Parental Boundaries:

Using Your “Mother-Ears”

Christina Cowger, MA, LMFT

One of the fine arts of parenting in how we uphold and model appropriate boundaries with our children and young adults. It is not uncommon to know parents that want to be friends with their kids. While this is the flip side of a (gladly) gone era of “children should be seen and not heard”, it can model confusing boundaries for children and young adults.

Having lead hundreds of groups on boundaries (most with women), questions about children, without fail, always comes up. Often moms are feeling that the deep love they have for their children is a green-light signal that they are close and can share openly and without condition. By no means is this meant to imply that it is not good to foster open lines of communication. Open communication from our children, teens and young adults is a signal that they feel safe with us. What I am referring to regarding boundaries and sharing with your teen or budding young adult is modeling healthy discernment in content.

Threading the needle of open communication with healthy boundaries can be a subtle dance. Many parents feel they want their kids to feel they can tell them anything but as they mature, their skills regarding healthy discernment is critical and ripples to all corners of their lives (personal and professional).

I have witnessed parents struggle with their young adults on both extremes from no sharing to oversharing. Often parents are confused about knowing how to listen with support yet lay down a line of what might be “too much” information. For example, they may have had a somewhat “open door” policy around communication with their teen that is now in college. Feeling like you are friends is great. But what if they are sharing every detail of their intimate life with you and you feel it is against your beliefs or too much information? How do you respond with love and support but also gently remind them that you are still their parent and cannot accept an “anything goes” conversation? One strategy that I have often utilized with parents in this situation is to gently remind your young adult that some conversations may be challenging to you because you are still their parent and have your “mother-ears” on.

Examples of responses to clarifying boundaries could be, “I appreciate how open you feel with me, yet, right now, I have my “mother-ears” on and I am not sure that may be the feedback you are wanting” (this clarifies your role, and reminds them that you may have a parental response). A response such as this accomplishes a few things; it states your love and support, separates out the content that is “too much” and alerts them to take note and be aware that you may respond like a parent and not a friend in the situation.

Closeness does not mean enmeshment in oversharing or accepting everything your young adult tells you. Parents who may be guilty of oversharing with their kids may later find that their young adults do not recognizing important boundaries. Re-defining these boundaries, if lines have been historically crossed, can be both helpful and clarifying. Boundaries in relationships such as parent-child, employer-employee and others is critical to safety and success. This can pertain to both the content and delivery. One great lesson we can bestow on our budding adult children is appropriate boundaries.

©2017 Christina Cowger All Rights Reserved