Have you ever “lost it” with family without knowing why?
Let me start with a story. I had just moved out of home for the first time in my adult life and my parents came over to visit unannounced. I was happy to see them and excitedly poured them a cup of tea (being a good migrant family child). I then proudly gave them a tour of my house. There wasn’t much to it, just a small two-bedroom place but it was my heaven. While explaining to my Dad what the weird wires hanging out of my walls were, my mother started re-arranging some items in the kitchen. Next comes the part that I have no recollection of. My husband tells me I lost it and started yelling at Mum to stop. They promptly left and, years later, are still tentative about visiting. The trigger might be different but if you relate in any way to this story then please read on.
Living life your way starts with boundaries. Some boundaries are easy to identify or imposed on us for our own good e.g., standard working hours of 9-5 Monday to Friday. Others are more ill-defined e.g., the amount of overtime you’re willing to work to meet that important project deadline.
If you’ve ever set a news year resolution before, you know how important it is to have clarity on the future you want. While setting and meeting goals is important for a sense of achievement, and comes naturally to many people, setting boundaries can feel foreign and almost rude. The classic example a lot of Australians from migrant backgrounds struggle with is saying ‘no’ but that simple two-letter word can be incredibly liberating, especially in today’s time poor, COVID-19 pandemic traumatised world.
Setting healthy boundaries starts with clarifying and recognising what is and isn’t okay, especially when it comes to family. As the example above shows, it can be hard to understand what’s bothering you in the heat of the moment when tensions are high so below are some questions that have helped me in my personal journey. I recommend taking time to firstly consider:
What is working in the relationship?
I’m grateful that I have loving, caring parents who are willing to take time out of their day to come and visit me.
What needs to be considered?
Being able to live independently (without relying on others) is important to me but this is also the first time that my parents haven’t had me at home.
What is not working?
My mum is a very anxious character. No amount of effort from me, my dad, or my siblings, will ever “fix” this. She’s the classic controlling matriarch and needs to feel in control to manage her anxiety. Spending two decades living at home, it was expected that we would live by her “rules” and so while it seems trivial that her simply rearranging a few things in my house should have made me so angry, it did. I interpreted her actions as yet another form of her restricting my personal freedoms.
What am I willing to bring to the relationship?
I love my parents and am willing to be there for them and to provide financially in times of ill-health, and to visit them semi-regularly.
What am I not willing to bring to the relationship?
I am not willing to have my own life limited by their irrational demands, especially if they don’t communicate their reasons.
What do I want others to bring to the relationship?
I would like them to bring more communication, empathy and understanding but also accept this may not be possible.
The next mature thing to do would be to talk to them about it and while I know I “should”, I’m not ready for that yet but at least in the meantime, I’ll be able to be a bit more present and understand why I get angry, which has made all the difference.
Note: This is only general guidance and is not a substitute for professional support. If you are in crisis, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14