Visiting time boundaries
Fictional Donna and David have been working the last two days to enforce phone boundaries. It is difficult. Donna’s mother always has “one more thing” to say before she hangs up. Donna is working at a quick, “Well, I’ve got to go now, goodbye” hangup before her mother goes on to the next topic. David has less difficulty telling Donna’s parents that Donna is busy now and that he has a lot he needs to get done. David realizes that if he just changes his language, things go easier. If he tells Donna’s parents he “would like to” or “should” get something done, they continue talking. If he says that he “needs to” do something, they wind down a bit and he’s able to do the quickie, “thanks for calling, bye.” So they are seeing a bit of progress in their handling of her parents’ intrusions.
In general, now that Donna is beginning to see the problem as a boundary problem rather than something wrong with her parents or with her, she is less defensive and she sees that she and David are on the same side.
The next task they have is to teach Donna’s parents that there are boundaries on their visiting. That isn’t to say that Donna’s parents aren’t welcome. In fact, they can be delightful with the children and of course Donna has a great deal of affection for them. What they don’t want is for her parents’ controlling behavior to get in the way of the possibility of pleasant times together.
They have noticed a few conditions that seem to accompany negative interactions:
1. There are times when Donna’s parents just show up. They come in and expect Donna to drop everything to talk with them. Donna’s mother invariably comments that the house is “a mess.”
2. It seems that the longer they stay, the more controlling they become.
3. There are certain subjects that seem to set them off.
4. There are reactions that seem to make them become even more emphatic
With those in mind, let’s see what Donna and David can do.
The first thing is that they can tell Donna’s parents that they would really appreciate a call from them when they are thinking of visiting. That would allow Donna to let them know if it’s a good time for her and would enable her to get the house straightened up and to sit and talk with them rather than being in the middle of folding laundry or making a meal or some other household task. They should tell Donna’s parents that when the visits are spontaneous, Donna never feels as if she can just sit and enjoy their company and she would like them to see her at her best and not her frazzled worst!
When her parents call, she should be honest and tell them a time that is acceptable to her. She should also put a limit on the visit. “Mom, I would love for you come over at 10, but I am going to need to go out at about 11.”
She really should not discuss with her parents where she might be going or what she will be doing. That only encourages intrusiveness.
If there are subjects that set them off, then obviously, Donna and David should avoid them. If Donna and David encourage her parents to talk about their own activities, they will minimize the advice-giving. If there is really something that her parents can offer them in terms of experience and knowledge, they should ask her parents for help so that they will have the pleasure of helping their daughter.
David and Donna also need to become sensitive to the types of responses that make her parents go into high gear. One would be opposing their ideas or giving counter-examples. Donna’s mother, for example, may think that the baby will have colic if his feet aren’t covered even in 90 degree weather. Rather than opposing that as ridiculous, Donna and David can say “You might be right,” and nod their heads thoughtfully. Ideas and attitudes that have no immediate application should not be debated. When Donna’s parents are confronted, they will always charge on. The best thing to do is to listen and nod. The goal in interactions with them is not to win on logic and not to show how independent David and Donna are. It is to maintain a warm relationship. David and Donna are under no obligation to comply with her parents’ advice.
If Donna and David are able to begin building these boundaries, they will notice that the stress that they are under will begin to lessen and their own relationship will be enhanced.