Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

What boundaries are ...

Back to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children -

Have healthy boundaries!

As parents and kids navigate the turbulent waters of kiddos becoming adults and parents of kiddos becoming parents of adults, the concept of developing healthy boundaries is right at the top of my "what keeps relationships healthy" list.

So, my last post was a teensy-tiny little rant about what boundaries AREN'T. They aren't an excuse to chop people out of your lives with no explanation, no warning, no conversation. That is something else ...

Boundaries, from the reading I did, ARE defined like this:

Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Boundaries, for grown up folks, are about the establishment of acceptable behavior that we allow into our lives. Boundaries allow us to be ourselves separate from other people. Boundaries are especially important for young people, as they start to establish a life apart from their parents.

For young adults, this means, you start to get to decide, as you grow up, when and how and where you will engage with your family of origin. Hopefully, if all goes well, you will work hard to find fun and healthy ways to engage with your parents. But it is, in the end, your choice. Parents, it will go well with us if we realize this and accept it with grace and a touch of humor.

For parents, this also means, we get to decide, as our kids become young, self-sustaining (God, please!) young people, when and how and where we will engage with our kids. Hopefully, if all goes well, we will work hard to find fun and healthy ways to engage with our adult kids. In the end, it is our choice. Adult kids, it will go well with you if you realize this and accept it with grace and a touch of humor.

Young adults, you can decide how often you want to engage with your parents by phone, text, Skype or e-mail. They may try to break your boundaries, but ultimately, you get to decide. Stick to your guns! Your parents will - eventually - learn.

You can decide how much of your life you want to share with your parents. Be wise here. If you don't want advice on certain issues, you may want to, as my grandpa used to say, "breast your cards."

Young adults, you can decide how you want to engage family vacations, holidays, meals, gatherings, etc. If these gatherings are really hard, toxic, abusive or flat out awful, think of creative and loving ways to limit your exposure.

Parents, you can decide how often you want to engage your adult kids in all the various forms of communication. A good idea, however? Ask them what works for them. They have busy, full, hopefully productive lives and they can't always chat with us at our convenience.

We get to decide how much of our lives we want to share with our adult kids. A hint? They are probably way less interested than we think ...

Parents, we can decide how we want to do vacations, holidays, meals, gatherings, etc. But we can't always expect our adult kids to show up like they used to when they lived at home with us. Be flexible! Be festive! Be fun! If plans fall through, do something on your own. Don't make your kids feel like they are your only recourse for a good time. Too. Much. Pressure.

And parents - if your adult kids create a toxic environment, it is fully within your parental rights to creatively and lovingly think of ways to limit exposure.

Boundaries are hard.

Boundaries demand gentle, firm, truthful conversation.

Boundaries call for grace.

But boundaries make for strong families, like fences make for great neighbors.

Healthy Boundaries ...

Moving on to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Kids ...

Have healthy boundaries.

Let me first say a word about what boundaries are NOT.

Boundaries are NOT an excuse for choosing never to see your kids again; for cutting them out of your life.

Boundaries are NOT an excuse for cutting your parents out of your life forever without breathing a word to them about why.

These kinds of stories - of parents doing this to kids, and kids doing this to parents - are passive-aggressive forms of emotional abuse.

In coming posts, I will talk about what healthy boundaries are and what they might look like in families.

But I want to first say, unequivocally, that this kind of familial "ghosting" (google it) that some children and parents do to each other is - in almost every case - the height of childishness.

I've seen way too many devastated parents, and a few too many heartbroken children, to not get this off my chest.

Next post: What do I mean by "healthy boundaries?"

Until then, call your mom. :)



A brief interlude ...

Before I move on to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Young Adults, I want to take a brief interlude to talk about an  issue that parents of young adults often deal with: Caring for aging parents.

No wonder when we are in our 40's, 50's and 60's we are often referred to as "the sandwich generation."

This will come up again when I talk about the sort of general kindness parents should show toward their becoming-adult children, and that newly adult children should show toward their parents ...

because very often,

just as parents are launching their own kids out of the nest,

their parents are experiencing the beginning of age-related health issues that often cause them to need the attention and care of their own aging kids.

This can be a beautiful time in a family's life, where those of us who have leaned hard on our own parents can, in effect, pay them back for all the ways they have supported us by supporting them in new ways.

This can also be an exhausting time for those of us who are working hard to support our young adult kids, working hard to find time and energy for our own lives and marriage, all while caring for aging parents more and more and more and more.

In the past couple weeks, I have been to the emergency room twice, spent about 6 days in the hospital with one of my parents, and have sat by my father-in-law's bedside singing hymns and reading the Psalms to him.

It has been a deep, deep honor to do these things.

This time has been filled with holy moments.

It has also been exhausting.

I have been my best self, and my very worst self.

I have cried. I have laughed. I have felt crazy. I have felt sane. I have felt numb.

I have wondered why I am so tired.

I have berated myself for not sticking to my workout routine. (Idiot)

I have had insomnia.

I have slept for 12 hours straight.

The only little piece of advice I have for my friends who are walking through this stage, or will, is to be kind to yourself, be kind to your parents, be kind to your kids, be kind to your spouse. Be especially kind to your dog.

Show up as often as you can.

And get some rest. Workouts will wait.


No guilt over holidays ...

I was talking with my parents the other day about this idea of not using guilt in our relationships, especially the relationships between parents and grown children.

My mom, who happened to be in a hospital bed at the moment with wicked bronchitis, perked up when the topic of parents using guilt arose.

She gathered what little breath she had and said:

"Tell parents to especially not use guilt around the holidays! Make sure that they know to let go of traditions when necessary and to not demand that their grown kids show up when they always have shown up in the past. Let your grown kids know that you would LOVE to have them for Christmas (or Easter, or Thanksgiving, or Groundhog Day) but that if they can't make it this year, or if they can only come for a few hours, or part of a day ... that is JUST FINE!"

She said she had watched many parents her age use guilt especially around holiday gatherings and she thought it was so destructive.

I can testify to the fact that my parents have never used guilt or manipulation to try to get us to spend time with them.

Even around the holidays.

One Thanksgiving when all the rest of our family traveled to Chicago for our annual big turkey day celebration, my folks had to stay home because my mom had just had a hip replacement. They happily bid us farewell, ordered a full Thanksgiving meal from Hy-Vee and settled in for a great weekend of feasting and watching old movies. They couldn't have been happier and more content.


Don't use guilt around the holidays ...

It will always backfire ...

Give your grown children the freedom to decide when, where and how to celebrate as they become adults.

My bet is, if you offer them grace-filled freedom, they will very often find their way home!