How Important are Parental Boundaries for a Successful Adulthood?

Boundaries are important in all relationships.


In my professional practices, as a social worker and registered nurse boundaries have always been stressed .

When, I first began my clinical experience in social work it was hard not to offer my hand or a hug to a client, who was crying or to embrace a child as we said good-by after his session, but this is a boundary violation in the clinical therapy environment. There are many reasons for this boundary, the most important of which is the fact that therapy is helping the individual to stand on their own and eventually be able to say good-by to their therapist and go out to face the world independently. A therapist is not a friend…a therapist is a temporary guide, someone to assist in figuring out a client’s issue and eventually helping a client not to need them any longer.

In the nursing profession, physical touching is considered therapeutic…the human touch can be healing and comforting for someone, who is experiencing a physical illness especially someone, who is in the hospital. Patients and families need physical hugs…the energy that is transferred during these moments can do healing things. It is physical empathy. Nurses have to touch patients sometimes in very personal ways…we have to that with respect and humility. Nursing does not exist without touching.

In the therapy setting there is emotional empathy, it is in the form of sincere listening, in the world of nursing, empathy is sincere listening combined with therapeutic touch.

We all deal with boundaries.

As a parent and grandparent boundaries are  important although we may not be aware of them as they sometimes wax and wane between family members.

For me, being a mother changed me in ways I never knew were possible and I learned that  boundaries as a mom can be easily blurred.

I became protective of my children and it was clear to me that I never wanted to let them go when they were young. As time marched on, I realized that my “helicoptering” was not beneficial to my kids or for that matter to myself. “Helicoptering” would make my kids unable to stand on their own and like a bird they would never fly if I was always there to clip their wings. How would they grow into responsible adults with an overprotective mom…who was putting her nose into their business even when it was clearly not my place?

I was forced to look at my own life and its independent moments which included boarding school, college, becoming a registered nurse, living in NYC, getting married and becoming a mom. Without the encouragement of my own family, in my case, my mother and grandmother, I would not have accomplished any of those things. At the time, each step was a huge one in my life. It was comforting to know if I fell down just as when I was a child, my family would support me but I would have to get up on my own and get going again…that part was up to me. I watched my own mother work hard to raise her two children on her own with my grandmother’s help. From my mom’s example I realized that  a “girl” could do almost anything especially with her family in her corner. Boundaries were there although I was unaware of them. As I grew up those boundaries protected me as a child and helped teach me to fly as a young adult and grown-up. My family gave me the necessary framework and support to live with the life decisions that I made along the way. I knew that adult decisions demanded adult responsibility .

You sometimes don’t have to look to far to see adults and kids, who had helicoptering parents and the disastrous results that this can have on reaching adult maturity and the ability to manage adult decisions. It is not hard to find parents, who support their children in their terrible choices, be it in high school, college or other times in their adult lives. Parents unfortunately are not taught about boundaries when they have children…this is really too bad. When parents support  their adult children in “bad” decisions, they succeed in making their children emotional cripples. They become unable to take responsibility for their own actions, especially if they are actions with complex repercussions. These adult “kids” always know that mom or dad will be there in their helicopter to air lift them away from their mistakes. In some instances this is referred to as “emotional incest” if it is a mother/son relationship or father/daughter relationship. Whatever the attached name…it is emotionally crippling. Who would knowingly, physically cripple their own child? But parents emotionally continue to cripple them all the time under the premise that they are the mother or father bear coming to their child’s rescue.

Truly, it is difficult to watch your children separate from you…sometimes it is even painful but parents have to let it hurt and happen. They have to let their over protective “helicopter” crash so it is not available for rescues. Watching our kids and grandkids grow can be painful just ask you own parents if they are still around.

Grandparenting has been a joy beyond description but the urge to helicopter has returned. I guess it is just one of those boundary times again. I am up to the challenge…I know it will be hard to watch a grandchild go through life’s growing pains. I will be there when things get difficult to encourage her to get up and keep going

For me, the joy is being there to share the laughter and the tears and to know when to give hugs but  to also know when to stand aside, let go and watch her fly.




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