Saturday, July 5, 2008

Setting Boundaries With Your Parents


From “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.


From pages 166 -167:


An essential aspect of making peace with your parents is to establish clear boundaries between you. As I explained in chapter 7, a healthy family system has a firm but flexible barrier between parenst and children. When the children mature, this barrier is reinforced. The adult child no longer needs to turn to the parents for protection, guidance, day-to-day affection, nurturing, or financial support, because those needs are now taken care of by a partner or adult friends. The two generations stay in touch because of the love between them and because they are genuinely interested in each other, not because they meet each other's fundamental needs or feel a sense of obligation.


The exceptions are worth mentioning. I believe a parent and adult child are obligated to keep each other apprised of their status and whereabouts. A significant illness, a death in the family, a job change, a divorce or a marriage, and a change of address are examples of information that needs to be shared. In addition, I believe that adult children have a responsibility to care for their aging parents in some fashion. Whether that entails home care or institutional care is for each family to decide.


Beyond these minimal obligations, a healthy relationship between a parent and adult child is one characterized by choice. For example, one reason to stay in touch is to give everyone a sense of history. When family members play the game “remember when,” everyone has a sense of belonging and a connection to earlier times. Though repetition of these anectotes, a family identity is passed down from generation to generation...


The need for guidance may also connect adult children and their parents. The older generation may have expertise in a special area or have an overall wisdom that comes from having lived a few more decades. The tables turn as the parents become limited by poor health or age, and the older generation may turn to the younger generation for advice. In this exchange of insight and information, two ideas are kept in mind: (1) asking for advice is not the same thing as taking it, and (2) unsolicited advice can lead to resentment – especially if the advice is coupled with expectation.


A desire to express affection, history sharing, celebration, and guidance are key components of a healthy parent/adult child relationship. Ideally, these interactions and any beyond this -- mutual interests, cooperative ventures, and joint activities, for example – should be a matter of personal choice.



Excerpt from
Dr. Patricia Love's

The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to Do When a Parent's Love Rule's Your Life
Bantam Books, 1990