How Boundaries With my Son Overwhelmed Me

A Guest Post by Kathi Lipp

We’re now just three short weeks from the release of I Am: A 60-day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is. Things are ramping up here, and boy, do we have some amazing surprises for you! In the meantime, I’m thrilled to be able to introduce you to the author of today’s guest post, Kathi Lipp. Kathi is a well-loved speaker and author of more than 15 books (and somehow I’ve managed to snag her as a friend. BAM.). Today she’s talking about THE OVERWHELM. You know, those moments when life sweeps over you like a tidal wave and you’re pretty sure you’re not going to make it out alive. I couldn’t be more honored to lay out the welcome mat for this timely word. Enjoy, friends. ~MC

Sitting across from my son at Starbucks, seeing him in so much pain, so completely overwhelmed, I was desperate to kiss him on the forehead, say some magic mommy words, and make all the hurt go away.

The Problem

The only problem with this plan? My little boy is 6’1” and in his mid-twenties.

But that instinct never goes away, does it? Wanting to fix it and make it all better for those we love, especially our kids. Whether they are six or twenty-six. I would rather be the one in pain than to see my child hurting.

But life kept coming at my son hard, and I could not fix it. Even worse, I knew I wasn’t supposed to.

Setting Boundaries is Hard

My husband and I have had the “boundaries” talk so many times. I love to be a “relief” for people, and so does Roger, when it’s appropriate. But we were concerned that our son was not being proactive enough in his own life and that we needed to step back. As much as that hurt both of us to watch.

We’d tried to do the right thing. Things like offering him jobs around the house when he needed money. But he didn’t want to do the kind of work we had available and wanted to borrow money instead. This was frustrating and sad for me, but my answer had to be no.

He wanted to live with us while he was looking for a job. Again, we said that he had one week to sleep on our couch during the transition, but he could not live with us. It broke my heart to put these boundaries in place, what if he didn’t love me because I told him no? What if he stepped away from us? From our family?

I walk through the parenting world with guilt; I feel guilty that my kids come from a family of divorce. I feel guilty that I wasn’t tougher as a parent and now sometimes see the struggle in my kids’ lives. I want to be the safe place for my kids to run to, but at a certain age and stage, being safe is doing more harm than good.

Saying No Can Be Overwhelming

Saying no now is one of the most overwhelming things I have to do.

I would love to say that my no’s were met with love and acceptance. They were not.

My no’s were treated as abandonment. As betrayal. As wounds. Basically, some of the worst emotions a mom can experience. So many times I wanted to say, “We’ve changed our minds! Here is the money, (or car, or bedroom, or…). It would be so much easier on everyone in the short run. But relationships are not a short run game.

Anchor Yourself with Truth

When I’m dealing with overwhelming emotion, one of the first steps I need to take is to anchor myself with the truth of what I’m doing. With dealing with my son, this is the verse I anchored myself in:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. —Romans 5:3-5 ESV

My son, as hard as it was to admit it, needed to suffer in order to understand God’s love fully and completely. If I kept “saving” him, he would never truly produce the endurance, character and hope that he so desperately needed.

Results

And yes, it was incredibly hard. And so many times I wanted to run to be his rescuer. But, eventually, we started to see some results.

Faced with not having a place to live, he started looking at roommate situations and received offers from not one, but two places to live.

He put the word out on Facebook and found a job through a friend.

And when I offered him some work around our house until his first paycheck came in, not only did he do a great job, at the end he said, “Thanks for the opportunity.”

Long-term Outcome vs. Short-term Emotions

The second step is to look at the long-term outcome, not our short-term emotions.

Dr. Henry Cloud says, “So, when we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them.”

If I look at my son’s pain, I am desperate to fix it. But it’s not short-term discomfort I need to be concerned about, it’s his long-term character.

Learn to Love Well

Not everyone is going to be thrilled with our boundaries. But when we become overwhelmed by our need to fix things for a friend or family member, it does us well to remember whether we are looking to their long-term growth or our short-term comfort.

We need to learn to love well by allowing the pain so we can witness the growth.


boundaries

 

Giveaway

Kathi and Cheri would like to send a copy of Overwhelmed: Quiet the Chaos & Restore Your Sanity to one of our readers!

To qualify for the drawing, you need to do TWO things:

#1. LEAVE A COMMENT below.
#2. SHARE THIS POST on social media.

