Knowing how to communicate our boundaries can be difficult if you’ve never done it before or this isn’t a skill you have. Dr. Ream and I are hosting a live boundary-setting workshop on November 12 to help navigate knowing where to set your boundaries and how to communicate that.
I’ve had to set boundaries with my mom that weren’t fun for either of us. But once we’ve had that discussion it gave us a chance to be on the same page, communicate better, and made our relationship closer.
It doesn’t feel good to set a boundary while you’re doing it, but you’ve done other hard things in your life. You can do this too.
We also let our anxiety play a role in boundary-setting by assuming what someone’s response is going to be. We imagine they’re going to be so upset they turn a table over or something extreme, but most of the time it doesn’t go over that badly.
Dealing With Inappropriate Gift Giving
Dr. Ream dealt with this personally recently. Her child had a birthday and she asked everyone weeks in advance not to bring a gift. People were shocked they shouldn’t bring gifts for the party, but she set up a link to St. Jude’s so they could donate to a cause instead. The birthday came around and there were no gifts!
Sometimes gift-giving is more about the giver than the person on the receiving end. My mom is a gift giver. I can’t even remember the last time she came over without a gift, but I don’t want more toys in my house! I’ve been able to redirect this with small statements like, “If you want to bring something, my son has outgrown his shoes.”
Helping Our Kids Set Boundaries With Physical Touch
This is something that comes up in two age ranges: the newborn everyone wants to kiss, and then the interaction with the older kids who just don’t want to be kissed or hugged. In one area, we’re setting boundaries with our own safety preferences, and in the other, we’re dealing with our kid’s comfort level.
We’re setting boundaries with our own safety preferences and also our kid’s comfort level.
You may find yourself with a mom or mother-in-law who wants to hug and kiss a child who may not want to be hugged or kissed. This is a boundary that needs to be set, but it can be awkward because Grandma is just trying to show affection.
“I think before you’re in the position, it’s always good to set the boundary ahead of time,” Dr. Ream said. “You want to make it clear, and you want to make it streamlined for everyone.”
We have to be clear and direct, and sometimes we think we’re being direct, but we’re not. Instead of saying, “We don’t usually kiss the baby on the face,” say “Please, don’t kiss my baby. We’re worried about germs.” Or don’t give any explanation at all.
“Some people may not be comfortable with that, but that’s okay. Making other people comfortable isn’t your job with setting boundaries,” Dr. Ream said.
Making other people comfortable isn’t your job with setting boundaries.
When it comes to unwanted touches, Dr. Ream has found it very helpful to explain to her family that she wants her son’s wishes respected to help teach consent, and that by allowing him autonomy over his body now, he’ll know it exists later.
The Boundary Violator vs. Boundary Errors
“If we’re not clear in defining what it is, people don’t realize that we even have a boundary. So, when they’re crossing a boundary that they don’t know exists, that’s a boundary error. Because they don’t even know what the boundary is,” Dr. Ream explained.
“A boundary violation is when you have been clear, you have been firm, when you have repeated the boundary you told people, and they choose to just push back. They’re choosing to cross that boundary,” she explained.
Errors are going to occur, because people can’t read our minds.
The boundary workshop is going to be helpful with setting boundaries and restating those boundaries as we need to, because we all have people in our lives who can cross boundaries.