Sometimes the toughest part of any relationship is learning where to draw the line. The more concrete boundaries, like space, time, and money, can be more easily defined. Whereas, others, like emotions, cause more trouble than what they are worth.
I got into this exact conversation with my therapist regarding my parents. For the longest time, I struggled with defining both appropriate emotional and mental boundaries with them. It always felt like an internal tug of war.
On one hand, I love my parents to death. Throughout all of my life, they always put my needs ahead of their own. My dad took me to school and picked me up. My mom rarely missed a little league game. They both worked full-time to make sure that I always had the best of everything. When I need someone to talk to, they will both stop what they are doing to listen and give feedback. These things do not go unnoticed.
On the other hand, toxic qualities ran rampant between my parents and me. Screaming match after screaming match. Usually, it dealt with either money or their addictions. I often got caught up in the middle without any desire to be there. When I got older, disappointment replaced the hurt when I would see my dad drinking himself into oblivion or my mom calling me and asking me for money again.
Stuck in the middle, I sit there with quite the conundrum. My parents did everything in their power to ensure that they raised a successful, helpful young man. Personally, I feel that they fulfill their duties as parents. However, as people, their imperfections get the better part of them. Time and time again, they let me down. Guilt hits hard, as I watch my parents disintegrate right in front of my eyes. They repeatedly come to me asking favors that put me in a spot that no son should ever have to be in.
That is where I need to start with them. I can be their son and not their friend. My therapist and I discussed the role expectations between a son and a friend. As their son, the relationship generally was healthy. It hurt when they dismissed me as a person, or “friend” as we labeled it. This distinction allows me to start assigning certain qualities and limits to each role. It will help me to see what my role is in given situations involving my parents. Ultimately, it will help to improve the relationships and hopefully remove some toxicity.
It is only a starting point, but it is a big step. I will be putting A LOT more thought into how to handle this conundrum. Who knows? It might even help me to improve other serious relationship in my life.
To be continued…
-The Caring Counselor