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Healthy Boundaries with Adult Children

As we get older we have to make decisions about where we want to live and what we want our

lives to look like. Sometimes the expectations children have of us can become an added

pressure that is difficult to maneuver. As parents we spend our lives trying to raise responsible

caring individuals by teaching them values we feel are important and should guide their actions

throughout their lives, especially when we as older adults are declining are most in need of help.

Self sacrifice is an ideal that is very important and precious in many families. Having a very

strong work ethic, being there for each other, helping out whenever necessary, giving children

everything they need to succeed, and not being selfish are guiding principles we never want to

have to relax, no matter what problems are faced in life. Unfortunately, as we grow older and we

face declining health and a more limited amount of life to enjoy, we need to think about what is

important to us, what are our needs, and what will bring the greatest joy and meaning to the rest

of our lives. Limitations due to health, or restrictions for other reasons can play a part in what

parents are able to do as older adults, and disappointing family members can be a new and

painful experience.

Having an honest discussion about expectations can help bring about a negotiation

process that will be respectful, sensitive and reasonable. The goal is to try to do it from a place

of understanding, forgiveness and acceptance. Delineating what is a reasonable expectation,

what is important to respect, and what is considered to be overly controlling or overly intrusive

can be important so that healthy boundaries are maintained. Boundaries are like a set of

expectations that you have for others and how they treat you. When we have clear boundaries,

we are respecting ourselves and others in a way that is being honest with our core feelings and

who we really are inside. Setting healthy boundaries with family members can be a struggle

because they can make things seem worse at first. Being true to yourself and others shows that

you are important and respect yourself and will hopefully model that behavior for them and help

them feel more able to advocate for their needs as well. The great thing is that the more you

create boundaries with others, the easier it becomes. It is a skill that you become better at and

you will gain a greater sense of awareness of your needs and how to meet them in these

relationships.Unfortunately, issues related to drug abuse or serious mental illness may affect a

relative’s ability to make rational decisions, be respectful, or consider different perspectives.

When there is the possibility of physical, emotional, mental abuse, or exploitation, a normal

family process may not be possible and self-protection is the priority. Professional help that

specializes with these issues may need to be enlisted.

With healthy boundaries come healthy expectations and the opportunity to consider

each other‘s feelings and desires. Sometimes it has to do with a childhood home and making

permanent residence elsewhere. Sometimes it has to do with child care issues and possibly

taking care of children or pets. It is OK to say no and have limits on what the expectation is of

you. It is okay to say you are not comfortable with an expectation and ask for more time to figure

out what you want your life to look like. Taking the time to figure out the limits you want to have

on relationships can help you make sure that other people are not taking advantage of you. It

can avoid awkward conversations, resentments and bitterness later on. One of the values that

you have instilled in your children is the ability to fight for themselves, and this may be one of

the times that you need to show them how to do it. Hopefully they respect your decisions about

your life, and you can do the same for them. At some point parents and children need to accept

that they are individuals and have differing needs desires and wants, and those differences are

part of the variety that make up families and the chaos that makes an exciting life.

By Rebeca Bright, PsyD


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