When we become parents we’re kind of pushed to do any catching up on asserting ourselves and maintaining boundaries that we didn’t get to do as kids. Bummer but true. Standing your ground with your parent is tough! I’ve had tough challenges in standing up for my kids with relatives and friends. Many have crossed different boundaries, as in have crossed the lines or attempted to cross the lines that I consider to be the respectful treatment of children. When certain people in our circle have pushed our boundaries too far, we’ve minimised contact. Not out of spite but just my commitment to my child’s emotional health. If a relative or friend treats one of my children disrespectfully, rather than directly confront the adult, I tend to speak to my child in front of them. This gives the adult the message. More importantly, it gives my child the warmth or reassurance they need to help them mitigate the projections that have just been directed at them.

I talk to the adult if I’m concerned that it’s a theme as opposed to a once-off incident

Adults can feel very challenged by this very open and direct communication. But I see that talking about problems and being honest when there are issues already in the air, gives the other person a chance to resolve our differences. Ideally coming to some mutual agreement. Although this often isn’t possible. Most people learned in childhood to fear limits and having boundaries asserted. When boundaries were asserted with shaming and punishing it sadly makes any issues around boundaries as adults potentially very emotionally charged. This makes calm clear communication, problem-solving, active listening and creating agreements difficult, if not impossible, for many. Especially those who can’t regulate the intense emotions evoked.

We can learn the skills we need

My son has told me, “Mum you have a way of putting people in their place that they think you’re being nice to them”. For me, this is a huge compliment. I truly aim to be as calm, clear, non-aggressive, mature and open-minded as possible when talking about a tricky or even emotionally-charged issue. This isn’t something I learned in my childhood. Quite the contrary, these are skills I’ve had to learn but can be learned by anyone who truly wants to learn to resolve conflicts more constructively.

This is where I find nonviolent communication comes in. I am very clear and strong about my boundaries. Putting my children’s needs first around family and I try to do the merry dance of being as diplomatic as possible. Speaking non-aggressively and from my own perspective without labelling them and all that more compassionate communication definitely helps.

Yet I couldn’t always do this. Initially, I think for most people in their journey of boundary-setting it’s a very awkward, messy, clumsy and often very scary and painful process. Particularly when boundaries weren’t respected in childhood. But if you wait until you can assert yourself with calm confidence and grace, you may have to wait your whole life. Like a kid learning to ride a bike, expect to fall down and pick yourself up a lot. But be proud of yourself for facing the fears instilled in you by your parent(s) related to speaking up for yourself

Standing your ground with your parent

Also on the subject of boundaries relating to family and friends, I haven’t had a relationship with my father since my early twenties. I’ve only ever known him to be a volatile and violent man with no integrity and no social conscience. He’s also a paedophile, so it’s a no-brainer really. It’s a basic issue of safety. This level of boundary is an extreme position for a situation of high risk. Yet appropriate in the more extreme cases of parents who violate boundaries and do a lot of harm without awareness or attempts to change and repair. It’s a big call.

Every relationship has healthy and not-so-healthy aspects, we each have to weigh up the benefits versus the risks. But if the risk is high enough, then sometimes this is the right thing to do. I believe that every parent deserves to have a voice in how their children are treated. Also who they have a relationship with. Not only that, but it is our responsibility to protect them from influences that are dysfunctional to the point of being potentially very harmful.

Prioritising our children’s needs over those of other adults

I remember putting up a tent with another adult in challenging weather conditions. It was starting to rain and the wind was strong. My son arrived on the scene asking if he could go to his friend’s house. The other adult launched a verbal attack at my son telling him “Your mother’s a bit busy right now. You’d be better off giving us a hand”. The words weren’t as sharp as the tone and the piercingly accusatory look. I intervened by asking my son to look and me and slowly and calmly telling him “It’s ok honey you haven’t done anything wrong. I can talk to you about your friend in a minute, just tell him you’ll ring him back and then can you help us with these poles?”

Another time my daughter started crying about missing her friends. It was the holidays and she hadn’t seen them in a while. The adult with me totally ignored my daughter’s cries and kept talking to me. Asking questions, even though I was clearly giving my daughter the attention she needed. So I said to my girl “You’ve got my attention love. You need me right now”. Then I turned to the adult and said “I can’t talk now my girl’s upset.”