That’s it! Once you do both, your name will be entered into the random drawing. Be sure to tell your friends so they can sign up too. The drawing will take place on January 6, so don’t delay! {Contest is limited to US & Canadian readers only.}

Feeling overwhelmed? Wondering if it’s possible to move from “out of my mind” to “in control” when you’ve got too many projects on your plate and too much mess in your relationships?

Kathi and Cheri want to show you five surprising reasons why you become stressed, why social media solutions don’t often work, and how you can finally create a plan that works for you. As you identify your underlying hurts, uncover hope, and embrace practical healing, you’ll understand how to…

  • trade the to-do list that controls you for a calendar that allows space in your life
  • decide whose feedback to forget and whose input to invite
  • replace fear of the future with peace in the present

You can simplify and savor your life—guilt free! Clutter, tasks, and relationships may overwhelm you now, but God can help you overcome with grace.


Question: What’s the most difficult part of boundary-setting for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

65 thoughts on “How Boundaries With my Son Overwhelmed Me

  1. Kathi- I so wish I could hang with you & Michele — you’re sisters after my own heart for sure. I love listening to the podcast. And this post – so encouraging! Henry Cloud gives such biblically sound counsel regarding relationships, and it’s wonderful to hear another mama trying her best to put it into practice. It is so tough, but I’m 💯with you. Love doesn’t always feel good and that is so counter to what the world pressures us to believe. The toughest part of boundaries for me is continually holding this hard position with confidence. I often question if I’m doing the right thing because we are so pressured to believe that unconditional love is a boundary-less love — sadly, even many Christians push this. Many focus on the word “unconditional” rather than the word “love”. But this is a mistake. Tough love IS unconditional in that it is always present — even in the painful parts. Hope that makes sense. 😁 Xoxo Sisters 😊❤Jamie

    • The past 6 months have been totally overwhelming for me. I had to create boundaries for my adult daughter who suffers from bipolar. It was the absolute most difficult thing I’ve ever done but through God’s grace I have learned to trust Him and find peace. I know He has a purpose and a plan for us and He will bring us together again.

  2. What you wrote resonated with me. The most difficult part of boundary setting is watching others suffer. I will cling to the verse you included and love the quote from Dr. Henry Cloud.

    Having a child with mental health challenges complicates the boundary setting even more. You can’t go by common boundaries for someone of that age. Capabilities can change from day to day so a boundary set today can be good but tomorrow could be too much for a loved one.

    I look forward to seeing both of you ladies at the conference in February.

  3. Thank you for this post. I can identify completely with the circumstances and sentiments described. It is comforting and inspiring to know, once again, that I am neither alone or unique. Thanks!

  4. The hardest part of setting boundries is realizing I can’t save everyone. How humbling to know I am not so powerful! What a relief to find out I don’t HAVE to save everyone, just myself…one day at a time.

  5. The most difficult part of boundary setting for me is that i fear the person will reject me if i don’t make them happy.

    • And that is a very real fear. I think, in my own life, it’s been a continual process of handing the broken relationship back to Jesus and asking him to make something new out of it. I wish I could finish with a brilliant and eloquent ending but those relationships I’m still handing back to him haven’t seen the fresh start yet. I pray that God would give you wisdom on boundaries.

  6. This was perfectly timed for me! My most difficult times of parenting were when my children were 20 years old. I am dealing with a very similar situation with my son now and really appreciated the encouragement to keep the boundaries in place when my heart wants to comfort and welcome him home. The tough part of keeping boundaries is exactly what you hit on- remembering that while it hurts him in the short term, it is helpful to him in the long term. I also hate feeling the distance in our relationship as a result of imposing boundaries.

  7. I need to do this with my 22 year old daughter. It is hard, and I am looking forward to reading the book and gaining insight from it.

  8. I have slowly learned to understand that my God-given empathy is a gift with a flip side. SO much deep relational joy comes from empathy… but I have to learn to “turn the dial down” when it’s time to set boundaries. Understanding/imagining how someone else feels is great for establishing connection with people, but it stinks when it’s time for boundary setting. It’s so hard to follow through when I can so clearly feel someone else’s sorrow or frustration! This is for me the hardest thing: reminding myself that I still love the person even when I’m choosing not to be overwhelmed by my empathy for their present situation.

  9. My heart broke for Kathy because my hardest boundary has been with my youngest 21 year old son. We go orders and left CO and he stayed behind and is flourishing. He literally found a place to live a day before my hubby and I pulled out.

