3 Steps to Setting Boundaries with Your Parents

An image of a person sitting on a couch with their parents, having a calm and open conversation with them. The person is holding a notebook, indicating that they have done some preparation before the conversation and are ready to set boundaries in a clear and respectful manner. The parents are also sitting calmly and attentively, indicating that they are open to listening and understanding their child's perspective.

Do you feel like your parents are smothering you or trying to control you? Do you wish you had more freedom to be the way you want to be in the world? If so, it’s time for setting boundaries with your parents.

Before setting boundaries with your parents, you’ll want to do some work within yourself. After that, you’ll be ready to enroll them in a conversation, state what’s important to you, and find common ground that you can share together.

Prep Work Before Setting Boundaries with Your Parents

When you boil it down, setting boundaries is a matter of trying to negotiate with another person. That way, you guys can both experience the things that you want out of your lives, and neither person will do it at the expense of the other.

So, in essence, you need to figure out:

  • What is important to me?
  • Why is that also important to the person I’m talking to?

Right now, you’ve clicked on this article because you want a peaceful solution. You desire to have a connected relationship, and boundaries are a way to protect that.

So before you jump into a boundary-setting conversation with your parents, it’s useful to do some work within yourself. Then, when you come into the boundaries conversation with your parents, you’ll do so from a positive place.

As you go inside yourself, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Find your love for your parent. Identify the things that make you grateful for them. Consider what you appreciate about them. Brainstorm a list of things that delight you about that person — and what has delighted you about them in the past.
  2. Connect with their love for you. Take a second to think about the fact that your parent loves you. Remember that you are all on the same page.
  3. Consider what is motivating your parent. Get curious about what they want and care about. In all likelihood, they want what’s best for you in the world. Their goal isn’t to take anything from you or piss you off. So try to figure out what is motivating their current actions.
  4. Discover your own motivations. Evaluate what is actually important to you in the situation. Your goal will be to enroll your parent by asking them to contribute to your reality in a particular way.

Doing this work within yourself before approaching your parents is helpful. It will put you in the frame of mind to work toward solutions that suit both your wants and your parent’s wants.

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents in 3 Steps

When you want to set boundaries, it’s because you want more of something that is important to you.

That might be:

  • Attention
  • Peace
  • Space
  • Relaxation
  • Time

Whatever your value is, your goal is to experience more of it in your reality. By setting boundaries, you’re trying to enroll someone else in your vision of that.

The fact that you’ve done pre-work within yourself before approaching your parents means that there are just three steps to the actual work of it. Here’s the process I recommend for setting boundaries with your parents.

1) Ask to Have a Conversation

Yelling at someone — or having them yell at you — is a sign that there’s a boundary that needs to be set. Resentment and grumpiness toward another person are other signals to sit up and pay attention. When you see those things popping up in your life, it may be time to talk to the other person about boundaries.

Of course, no one wants to feel attacked. They’d much rather be enrolled in a conversation. So once you’ve gone through your personal pre-work, ask to talk about the situation with your parent.

For instance, instead of “You can’t swear around the kids,” try, “Hey, would you be willing to have a conversation with me about what swearing around the kids does for you? That will help me understand it. Maybe you’ll even change my mind.”

That’s enrollment. It allows you to enter into a relationship marked by loving curiosity, openness, and connection.

2) Share What’s Important to You

Once you’ve brought your parent on board, you can tell that person what is important to you in this situation — your values.

Your values motivate you. You find meaning there. When you live by your values, you’ll feel like yours is a life well-lived.

You can learn all about values here, but for now, know that there are three key characteristics of values:

  1. Universal — Your values are everywhere all the time.
  2. Intrinsic — They happen inside of you.
  3. Abstract — They’re concepts, rather than things you can touch.

Keep in mind that you’re the only one who’s responsible for your values. You can’t put that on your parents or anyone else. You are the one and only who can be in charge of your values. Even still, you can let others know what is important to you.

#3) Build a Bridge

Finally, you’ll want to build a connection between your two ways of desiring in the world. You can look for common ground between you and your parent.

Once you find where the common ground exists, you can put it front and center. When you both attend to that common ground, you’ll each experience the things you want out of life without taking from one another.

Setting Boundaries with Your Parents: An Example

Seeing this in action (well, reading about it) may help you get a better sense of how this conversation could go. Check out this made-up example about a kid and his mom.

My mom yelled at me. I didn’t like that. I yelled back at her, and I didn’t like that either. A boundary needs to be set. It’s up to me now to figure out what’s important to me in the world that I’m not getting to experience.

So I go to my mom and say, “I have something that I’d like to discuss with you. It’s important to me, and I hope that it’s important to you. Because it’s important to me, I want to share it with you. Would you be okay with that?” In this way, I enrolled her in the conversation.

Next, it’s time for me to share what’s important to me. I say, “Okay, it’s kind of a newish concept for me, but I’m going to do my best to articulate it. When you come to me while I’m doing something and demand that I do something — take out the trash or wash the dishes or do my homework — I don’t get to experience a sense of autonomy and freedom in my life. I don’t feel that I have a say in what my reality looks like.”

Then, I try to build a bridge. I continue, “And so I would love it if, when you want me to do something, you have a conversation with me about it. You let me know and then ask me to do it for you. I will love to do things for you, especially when I get to do them on my own time with my say in it.

“By the way, if you’re unwilling to do this, that’s totally fine. Just know that every time you do it, I’m gonna get more and more resentful. Right now, I’m telling myself a story that I’m going to be in trouble with you — like you’re the warden holding the keys to my cell.

“Would you be willing to enter into conversation with me rather than making demands? If not, I totally get it. But I’m still going to feel very frustrated. Honestly, I’m having a hard time managing my emotions right now. But I would like you to know that I’m doing my utmost to come to you as an adult and advocate for myself.”

Value of Setting Boundaries with Your Parents

When you read that story, it sounds so easy, doesn’t it? You can see how approaching the conversation in this way can change the whole dynamic. In reality, though, the idea of talking to your parents like this may feel more challenging.

But think of it this way: walking was once a challenge for you. Now it comes easy. It took practice, but you got there. Setting boundaries with your parents is also a skill that you can familiarize yourself with over time.

You’ll want to decide whether it’s worth the effort. Is it worth it to you to have a relationship where you and your parents are contributing to each other’s reality and not making demands or fighting with each other? Do you want to be in a place where you negotiate together and find common solutions?

I think that sounds like an amazing place to be. I have certain things I want in the world, and you have certain things you want in the world. Let’s talk about what’s important to us and see if we can figure out an arrangement in which we both contribute to each other’s realities in mutually beneficial ways.

Now that you know how to set boundaries with your parents, you can use this strategy with anyone. To learn more about boundaries, we’ve got a really cool model here that you can check out.

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