Some families are good at living with boundaries. They naturally give others space. But other families can’t understand limits. They need some gentle but firm boundaries. How do you know you need to set some ground rules with your family?
What is a relationship boundary?
Everyone lives with boundaries. Whether at work or school, you understand why limitations exist with other people. But family can be more complicated. So it’s easy to ignore the signs that indicate you need to set some limits with them.
Someone has described a boundary as an imaginary line you establish with other people regarding how you expect them to speak and act around you, your kids, and your house.
Here is a list of the seven signs that could indicate it’s time for some family boundaries.
1 – Nonstop or frequent unannounced visits
If your sister stops by your house unannounced every day of the week, it’s time to set a boundary. Frequent, unannounced visits are disruptive to your family life. You may need to change your plans if she shows up at the wrong time. Perhaps your sister is lonely or looking for support from you but hasn’t expressed it.
Studies show that sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting family relationship a person will have. A good relationship with a sibling is essential for your well-being.
You may want to ask your sister why she’s coming over so often. It’s essential to be clear about your need for a boundary yet remain kind towards her. Being kind but firm, will help your sister feel like you care about her, but help her understand your limits.
2 – Unwanted advice about your life, your partner, or your job
Family members often feel like they’re helping you when they give unsolicited advice. Their suggestions about your work, where you live, or your partner can feel very intrusive. It’s easy to put up with them, but you may start to feel angry at them if you let it go on. Anger is harmful to your mind and body. Don’t allow their comments to fester. It would be best if you spoke up.
No one else is going to set your boundaries. It’s something you must do yourself. So, when your aunt says something belittling about your partner, you must speak up and tell her to stop. If she continues, you need to say firming and calmly,
“Aunt Elma, I know you’re concerned for me, but I don’t like the way you’re talking about Joe. If you keep talking like that, I’ll need to leave.”
While you acknowledge her concern for you, you also set a boundary for how she talks about someone you care for.
3 – Opinions shared about how you raise your kids
Being a parent is like having a target on your back. People seem very comfortable giving unsolicited parenting advice. It may be your mother-in-law giving you the side-eye for allowing your daughter one more show on your iPhone or a sarcastic comment by your sister about how strict your bedtime routine is compared to hers. At some point, you’ll become fed up with their unsolicited opinions.
For relatives whom you know are genuinely trying to be helpful, you can say, “Thanks, but we’re going to stick with what we’re doing.” They’ll get the message to stop interfering.
But you need to be more direct for family members like your sister, who uses sarcasm to correct you. Tell your sister that her sarcastic comments make it clear she disagrees with your bedtime routine, but it’s what you think is best for your kids.
Your kids need to see how you work out disagreements with family members. It teaches them how to adapt to different people’s opinions without getting angry. It’s also helpful for your kids to understand that family members may parent differently.
4 – Buying things you don’t want without asking you
Do you have relatives who constantly buy stuff for you or your kids? Some relatives are extraordinarily generous, and gift-giving is how they express their love. But you may not appreciate your great aunt sending five stuffed animals in 30 days to your one-year-old. It’s probably time to set a firm boundary with your dear great aunt.
Tell your sweet relative how much you appreciate her generosity, but you’ve put a moratorium on all gifts unless they are for a birthday or a holiday. If she wants to buy something for your kids, she can keep them at her house. Please don’t bring them to your house.
If she keeps giving unsolicited gifts, the best way to discourage her is to say, “My, this is cute. I’ll drop it off at the thrift store tomorrow. I’m sure someone will want it, but we’re maxed out at my house.” Hearing that her gifts are going to the thrift store will quickly stop her overly zealous gift giving.
5 – Comments about your diet or body
Families sometimes cross the line on comments about diet, weight loss, and weight gain. Everyone has advice on how you should look, how much exercise you need or what diet you should be on. If you’ve recently gained weight, it’s hurtful when your relatives make comments. You know you want to lose weight, but having them tell you that you should lose weight feels rude. It’s challenging to navigate through these comments. It would be best if you told them to stop.
The fact that your relatives are so free with their opinions reveals their rudeness towards you. These relatives may not be as “safe” as you thought. You don’t owe them an explanation about your weight gain. Set a boundary by not replying to their rude comment. Or you can say, “It’s none of your business.” That should shut them down. If not, walk away from the conversation.