No Crossing Sign, guarding your boundariesAdapted from the book Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily

Boundaries separating you from family occur automatically when you’re independent, formed either by the physical distance or the amount of contact you orchestrate. When you live together again with family, boundaries can blur rapidly.

One of the first orders of business is to install ground rules that reshuffle the boundaries to ensure everyone’s freedom and comfort. If you want rules, make them clear, but not in an authoritative way—more in the manner you would tell your husband or wife, “I know you need to know this.”

Ground Rule #1: Being Considerate

Being considerate can be contagious. Sometimes if you help one person, the other person figures out that he has to help. If you are sharing cars, for instance, and your parent inconveniences herself so you can have the car one day, you remember her generosity the next time she needs the car. In this way, a whole scheme of cooperating evolves within the family.

Ground Rule # 2: Protecting Your Privacy

You can make your room strictly off-limits for any reason, particularly to maintain privacy. It’s hard to believe, but there are parents of twenty- and thirty-somethings who enter their offspring’s bedrooms without warning, as if the occupant were still in grade school.

Ground Rule # 3: Sticking to Food Preferences

Establishing boundaries may include what’s in the cupboard and put on the table. For those who are dieting or with strong preferences or nutritional needs, you will want to discuss the matter, or decide you can live with someone else’s choices.

Ground Rule # 4: Protecting Your Time

For those who would monopolize you, these time-protection options help reaffirm that you are not abandoning the home front, and will allow the other person to adjust his or her level of neediness and dependency to your availability.

Time-Protection Options

  • Figure out if the desire to be together or compunction to be accessible is a problem—and whose it is.
  • Refuse to tend to time-eating tasks the other person should be able to execute on his own.
  • Assess if giving in to family wishes will curtail your freedom significantly.
  • Go over your schedule to demonstrate how restricted your time is.
  • Although you don’t have a lot of free time for your parent or adult child, explain that you love him or her, regardless.
  • Determine the time you want to devote to family so that it doesn’t disrupt your life and giving it doesn’t pressure you.

Whether you’re the adult child, parent, grandparent, or sibling in all this, you are likely to be happier when you keep your boundaries sharply delineated and secure. And, when people in your family overstep these boundaries, be sure to let them know.

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