Family Boundaries

Posted on May 26, 2013 | 17 comments

During a coaching phone call last week, one of my clients wanted to talk about navigating family relationships with a clear conscience.

Setting up healthy boundaries.

All of this I share with my client’s permission, so if you are a client (or a future client), please do not fear that you case will be discussed on the blog.

It seems that when it came to making decisions involving her sister, my client was more motivated by guilt, anxiety, and her sister’s expectations rather than her own reality. This was causing a lot of stress within her own household.

In the course of our session, my client came up with the following list of questions to use while planning and responding to family events. I share them because of their simplicity, usefulness to others, and to illustrate the effectiveness of coaching.

1. Can I say yes to this freely?

In establishing boundaries, I thought this was the key umbrella question to ask first. Freely means that there is no compulsion to comply, either stated or part of the expectations of the family system.

Many times people say yes because we excuse the other from owning the consequences of their own decisions – thus we enable them.

Or we are made to feel guilty – either directly by the other or because we want to keep the peace.

Or we adopt the anxiety of the other as our own, rather than letting the other feel it themselves.

 Or there is an unspoken family system expectation – like “we can’t upset X because he will stop communicating with us.”  

Either way, the other – whether overtly or not – becomes a tyrant in their decision making and we perceive that we lose freedom. This is the first clue that a boundary has been broached.

2. Is my time being offered or taken?

This speaks to who is doing the planning. When you are approached with a schedule or itinerary, have the plans already been made? Has your availability been taken into account or assumed?

There is nothing wrong with rescheduling Friday’s dentist appointment to take Sally to the airport, but are you the one making the choice?

3. Is this decision consistent with my values?

Are you being taken for granted? Would complying be dismissing of your self?

Are you being asked to contradict a driving belief when making a decision, even for family?

Does saying yes to a family relationship mean that you will need to compromise your integrity in another area or relationship (i.e. lying to get out of a lunch appointment)?

4. What is the impact of this decision on my own family?

Will failing to hold a firm boundary with extended family have a negative impact on the people in your own household?

5. Are there reasonable alternatives?

If you say no, what is the consequence?

Are there alternatives that you can present that would honor everyone involved (i.e. I cannot pick you up from the airport because of work, but I have the  numbers for a few taxi services)?

6. Is this an opportunity to serve?

Don’t confuse boundaries with convenience. Sometimes there are legitimate emergencies or situations when your involvement is needed without fair warning. These are opportunities to demonstrate love and serve. The key is knowing the difference – hence the value of these few simple boundary questions.

As you read this list, other questions may have come to mind, add them to your own list – and use them. Practice them. Internalize them.

This list was constructed during a guided coaching session. My client and I were a thousand miles apart, so we coached by phone. Coaching can be a powerful way to plan, make decision, or just get unstuck.

If you are interested in more information on beginning a coaching relationship, see the CT coaching page or contact me by email right now to set up a 15 minute consultation.

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  1. Great questions! As a minister, it’s often hard to draw boundaries. I’ll refer to this list again!

  2. These questions are so very thoughtful and able to release one from feeling guilt. Thank you for sharing at “Tell me a Story.”

  3. Great questions to ponder. Love this post about family boundaries 🙂
    Visiting you from the Happy Wives Club link up.

  4. One of the best things I think I’ve done over the course of the past 15 years is set up healthy boundaries. When you love people, you just want to give and give. But there comes a time when giving is actually against the will of God. It took me a little while to understand that lesson but once I got it, I really got it.

    • Thanks, Fawn. At some point we begin to enable other’s behavior and you are correct to say that is not biblical.

  5. Every one of these questions are powerful tools to help any one of us navigate & set up healthy boundaries. I found this post extremely useful & am so glad to have read it this morning. Am going to save it as I know I will want to share it with others. Thank you for posting it. I was your neighbor at Winsome Wednesday and am grateful that I was!

  6. Good points – I’m visiting from Works For Me Wednesday! 🙂 My husband and I counsel others about money and finances, so this can be taken in the area of those as well….you MUST have money boundaries.

    • Totally true. If you don’t know what you are going to do with your money, it will be gone before you know it.

  7. These questions are very helpful! As a minister’s wife, demands on my time are often high, and I’m still learning how to set healthy boundaries. But I especially like your last point – is it an opportunity to serve? Often this is the main reason for my husband and I to say yes to a request. I’m visiting from Winsome Wed. Link-up. Thanks for sharing with us!

  8. I always love questions that help me evaluate a situation more objectively and proactively. Thanks so much for your client being willing to share these, Scott. It appears you’ve had a great impact on this woman’s thought processes–the sign of a great coach! Thanks for giving us a peek into how you are helping her and others. And as always, I love having you at Wedded Wed. Great thoughts, my friend!

  9. Great questions to think about before saying yes.

  10. These are great! I ‘ve had to establish some firm boundaries with a couple of relatives. One in particular who just doesn’t seem to “get” it.

    I can never decide if she just doesn’t “get” it or if she doesn’t care and tries to manipulate the situation to get her way. Anyway, thanks so much to your client for sharing.

    also, thanks so much for linking up to “Making Your Home Sing Monday” today! 🙂

  11. This is excellent advice. I’m going to share it with my husband and I know he’ll say, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” 🙂

    Thank you so much for the sound coaching!

  12. These are good questions to consider before committing. Thanks for linking up over at WholeHearted Home.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing with Adorned From Above’s Blog Hop 55. We can’t wait to see what you have for us this week. This weeks party is live.
    Have a great week.
    Debi and Charly @ Adorned From Above

  14. Got to tell you, this really got me thinking. Yes, I think we need established boundaries but I am not good at standing behind them in certain situations. I grew up in a family where my father was in prison and we were bounced between homes. You sort of learn to be whoever you have to be to survive. Overcoming that as an adult has honestly been a rough road learning to stand firm for my convictions and my God. Thank you for opening my eyes to something I really need to consider.

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