In both cases, the other adult was a relative. It does take courage, I find, to prioritise my child’s needs over that of the adult, but it’s so important that we do so. After all, the adult is an adult, but our child is dependent on us.

You may also like to read Parenting differently from family and friends

  • The challenges of working to be a more peaceful parent
  • Raising children in a society that judges lack of punishment to be permissive parenting
  • My own challenges as a parent parenting differently
  • The emotional turmoil that differences in values can evoke
  • Quotes from other parents who share their struggles
  • Setting ourselves up for success

Standing up for our children gives them such a positive message

When our children see us standing up for them, supporting them to speak up for themselves and being careful about the influences upon them, it gives them the message that they themselves should be discerning about who is in their circle and how they are treated. This becomes especially important for children during the teen years when the parents lose a lot of their influence. I think that as difficult as it might be, it is great modelling for our kids.

I see the benefits of this with both of my children. Especially with my oldest now that he’s out there in the world a bit more. He has no trouble asserting himself non-aggressively, but very clearly. He’s very clear about his right to have a say in who affects him and how they affect him.

Recently my daughter got upset at an after-school class she attends and started crying. The teacher tried to shush her, reason with her and otherwise talk her out of being upset. But my daughter told her “I can’t help being upset. I’m allowed to cry”. The teacher softened at that point and became more sensitive to what my daughter was upset about.

Do grandparents have a ‘right’ over their grandchildren?

Parents I work with often reflect that their parents seem to have a belief that they have rights over their grandchild. They don’t know how to deal with this. Your parent’s belief that they have the right to treat your child how they like, including doing that which causes you great concern, is only likely to change by you making your boundaries super clear. It’s your right and responsibility to assert boundaries that will keep your child physically and emotionally safe.

My children had four grandparents at the time. I eventually had a big discussion with one of them where I just wouldn’t step down. Everything changed after that. One thing I remember saying was along the lines of:

“We’re really similar in lots of ways. We both have very strong opinions about bringing up children. Some of those opinions differ a lot but just know that I’m incredibly passionate and confident about how I bring up my children. I’ve put years of thought and education into my parenting choices.

When you tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, I find myself wondering if you know that I actually, not just think, but research very deeply about the major decisions as a parent. I’m happy for you to share your thoughts and opinions. But I’d like to see some evidence that you are also interested in my thoughts and opinions and willing to accept that I am the parent and these are my choices to make. You’re about as likely to convince me to change my mind as I am to change yours.”

In Part II of Parenting Differently from Family and Friends, read about:

  • When children cry or tantrum around relatives or in public
  • Quotes from parents about what works for them
  • The challenges of feeling judged and judging others
  • Whether or not to have those difficult conversations

This grandparent had been a school teacher and principal most of her life, a loving and very well-meaning woman. I do appreciate her a lot, I’d prefer an overinvolved grandparent than one who didn’t care or engage. But, she created a lot of work to maintain boundaries. She’s very traditional, very pious, very arrogant and authoritarian. But after that big argument, she actually gave me more space. As in, she didn’t take every opportunity to try to educate me or correct my children. It was a nerve-wracking conversation but incredibly satisfying.

It takes a lot of guts because most of us are terrified of hurting the other person. Or we’re afraid of the backlash that we learned to expect from what we experienced or witnessed in childhood. What motivates me is to remember that if I don’t, I’m protecting the adult’s feelings and well-being more than my own child and I have a commitment to not do that.

Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute. Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.
  1. Linda Rutledge 3 years ago

    I found this very informative it was just what I was looking for thanks a lot concerned parent with teenagers and an overbearing grandmother.

    • Author

      I hear you Linda! Maintaining boundaries in these situations can be an ongoing and stressful mission! But good on you for being protective of your teens and hopefully it’s overall helping you feel more empowered now than you could be as a child. These dynamics are always very complex so not wanting to make assumptions or simplify, just acknowledging that just from the little you’ve shared here, I hear you that it’s tough and I’m SO very glad that the article has helped. <3

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