  10. You’re right Kathi. The most difficult boundary setting for me, when my children were growing up, was with my kids. Thankfully, they have been on their own for quite awhile and I am proud of them all (3), but like most moms, I got all my gray hair during their teens and early twenties. Like they say, “A mom is only has happy as her saddest child.” So true!

  11. I like the way you simply stated the emotional frustration of boundary setting. It’s hard!!!!!

    But, it has really freed me from guilt and allowed me to hold my daughter responsible for her choice or lack there of.

    I am a true sufferer of mom guilt. Perhaps in the recovery stages??

  12. As a mother to a 22 year old that is living at home and jobless, this article hit me where I live! Such wise words. Very convicting. Thank you for your ministry.

  13. Wonderfully said. I learned these lessons the hard way, by NOT doing them with my stepsons. Thank you for sharing the RIGHT way. I won’t make the same mistakes with my daughter.

  14. Such an encouraging post for those time when the same people come knocking for help again and again. It can be the easy way to just help. But you are right, it’s the short term help. Thanks for the reminders!

  15. Life is painful/ none of us received a copy of the HERE’S HOW YOU RAISE A KID owners manual when we dove into the parent pool / your transparency and wisdom serve you and the rest of us well!’

  16. Oh my goodness did I need to read this – thank you Kathi! I am at the beginning of this new stage of parenting adult children and as I am quickly discovering, it is not as easy as I imagined it would ever be. I guess the most difficult part of boundary setting for me is the fear in knowing that my kids might reject me and keep me from their lives – the very thought of that breaks my heart.

  17. I love the way you write. Direct and meaningful. I am beyond overwhelmed! Help me… with your direct and meaningful writing 🙂

  18. Thank you for sharing your life through your blog. Sometimes as a mom you can feel like you’re the only one going through difficult situations with your adult children and to hear your story today reassures me that I’m not alone.

  19. It’s not the setting of boundaries, that part comes easy for me. It’s the keeping them that is hardest. And more often than not it’s the boundaries I set for myself that I struggle with.

  20. I have a Son, he’s 31, and I have had a hard time setting and sticking to boundaries . It’s heartbreaking at times. He suffers from anxiety and depression which makes it harder.

    • Can I pray for you, Linda? God, please grant Linda the divine wisdom to work with her special adult child. What works for others might not work for this child but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to learn and grow just as much. We pray for peace and discernment as she helps this child find his footing. Amen.

  21. Thank you for sharing this is hard for me as well, with a 10 and 15 year old. Have to remind myself it’s okay if they are not happy with my decisions.

  22. The toughest part is my desire to help others and saying no means I might miss an opportunity to help. I have listened to many women recently and in general, we just don’t say no, because we put ourselves last.

  23. Wanting my people to be happy. Setting boundaries usually causes the opposite. With my 18-year-old son it’s anger and resentment. It’s difficult to set boundaries for ourselves, too, isn’t it? Spending boundaries, work boundaries…the list is endless!

  24. Oh my goodness, yes! Yes! Yes! That was my reaction to every word I just read! I have a 6’3″, 26 year old son (that Michele Cushatt knows, oh so well!) that I have had all of the same conversations with. The worst part is living so far away from him now and always praying (every single day) that he is ok and that he is seeking God and making good choices!

  25. My children lost their mom to a party life style and an unfortunate drug overdose. I have been probably over coddling them ever since. This happened when they were 6 and 8. Now 16 and 18. I have overdone the making everything alright. I can see an over reliance on me continuing to do just that and ultimately stifling their independent growth.

    • I get that Steve. My husband died when my were 15, 13, 11, and 5. You want to teach them responsibility but you know there’s an added weight in their lives that shouldn’t be there. Our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job but we want to help. It’s a balancing act and I ask God for wisdom all the time to help my kids grow into responsible adults.

  26. Would LOVE to receive a copy of ‘Overwhelmed!’ As a mom, sister, friend and nurse, I could share it’s message with so many in need!

  27. Thank you so much Kathi for encouraging us that setting boundaries is such a tough, but rewarding thing to do. You captured the struggle of carrying guilt that so many of us feel as moms and how that can make setting boundaries even more challenging. Thank you. Thanks Michele for hosting this! 🙂

  28. Good stuff. My two wonderful step kids came into my life when they were 14 and 18 and I was 46. I had/have no kids of my own. I was not immediately accepted, but I had great parents and I married an incredibly insightful and patient woman. 19 years later, things are great. Both kids are very bright and understood/understand what success looks like, both graduated from a prestigious university, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t struggle to find their way. Did we help with a little money and a place to live at times? Yes, but it was tempered with conversations in which all parties agreed what the next step was expected to be and who was responsible for it. It’s a fine line to walk (especially involving divorce) but “giving in” because of parental guilt is a losing proposition-not only for the kid’s future, but for the long term family relationship of all parties. Gotta be thoughtful, gotta be strong.

