Setting Boundaries In A Single Parent Home
Editor’s Note: Wanting to love our parents can easily take the form of wanting to care for their emotional needs, and learning to trust God with them can be so difficult. Today’s post is submitted by Anonymous, but if you’d like to be in contact with her, please send an email to trish[at]goodwomenproject.com & Trish will connect you. – Lauren
When you come from a single parent family, its very easy for boundary lines to blur. The older brother tries to be the dad, the big sister mothers the little sister, and the Mum treats the big sister as her friend and not her daughter. All the kids rely heavily on the one parent, because she is all they’ve got in the world. Everyone buckles under the pressure.
I grew up in a version of the above family, and I know many other people who did too. Kids from single parent families are often very close with the parent that raised them. It’s only natural and it makes sense, but often, it’s not right and it’s not healthy. So many children thrive from the love and care of one amazing parent; I know I have. But the difficult part is the crippling co-dependency that can result from single parenting, because both parent and child struggle to let go when it’s time.
It breaks my heart that my Mum doesn’t have a husband to talk to and lean on. She’s a confident and capable woman that is moving forward with her life, but she still needs TLC like everyone else. However, I have had to learn that her happiness is not my responsibility and I have to live my life. I cannot fill the gap of a husband or friend in her life. Because I’m mature and grew up fast, she talked to me and confided in me as a friend from a young age. Eventually, I resented it – because I would carry all her pain on my shoulders. As I got older, our relationship grew sour. The boundaries were blurred – and as a result, we couldn’t flourish as mother and daughter.
So I put the boundary line back in place by moving away. I needed to become my own person without my family’s issues weighing me down.
It was the hardest thing to do, but also the best thing I’ve ever done for my own emotional health. In saying that, it’s taken time, and the progress didn’t happen immediately. I soon realized that even after leaving the country, I was still heavily burdened by my broken and hurting family. You can leave the situation, but your problems often go with you. I cared so much it hurt – and that is where it went wrong.
I couldn’t move on with my exciting new life if I continued to spend every waking second worrying about my family’s choices. It would break me every time bad news crossed seas and landed at my doorstep. I wanted to save them so badly that I wouldn’t and couldn’t trust God with them. I didn’t pray because I thought that somehow, in another world or life, I could save them. I held them tightly in my fist, stubborn and angry, sure that I could change them or their situation if I held on tight enough. And from half a world away, it affected every area of my life. It had to stop.
I had to learn and re-learn multiple times that yes, they are my family and I love them, but I cannot change them and I cannot save them. We all love our families; we all hate to see them go through hard times and that’s entirely natural. But for each of us to have healthy futures and relationships, there has to be boundaries within our families. This is especially important in highly dysfunctional and/or single parent families.
Four years on, there are still times when it all gets too much and I want to snatch back that empty control. That’s when I turn to this scripture:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
These days if my Mum ever calls me in tears, I answer knowing ahead of time that I can’t change anything and she just needs a listening ear. If it gets too much to handle, I end the conversation. If I know that I’m not in the right space to cope with the call, I don’t answer the phone. Yes, it may seem harsh, but it is necessary.
I can listen to them, pray for them and cheer them on. I will help my Mum when she’s elderly, I will support my siblings through every season in their lives and I will never turn my back on them. But my heart can no longer take their burden, that’s God’s job alone. I’ve let go.
This weekend, I’ll be fasting for my family. They need persistent and faith filled prayer, but I won’t be worrying about their current situation because God’s got it. He’s their saviour, not me. Their burden is not mine to carry, their happiness is not my responsibility, and that’s where the boundary is.
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