Friends & Family

Setting Boundaries With Family Can Be Tricky—Here’s How to Begin

family boundaries"
family boundaries
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

Conversation surrounding self-care can be found just about anywhere. From social media to podcasts, the act of maintaining well-being is encouraged. Considering how many people feel burned out, it’s great that self-care is being talked about so much. And while most people have subjective views of what “self-care” actually means, one aspect of self-care is vital: setting boundaries. 

It’s like that one household chore you’ve procrastinated on but know you need to do. When we choose not to set boundaries, aside from burnout, we can experience increased stress and even begin harboring resentment. Carrying these emotions around can drain us of time and energy and may eventually affect our health.

It’s understandable why setting boundaries can feel like the last thing we want to do. We may be worried about how others will be affected by them, especially our family members. Depending on our family structures, the very idea of boundaries may seem nonexistent because different boundaries are crossed many times over.

It is something licensed therapist and relationship expert Nedra Glover Tawwab covers in her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace, released in 2021. Concerning parents who do not respect the boundaries set by children, she states that “children feel lonely, neglected, and like their needs don’t matter—and they will likely struggle with boundaries as adults.”

The parent-child relationship is just one area within families where boundaries can be overlooked. This can extend to our extended family members, siblings, partners, and in-laws. As much as we may struggle with setting boundaries with the people we know personally, it is doable. This doesn’t mean it isn’t tough, though. It is. But it leads to healthier dynamics in our lives. 

Here are a few ways you can start implementing boundaries with family members.


1. Pinpoint Where You Feel You Need to Set Boundaries

Chances are, you already have an idea of what you really want to tell certain people in your life. You may feel stretched thin and need more help in the household or you may be uncomfortable with someone’s actions. Regardless of the boundaries you feel you need to set, it’s important to be clear about them.


2. Practice Speaking Up

Some of us may be familiar with being raised in families where the idea of children expressing their emotions and opinions can be considered disrespectful. Does the term “children are to be seen and not heard” ring a bell? As stated above, this can create adults who grow up to feel like their feelings and opinions don’t matter. One way you can set a boundary where you give yourself permission to be expressive is by letting a family member know when you are uncomfortable with something they are saying or doing.

For example, if a family member continuously shows up to your house without forewarning, you can say, “I appreciate you may want to spend time with me, but I need you to let me know when you want to stop by.” This family member may not even be aware that you are not comfortable with them showing up unannounced. People cannot read your mind, so it’s important to learn how to address the things that make you feel uncomfortable. 


setting family boundaries

Source: Shutterstock


3. Make Certain Aspects of Your Life Off Limits

It’s natural for our families to want to stay updated about our lives, but sometimes, this concern can feel invasive. From the time we are in school, we are often bombarded with comments about dating, our plans for college, our career choice, etc. These comments are usually made during family events and can make us feel put on the spot. If you find that you are uncomfortable responding to comments or questions related to certain aspects of your life, you can say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that. Can we talk about something else?” 

This helps you set the tone for what you are willing to talk about concerning yourself. 


4. Choose Not to Be Available Financially for Family Members

What I mean by this is that we sometimes feel obligated to financially extend ourselves to family members. While some of our family members may not intentionally take advantage of us, it can happen. If you find yourself in a situation where someone continuously and freely asks you for money, you can tell them, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that.” As tempting as it may be, you don’t have to offer an explanation beyond that. 


5. Be Firm About Parenting Style

This can be really tricky to navigate, especially if your family operates in a traditional manner. For example, even though you were physically disciplined as a child, you don’t plan to use spanking or other physical discipline with your own child(ren). Regardless of how you were raised, it is your choice when it comes to resolving to raise and discipline your children differently. If a family member suggests physical discipline, speak up and say, “I do not physically discipline my child and you do not have permission to do so either.” 


Even if the boundaries you want to set differ from the ones above, know that it’s OK to address things you are uncomfortable with. Some people may not like the fact you’re setting boundaries and may not understand why we want to make changes. But the goal isn’t to please others with our boundaries. 

Setting boundaries, especially with family, is about creating healthier dynamics. We can’t take care of others and show up in the world by neglecting to take care of ourselves. Although setting boundaries may not look as peaceful as relaxing in a warm bubble bath, it can help free us from feeling overwhelmed and/or resentful. In case no one has told you, you deserve to live a life where you don’t feel chained to all of the ways people think you are supposed to live or be available. 

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