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family boundaries

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 154 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and today’s question is about how to overcome all the family obligations and promises we’ve made to others, when they’re clearly taking away from our own hopes and dreams. The sense of nobility surrounding family duties is very real, but what about us and setting boundaries with family? Today’s listener has found themselves in that very spot, and come to us for help. Let’s see what we can do. Here’s the question…

QUESTION: “I am always doing for others and not making time for myself. I am the oldest of 7, have no kids of my own, but my mom relies on us to help her with the little kids more often.

I am ready to start living my life but every time I try to do it, something comes up with my family. I really just want to focus on me but my family needs me.

I don’t see how I can get ahead because I am not at my best self right now. I always feel bad when I say ‘no' but I don’t have any boundaries with the word ‘no'.”


Listen to Greg narrate this post on setting boundaries with family in Episode 154 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.


Duty to Family

Okie doke, this is a wonderful question. Thank you for sending it in.

What you’re talking about here is certainly a trap that a lot of people can fall into and the allure or duty of doing so much for family can get harder and harder to shake not only as responsibilities pile up, but because it’s generally considered a good thing to be a contributing family member.

That’s true; one of life’s greatest gifts is a strong and well-functioning family.

But like anything else, it has to have moderation and be balanced with the fulfillment of one’s own needs.

So let’s break that down.

Your Mother's Needs

It seems like a lot of this is going through your Mother, and with seven children of her own it makes sense for her to have her hands full and look for help where she can get it. The first step for you will be trying to say the word “no” or having a discussion with your Mom about these feelings you’re having.

Understand that your Mom is trying to fulfill her own needs, which is raising all of these children. And unless she’s told that something is wrong with you, she has no reason to stop asking you for so much help.

So if you haven’t disclosed your desire to live your own life to her, it’s time to do it.

Boundaries with Family: How Do You Approach Your Mom About It?

Now what if you have already had this conversation and it went nowhere? Well, that’s ok.

I encourage that you try to have this conversation again, but step into your Mother’s shoes and be very cognizant of what she needs and how she might be hearing the words that you’re saying. When emotions like yours pile up, it’s easy to just blurt them out without structure and maybe even be a little aggressive. We don’t want that.

So whether it’s for the first, second or third time, approach your Mom with precision and gentleness.

Listen to Helene Massicotte's post on how boundaries are a win-win for everyone Episode 1139 of the podcast Optimal Living Daily.

Give Specific Examples of What You'd Like to Do

This means citing specific things you want to do with your life and why you feel they’re important.

The clearer and more detail-oriented you are, the easier it’ll be for her to paint a clear image of what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it, and the more likely she’ll be to take you seriously and support you.

Also, for the sake of meeting her needs and the desire I’m sure you feel to remain close with your family, take some time to think about any benefits there might be for the whole family if you’re able to live your life more for you.

Don’t forget that just because you’re spending more time on you, doesn’t mean you’re not still helping the family, maybe even more so. Keeping this in mind will make saying “no” to certain requests a whole lot easier.

Pursuing Your Own Dreams and Still Being There for Family

Maybe by pursuing your own dreams you’ll be a more enthusiastic caregiver because you’ll be a happier person overall. Maybe you’ll start a new career that will help you bring some more money into the family.

Think hard about this, and be sure to present it to your Mother. If her main goal is keeping this large family up and running, any reason you can provide her with that makes her feel like that will be done will work heavily in your favor.

And in addition to letting her know how your independence can help her in the future, you may also want to let her know how you can still contribute right now.

For example, ask your Mom what the most important things are that she needs you to do to help her, and work together to put a schedule together that insures you accomplish them. And outside of the time spent helping her out with these things, that’s the time you can take to build up your own future the way you’d like it to.

Both you and your Mom need to realize that you creating a new life for yourself does not have to mean that your contributions to your family are going to be neglected.

Listen to Rebekah Borucki's post on how to create more ease and grace in motherhood in Episode 524 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Getting Ahead in Life

Now lastly, I want to touch upon your concerns about not being able to get ahead. I hope that what I’ve talked about so far has helped you figure out how you can start taking more time for yourself in a way that feels good both for you and your Mom.

But at the same time, you’d be foolish to think that your growth or this idea of “being ahead” hasn’t started yet. Though you may be getting a later start than you’d like in terms of building your own life, the time hasn’t been wasted.

Boundaries with Family: Conclusion

While you may not feel ahead in certain areas, there are certainly plenty that you are ahead in thanks to all the work you’ve done within your family.

For example, I’m sure you’re much more “ahead” than the average person when it comes to child care, home maintenance, family bonding and other related ideas. Your skills in these areas would be highly advantageous in some professional fields, and even more so when it comes to your own personal future.

Should you raise a family of your own one day, you’re going to have much, much less of a learning curve than others who have not done the things you’ve done. You’ll probably be the only parent in the hospital who knows exactly what to expect, and that’s one of the biggest hurdles many people face in life.

While you have room to grow in many areas of life (and you will), don’t be so quick to disregard the many skills you already possess that others wish they had.

Thank you again to the listener for submitting this question on setting boundaries with family. This is certainly something that affects many, many people around the world especially as more and more families are choosing to live together for longer periods of time.

Generations past have certainly put value on always putting family first, but we still all have the itch to make a life for ourselves, and hopefully our asker today can now start to sufficiently scratch that itch.

If you’ve got a question you’d like help with on the show, email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com. The door is always open and we’ll do our best for you both here and through email. Thanks for being here everybody, go out and enjoy yourselves today, and I’ll be here with you for the next one soon.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on setting boundaries with family in Episode 154 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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