Family Boundaries

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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