Dr. Heather Violante is out of the office for the rest of May and will accept new teletherapy clients in June 2024.

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents

As independent adults, it’s common to fall into old patterns when it comes to your relationship with your parents. At times, it can feel like we can’t have a conversation about the relationship or shape it into something different and better. But you aren’t stuck (even if it feels like it) and you can change the dynamics and move it into a better relationship that is based on a foundation of mutual respect. Whether they live far away or they live with you, it’s important to set healthy boundaries in order to take care of your own mental health and maintain and improve the relationship with your parents.


Overly Involved Parents

Are your parents overly involved in your daily life? There are many ways that parents may overstep when it comes to your life. They might be telling you what they think is best for you, how to live your life, where you should live, whether or not you should have children, putting pressure on you in various aspects of your life, telling you what your career moves should be, interfering with partner choice, refusing to have a relationship with their son/daughter in law, etc.

It’s also common for parents to be overly involved with how you raise your children – telling you how to parent and not respecting your requests. While usually well intentioned, grandparents want to share their long experience raising children, give you parental advice, and guide you from making mistakes. But sometimes this can come across as overstepping, controlling, and even disrespectful. If this is the case, you can talk to them about your expectations of them as grandparents. “Here are your expectations as a grandparent, not their parent.”


Guilt Tripping

Overstepping is often accompanied by guilt tripping, which is a form of manipulation. Your parents may use it because they know you care about them and don’t want to hurt their feelings. But this often leads to feelings of stress, resentment, and even anger towards your parents, further damaging the relationship. It’s important to recognize when your parents are guilt tripping you so you can deal with it. Common ways that parents guilt trip their adult children include saying things like, “I’ve sacrificed so much for you,” “you owe me,” and making you feel like you can never do anything right or bringing up past mistakes that are irrelevant to the current situation.

When a parent tries to guilt trip you, there are things you can do to cope including setting and clearly stating your boundaries, realizing it’s not about you but your parent’s inability to clearly state their own needs, and talk to them about what is going on.


Have a Conversation

Have a conversation with your parents about your relationship with them. What do you want the relationship to look like? Talk about it! If they are overly involved in your life or guilt trip you, it’s OK to talk about it with them. It’s all about improving communication and the relationship. Set up a time to speak with the parent individually and not in front of others. State how the overstepping is happening and be specific, share how it makes you feel and how it impacts your life (“it’s holding me back, making me indecisive, confusing me, jeopardizing my self-confidence, you don’t trust me to make my own decisions and that hurts”, etc.). Let them know that when they keep offering the same advice over and over again, that it isn’t helpful, but creates tension and hardship. “While I’m happy to hear your opinions or thoughts, now give me space to take it into consideration and make the decision for myself.” Express that you want them to trust you, too, to make your own decisions. 

If you want to go to your parent to talk about a life topic or ask for advice on something specific, you can tell them how you want them to respond. Make it clear that it’s not that you don’t want their opinion, but you are helping them help you make the best decision for yourself. After they give you their opinion, you can tell them that you aren’t going to make any decisions right now and that you want to take time to think about it. They can check in with you eventually if you want (you can set that time), but ask them to give you space to reflect and feel confident in your own decision making and self-reliance. “I’m not shutting you out, I’m just asking you to respect my boundaries. I’ll get more out of that than you doing everything for me and dismissing my own feelings and living the life you want for me. I can learn from my mistakes.” If they bring up the subject again, restate that you don’t want to talk about it or you’re not ready, and say “I don’t want to talk about this, so I’m changing the topic” and bring up something else. 

If they keep bringing up the same topic or suggestions over and over again, say, “We cannot bring up this topic anymore moving forward. We can’t make every interaction we have about this topic. There’s nothing left to discuss.” It may sound harsh, but you have every right to request they stop telling you how to live your life. “Please stop telling me to have children.” “Please stop telling me to get married.” “Let me live my own life.” If the parent keeps bringing an issue up, say, “I think we have to come to a conclusion to agree to disagree. I will make the decision and if I’m unhappy with the outcome, that’s on me.”