  29. Thank you so much for your wisdom! I’ve been struggling with this with my 18 year son and my husband has been very patient with me. Your words are an answer to prayer.

  30. I can totally relate to this post! Two out of five of our children are now adults. It is so difficult to create and maintain those boundaries when they are in pain. However, I have learned that it is so necessary to their own well-being (and ours) to have the boundaries.

  31. I love the confirmation of how difficult and hurtful boundaries can be. This is reassuring and encouraging as I learn to set better boundaries with those I love!

  32. This post is just what I needed this morning. I’ve been dealing with an adult stepchild (age 24) who has no motivation to find a permanent job. For awhile she was in school and on breaks would come home to work at a seasonal position in an amusement park. This was fine while she was in school but she decided not to return to school and instead finish online. The problem with this is she isn’t enrolled online nor does she have a job and has no gumption to look for one. She is most content staying up late watching TV or playing video games, sleeping in until the afternoon and letting us provide for her living expenses. There is a lot of guilt my husband and I deal with daily because of being a divorced family. Part of me has had enough and wants to tell her she has to move on because she can’t live here anymore. The other part thinks it’s mean and doesn’t want to see her homeless. This is a constant issue between her dad and I. We don’t know what the answer is and how to handle it. I know she will feel as if we are abandoning her just like her younger sister does who does live on her own in another state. Thank God for that small miracle. She did have to learn the hard way but it made her stronger and toughened her up, which in turn boosted her confidence. Thank you for taking the time to read the ramblings from a frustrated stepmom.

    • Those aren’t frustrated ramblings. Those are honest wrestlings of a mama’s heart, Christina. If you and your husband aren’t ready to tell her to move, have you thought of presenting her with a rental agreement for her living arrangement? It’s just an idea I heard once but charging her rent, making her contribute to the house–those things aren’t about you needing the money but about requiring her to act as an adult. Just a suggestion. May God grant you wisdom in next steps and peace that He holds your daughter in His hands.

  33. How appropriate the author talks about her son…as I too struggle with my fifteen year old son who is an addict. The continual struggles and dashed hopes wear me down…but then a small still voice whispers my name and I turn to Him and know that He is there amidst all the turmoil. I find solace and peace in the chaos and an oppurtunuty to grow myself. My weak moments bring me closer as I set boundaries and trust God to step in when I am not present. I praise Him for loving me for living my son and for being a constant in our lives

  34. I can’t put boundaries in love. A loving touch , a gesture is very much needed for even a grown up child when they are down and can’t lift them up by themselves.It shows someone still believes in them, that feelings boost them up,bring their hope back.

  35. Probably the hardest boundary setting was, saying no to my heroin addicted 26 year old son, when he asked for bus fare home for Christmas.

    Praying for his healing everyday. Please pray for Nick as he navigates his life with this dreadful disease we call addiction.

    • Father God, we pray for Nick. God, we ask you to bring him to the point of wanting to be set free from this evil disease. Like the prodigal son, we pray you’d bring him to a moment of clarity that this is not how he was supposed to live. We pray you’d strengthen Peggy as she wrestles with the longing to having him home–healed and whole. Be her strength and her direction. Amen.

  36. What a wonderfully honest post, Kathi. I am happy to share it with my readers. Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend’s books have changed my life so powerfully. The hardest part of setting boundaries with my extended family was knowing I could lose more connection when the relationships were already fragile. I was more successful in setting those boundaries once I established a network of support in my church, no longer so dependent on my family for all my emotional needs. It took years of persistent boundary setting to feel healthy and whole despite my family dysfunction, which continues to this day.

  37. Kathi, as I read your post, it was like I was reliving my own boundaries issues with not one, but yes, two sons! One son had long term boundary issues & the other only had a couple of instances where he assumed there were no boundaries. The first son’s long term problems were not resolved in a positive way at all & it has been several years of little to no contact with him. The other son was resentful at first, but did acknowledge understanding. You cannot believe the weight of guilt this has left me, including my own worries that God will not forgive me for not helping my sons. It was meant to be that I checked out Michele’s website tonight & found you:-) Thank you and thank God!

Comments are closed.