It seems like almost daily I get a question from a parent on how to handle situations that have become real frustrations in their home. You may have seen similar scenarios in your own family. You know the ones. Your teen makes a request and you say “yes”. After all, you want to connect with your kid and not seem overwhelmingly controlling and one time shouldn’t be a big deal.
But it becomes a big deal.
A mom approached me the other day concerned that she had allowed her son’s girlfriend to come over to hang out for the day. “I didn’t think anything about it. After all, a Saturday afternoon seemed harmless and I really like the girl. They played some games in the basement, went for a walk, watched a movie. At first I thought it was kind of cute.”
Then she continued. “But now it has become an expectation. The girl just shows up at our house around 9 am and I feel like I have to kick her out at midnight. I think she would just move in if we let her.”
“Where are her parents in all of this?” I asked.
“It seems like they let her do her own thing. And it has gotten to the point that Justin doesn’t even ask me. She shows up and I feel chained to the house. They are in the kitchen or the family room or basement all the time. She even goes to our pantry or fridge and helps herself as if she is a member of the family.”
“Like I said, she’s nice. I like her. But I am beginning to feel like a prisoner in my own home. She usually shows up as I’m fixing breakfast and eats every meal with us the entire day.”
“I know that I would rather have Justin at home instead of him hanging out who knows where, but this is becoming a real issue. What can I do?”
“Have you spoken to Justin and tried to put a boundary around it?” I asked.
“How do I do that? I’ve hinted to Justin. I’ve told him I think it is excessive that she comes over so much. And I’ve made suggestions at times when I think she needs to leave. But I just get push back from him. He likes having her there.”
“Sounds like it is time to do something to put a stop to it,” I suggested.
“Sure, but I don’t want to alienate him. I don’t want to drive a wedge in our relationship.”
Whether it’s an expectation that blows out of normal proportion or a request that we would like to agree to but are afraid it will lead to future expectations, we need to set boundaries on what is acceptable in our homes. Our kids’ actions do affect other people. And learning boundaries at home sets them up for success in the future.
So how can we set boundaries so that our kids know the limits?
- State the obvious. It is easier if you set the boundary when a request is made; however, (like the mom above) the need doesn’t always become obvious until it becomes a problem. Here’s an example. Lauren requests to go to a “PG-13” movie that you don’t typically allow. However, you are ready to test the waters and give her more freedom because this particular one seems relatively harmless based on reviews. “Lauren, I know that you really want to go and you know that we don’t typically allow this sort of movie.” In my friend’s case (above), she might say something like. “Justin, last month when you asked if your girlfriend could come over on Saturday, I thought you were asking for just that day.”
- State the problem. “Justin, I’m not sure it is healthy for our family to have your girlfriend here for the entire day every Saturday. When she is here all day, I feel trapped. I don’t feel comfortable leaving just the two of you here alone and I feel like there is no family time because she is always here.” In Lauren’s case, mom could say, “I’ve decided to let you go to the movie’s this time. Please know that in the future, if it is a “PG-13″ movie, we will still evaluate it separately.”
- Expect your kid to want to control the situation. In the movie example, mom set the expectation up front so there will not likely be any issues in the future. Lauren knows what to expect. However, with Justin, there is a high likelihood that there will be push back and justification as to why his girlfriend should still be able to come.
- Set the boundary. “Justin, your dad and I have decided that she can come over on Saturdays and possibly stay a few hours if you ask me in advance and I agree that it works. If you let me know by Thursday what time works best for the two of you, I’ll try to work my schedule around it. She will not be staying for dinner. That is family time. She can come during the day or in the evening based on our family schedule, but not both. And chores need to be done first.”
- Explain the boundary. “Justin, Saturdays are family days. We love you and want to spend time with you. Dad misses knocking around and hanging out with you and so do I. I don’t mind sharing you, but not for the entire day.”
- Remain firm. Most kids will continue to push back and try to reset the boundary. They will think you are being unfair. But hang in there and don’t allow them to push you into caving on your boundary. The new rule is the new rule. Period.
- After time, you can be flexible. Once Justin follows the rules for a while, if something comes up that doesn’t fall within the boundary, it is okay to say, “Justin, I’ve decided that she can stay for dinner tonight. Know that this is only for tonight and not a change from our norm, but tonight she is invited.”
Setting boundaries isn’t always easy; however, if you practice communicating them in a way that allows your child to know what your limits are, you’ll find less conflict and more connection.
A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
“Let go…and Let God”,