Some parents may be defensive when you make requests like this or try to express yourself. The aim isn’t to get into an argument, be competitive, push them away, or prove a point. The purpose is to hear each other, be patient, acknowledge you have different views, and live your own life. Express your comfort level of how involved they are not because you don’t want them around, but so you can gain your own autonomy and self-sufficiency. “I want to feel proud that I succeeded with something on my own.” Those are your intentions, which are healthy and valid. 


Setting Boundaries is Not Disrespectful

Just because you’re setting boundaries and being assertive, doesn’t mean you’re being cruel. Parents might think talking about your relationship and boundary setting is disrespectful, especially if they’re old-school and don’t want the relationship dynamics to change. If that’s the case, remember that your intentions are pure, you are doing the best you can, and then set boundaries like limiting contact to reduce stress and prevent resentment. You’ll feel resentful if you keep interacting with them in an unhealthy way.

Acknowledge what makes this so hard: setting boundaries is hard in general, but when it comes to your parents, it adds a layer of difficulty because you don’t want to cross a line when it comes to respect. You know your parents care about you and want what’s best for you, so you don’t want to be disrespectful. 

When you set the boundaries, make it clear that you respect them, are grateful and appreciative, and that you take what they say into consideration. But the parent has to give the adult child space to make their own judgment call, make mistakes, and be proud of decisions they made on their own. It’s about both of you respecting that you have different views.

Keep in mind that generational and cultural differences may impact their emotional intelligence. Who they were raised by, the environment in which they grew up, etc. all play a role in their ability to understand you and cope with you setting boundaries. Keep this in mind when setting boundaries and know that you might have to restate your boundaries over and over again. Remember to stick to your boundaries, no matter how many times you have to remind your parents of them. They may not have learned these skills, so we can’t expect them to have them. You can be grateful that you have the emotional intelligence and awareness to try to shift the relationship into one that’s healthier. But remember, it’s not your job to make them change. You can speak up and make decisions for yourself, which takes effort, but you may not be able to make them do what you want.


Self-Reflection and Accountability

When setting boundaries, it’s important to take a look at where the relationship currently stands and self-reflect. Are you putting in enough effort with your parents? Are you neglectful in any way? Do you feel comfortable with the amount of time you give to them? Do you (or will you) really consider their opinions and suggestions, or just blow them off? 

Just like every relationship, the one with your parents is a two-way street. When you set boundaries, hold yourself accountable, just like you will do with them. Reflect on what you provide for them and what you want them to provide for you. It’s about balance, give and take.


Have Fun Together

When you talk to your parents about your relationship with them, talk about positive aspects, not just what’s wrong with the relationship. Think about and discuss what you want the relationship to look like. What topics should you talk about? What can you focus on together? What do you have in common? That way it’s not about avoiding your parents, but shaping the relationship and moving it in a positive direction. 

Find a hobby or activity to do together and strengthen your relationship from a different perspective. Do you both love being outdoors? Go for walks together. Do you love the same kinds of movies? Have a movie night every once in a while. Volunteer together, do arts and crafts, join a club, plan a trip, etc. – the options are endless. Over time, you might find that you enjoy spending time with your parents way more than you did before. 


Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Parents

Setting boundaries with your parents isn’t about cutting them out of your life, it’s about improving the relationship and living a healthier, happier life. If you are struggling with setting boundaries or with the relationship you have with your parents, therapy can help.

Dr. Violante provides teletherapy (online video therapy) to adults living in Florida and New York, as well as all PsyPact enrolled states (listed below). Contact her online or call (754) 333-1484 to request a HIPAA compliant teletherapy session.




Offering Online Therapy in 39 States

I am a licensed psychologist in the states of Florida and New York. Additionally, I have Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) from the PSYPACT Commission. I provide telehealth (online video therapy) to adults living in the 39 participating PSYPACT states listed below. For a list of current PSYPACT participating states, please visit the PSYPACT website at: https://www.psypact.org/psypactmap.

PsyPact enrolled states:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming