I feel guilty when I set boundaries with my parents

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Question: Today’s question is a follow up to an earlier blog about setting boundaries with parents who have been abusive toward you as an adult or disrespectful of your boundaries. Here is the reader’s dilemma:

I believe I’ve set proper boundaries with both parents (they’re divorced) and I’m at peace with that in itself, but I’m still having a hard time emotionally letting go of my extended family. How can I stop feeling guilty? My mother doesn’t see that my need to still enforce boundaries isn’t unforgiveness, but caution and a desire to ensure my children’s safety. On the other side, my father and step-mother are pressuring us to move closer to them so they can spend more time with their grandchildren. I can’t win with either parent and I feel like I’m being treated like a child. I’m almost to the point of cutting ties with both of them. My husband has been 100% in agreement with my stand and is very supportive.

However, I display anger mixed with guilt whenever I encounter any of them. I’m still hopeful that God is working through this situation and I fear that cutting ties with them is not the answer. Please advise.

Answer: I agree with you. I don’t think totally cutting off ties with your family is the answer. Learning to let go of the guilt of displeasing them or making them unhappy is. I think women struggle with this more than men. We want others, especially our parents, to be happy with us, approve of our decisions and think we made good choices. When they show their disapproval or disappointment with our choices, we tend to second guess our decisions, and/or feel guilty for going against what they want or think is best.

I remember when I decided to hold my son back from starting school until he turned 6. This was unheard of twenty-five years ago and my extended family didn’t understand, nor did they think it was smart. They were entitled to disagree, but I found it hard to forge ahead without second guessing myself or feeling a twinge of guilt for going against the family norm.

Part of being a healthy adult (emotionally) is the ability to make decisions for yourself without feeling like you need every one else’s approval and to tolerate their disapproval without getting undone.

I like the story in Mark 1 where Jesus went to Peter’s home for a short reprieve from ministry. However, before long, the text says the whole town gathered at the door bringing sick and needy people to Jesus for healing. Jesus graciously ministered to the group, but at some point we know he stopped and went to sleep because it says, “early the next morning Jesus went out to pray.” Before long, Peter comes looking for Jesus telling him to come back to the house because everyone is still waiting for him. Apparently there were people who were yet unhealed, waiting for Jesus.

Jesus’ answer is somewhat shocking. He says he’s not going back. In fact, he’s going on to Jerusalem to preach because that’s why he’s come. Imagine all the people left who were angry and disappointed in Jesus. Perhaps even the disciples disapproved of Jesus’ decision.

If Jesus, who was perfect, couldn’t please everyone and make them happy all of the time, neither can we. Your mother, father, and step-mother may be disappointed that you’re not willing to live your life like they want you to. It may be in big areas like moving closer to home, or even in little areas like coming to dinner every Sunday afternoon or allowing them to take the children overnight.

Part of your continued growth right now is to respectfully disagree and do what’s in the best interest of your husband and children. When the scriptures tell us to leave and cleave, I believe it’s not just a physical leaving but also an emotional one. You are not a bad daughter if you don’t make them happy all of the time or disagree with their ideas. But you must also let go of the idea that they will always agree with yours.

So I’d encourage you to do the work you need to do right now to let go of the guilt and internal voices of condemnation that are eating at you. Those are the things that are triggering your anger. When you can break free of those things, then you will be able to disagree and not feel that tug of guilt.

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