Happy Thanksgiving: Setting and Maintaining Family Boundaries [Especially for Asian and South Asian Families]

Monya De, MD MPH
4 min readNov 22, 2017

“You have to come visit us every weekend with the kids, because we took care of you when you were little.”

“Spend only $300 per year on clothes. You don’t need to impress anyone in your office.”

“Of course I called that manager at Google. I had to find out why they didn’t hire my son after the last interview.”

Every day, thousands of people sit on couches in their therapists’ offices , learning they lack boundaries in their interpersonal relationships. Whether it is a parent controlling the life of a self-sufficient adult child, a wife belittling her husband’s hobbies, or a boyfriend trying to “mold” his partner into an idealized aspirational being, examples abound of people close to us interfering with our emotional health, because we allow them to foist their desires, flaws and preferences upon us unfettered.

Boundaries, according to Raymond Richmond, a psychologist in San Francisco, are conscious and healthy ways to protect oneself from emotional harm. When people establish boundaries, the second parties in the relationships have a clear roadmap and guidelines for productive communication. Boundaries state “First and foremost, I will be respected as the adult I am.”

In the examples above, the speakers are using: 1) guilt and a false analogy to bypass the needs and preferences of their adult children 2) condescension and control to interfere with the values and preferences of an adult child and 3) helicopter parenting and refusal to relinquish control in a manner that could make the adult child feel ashamed and potentially do more harm than good by creating embarrassment in a professional context.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D, points out boundaries are permeable. For example, parents might not tell their children about an embarrassing health issue in order to not make them uncomfortable, but may disclose their financial difficulties so the children have a realistic expectation of where they can attend college. But boundaries broken beyond this permeability have a familiar name — dysfunction, as in dysfunctional families.

Dr. Dombeck identifies this dysfunction in families where there is either not enough nurturing (neglect) or too much (smothering/helicopter parenting); parents who treat their kids like friends and go into details of their dates and sex lives, or…

Monya De, MD MPH

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