My mother is a self-declared “helicopter parent,” or at least she used to be throughout my growing up years. When my siblings and I graduated and moved out, she struggled with her empty nest. I moved furthest away — a 30-hour drive — and in the months after my move, she called several times a week to leave messages telling me how she missed me (and how my room was waiting for me whenever I wanted to come back).
Maybe your mom was like mine, and you were like me. Since moving out, I have met many Millennials with a similar story: Their parents were loving, but over-involved, which pushed them away from relationship with their parents. Often these Millenials, like me, desire to have a healthy relationship with their parents; they just do not know what that relationship should look like.
For my mom and me, it came down to boundaries. A boundary is a relational limit you set with another to define what is “me” and what is not “me”; a boundary determines what actions, emotions and relationships you are responsible for, and which you aren’t.
This is the basis of your new relationship with your parents. But what specific boundaries will allow us to have healthy friendships with our parents? Of course, that depends on you and your parents. But I changed two things.
1. I discovered what I wanted our mother/daughter relationship to become.
Turns out, my mother and I had different ideas about our relationship (surprise, surprise). But growing up in my mom’s house, I had learned to give in to her stronger desires and expectations, while growing resentful toward her. Moving out gave me a choice about how our relationship would play out. For example, I could choose not to return her phone calls. Or I could call her every day over my lunch break.
I asked myself the question: What kind of friendship did I want with my mom? Did I want to visit her for every holiday? Did I want to share every detail about my dating relationship with her? Did I want to feel guilty each time she mentioned that she missed me?
I felt liberated when, after much prayer, journaling and conversation with my therapist and trusted friends, I determined that:
-I would call once a week.
-I would not call my mom back every time she called me (which was more than once a week).
-I could not afford to go home for every holiday (and sometimes I wanted to celebrate with friends instead of family).
-I would not share every single detail of my life with her, and
-I could accept her saying she missed me without feeling guilty by reading into the subtext (“I wish you lived here instead of there”).
Which brings me to the last step my mom and I took to transform our relationship:
2. My mom and I discussed our expectations, desires and hurts openly.
Because my mom and I had disagreed about how we would feel most respected in our new adult friendship, we had to discuss what our relationship would look like. This did not happen in a single conversation. I moved out six years ago, and occasionally, we still have to bring a conversation about boundaries out of the broom closet.
My mom responded well to this because she loves Jesus and loves me. There were no previous issues in our relationship that sullied trust or safety, so if you come from a different background, please talk with a trained counselor about how you should have this conversation with your parent. But for those of us whose parents were well-meaning but hovered a bit too close, you can expect that your parents will respond to a conversation of this nature with grace (if not at first, then eventually).
Obviously these conversations felt risky. But this is where the “70 times 7” of forgiveness and grace happens. Now, after six years of honesty between my mother and me, I feel respected. Which, in turn, makes me want to call her back and eat turkey with her, instead of just doing those things out of obligation.
Plus, as I felt released from the expectations my mom had put on me, she also became freed up relationally. She now leads a ministry for 20-something women at her church. She has gained dozens of new daughters! Because we set boundaries, both of us have experienced more life, freedom and relationship. Isn’t that what each of us wants for each other, anyway?
Elizabeth Charlotte Grant is an author and art-enthusiast who lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter (You can follow her at ElizabethCharlotteGrant.com).
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