How to separate yourself from your parents: 5 crucial steps

There are many things in life that we could do with an entire guidebook to… And relationships with our parents is one of them!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found my relationships with my parents very complex at times.

Truth is, no one said our relationships with our parents should be easy.

What’s more, we can feel like we don’t have a healthy distance from our parents. 

If this is how you feel, these five crucial steps will help you separate yourself from your parents and to feel good about the relationships you have with them.

1) Remember that you have choices 

In order to separate yourself from your parents, you have to remind yourself that it’s simply your choice. 

In other words, it’s up to you to choose what this relationship looks like for you.

You don’t have to pick up the phone to them every time they call or text back immediately, and you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to events they ask you to attend. 

In my experience, texting can sometimes feel overwhelming and I can leave people on ‘read’ for a couple of weeks at a time…

…And while friends can be understanding about how busy and stressful life can be, I’ve found that my dad has not been.

I once didn’t reply for 24 hours and I received a message that said I was rude and I was ignoring him.

At the time, I felt really bad and sent a long apology.

You see, when it comes to our parents, we can find ourselves thinking that we don’t have a choice and that they have power over us.

But this simply is not true!

On reflection, I realized I have a right to take as long as I want and need to respond to something – permitting it’s not urgent.

Simply put, as adults we have the right to choose when we want to communicate and whether we need space from our parents. 

We get to decide what works for us.

This leads on to the next point… 

2) Set boundaries and enforce them 

Going hand-in-hand with realizing you have choices is setting boundaries

…And actually enforcing them!

These are designed to protect you, so you can prioritize yourself and your wellbeing!

Now, what your boundaries look like with you and your parents will be unique to you. 

Boundaries can be put in place to protect you emotionally and physically. 

And they should be celebrated as an act of self-care!

The best bit? You get to set the parameters for boundaries that feel good to you.

Maybe you need a bit of space; maybe you need a lot. What’s more, your boundaries may change over time.

Since the incident with my dad, where he told me I was rude for not responding pretty much immediately, I told him what my boundaries are.

I explained that it’s not fair for him to have a go at me over text message, when he’s unaware about the stresses and things I have going on in my life. 

In other words, I made a point of letting him know that he needs to be mindful about the fact I’m under pressure in my own life. 

The good news is that since then, he’s respected my decision and he’s not sent me a text like that since. 

3) Understand that you are not responsible for them

pexels andy barbour 6684512 1 How to separate yourself from your parents: 5 crucial steps

One reason you might feel like you’re in a cycle of feeling like you’re too attached to your parents is because you feel like you’re responsible for them.

You might feel like you’re responsible for their emotional or even physical health, and that you need to be a constant support. 

This could manifest as constantly feeling like you need to check up with them and to give them advice.

Now, given that our parents give us life and raise up, it’s no surprise that we feel a level of debt to them.

In my experience, I’ve definitely found myself thinking that they made certain sacrifices for me, so I should do things for them now.

This is particularly true with my mum.

You see, I was very lucky that I had a mum who would listen to whatever it is I had to say without judgment or anything else. 

So, these days, I feel like it’s my time to do this.

My mum is currently going through a pretty rough patch, and I’ve found myself reattaching to her in a big way and feeling responsible for her emotional wellbeing.

I’ve asked her to share all of her thoughts with me and to feel like she can talk freely, so she feels like someone cares and wants to listen. I’ve felt like I’m an important source of company, comfort and kindness. 

However, I’m doing my best to remind myself that I’m not responsible for her entirely and that she’ll be able to get herself through this ultimately.

It’s also been important to remember that she does have friends her own age, who care about her and check in with her semi-regularly, and she has recently started speaking to a therapist!

I’ve found that repeatedly reminding myself that I’m not the only source of support and that I’m not responsible for her has helped me get a perspective, and allowed me to live my own life and not feel the need to check up on her the whole time.

4) Surround yourself with supportive people

Now, in the process of detaching yourself from your parents, you’ll want to surround yourself with supportive people.

These are people who you feel like you can talk freely to without any judgment, and who genuinely have your back.

It might be old or new friends…

…Either way, you want to ensure you have a community of people that you can talk to about your situation. 

Personally, I found it really helpful talking to a friend of mine who was navigating a tricky relationship with her mum.

Although her circumstances were completely different, she was also in the process of needing to create more space between her and her mum.

In other words, she was trying to separate from her mum and to set a healthy boundary.

You see, this friend was in her early thirties while her mum would still treat her like a child.

She would expect her to say ‘yes’ to everything her mum proposed without questioning her authority.

My friend simply had enough and needed to create space with her mum – establishing that she was an adult in her own right and could say ‘no’ if she wanted to.

She had tried to create space with her mum before, but found it hard to stick to it… In her words, she was sucked back into the drama time and time again.

But when we both tried to create separation at the same time and offered support to one another, we were able to stick to our intentions.

As I say, our situations were very different but we ultimately both needed to create space in order to feel like our relationships were healthy and intentional…

…And not based on feeling obliged or responsible! 

5) Accept the feelings of guilt

You’re only human and that means you’re likely to feel bouts of guilt in the process of separating yourself from your parents. 

This is normal!

It’s natural that you’ll feel ‘bad’ during this process…

You might feel as though you should be there for them because they’re simply your parents and they need you.

There might be a million stories and reasons you come up with are around why you should not separate yourself from there. 

…But as I explained, you’re not responsible for them and you’re able to make your own choices.

During this process, you’ll have to work on accepting the feelings of guilt and living with the discomfort. 

You see, it’s a part of the process… It’s unlikely you won’t have waves of these feelings.

My friend tells me that she’s been having a battle with feeling really guilty since creating space with her mum, but she still knows it was the right thing to do.

What does this mean for you?

Don’t let the feelings of guilt cause you to go back on your decision.

Instead, feel the feelings of guilt and accept them as a part of the process!

Is it OK to distance yourself from your parents?

separate from parents 2 How to separate yourself from your parents: 5 crucial steps

In an article about freeing yourself from parents, a psychotherapist suggests that boundaries are essential to all healthy relationships…

…And, therefore, it’s OK to limit contact with your parents and to even have no contact with them if need be.

“You don’t owe them anything!” she writes.

What’s more, she suggests that you ask yourself: ‘What boundaries do I need with my parents?’

If you find that your parents are overstepping the mark with you and saying inappropriate things to you – where they put you down – it’s absolutely acceptable for you to distance yourself!

In other circumstances, if one or both of your parents is going through something that’s weighing you down too, just remember that it’s not your burden that you have to take on.

Simply put, it’s normal that you’ll want to help that person and you want the horrible situation for them to be over…

…But you deserve to live your own life

Remember that their emotional burden is not yours.

In other words, they made their own life decisions that led them to this point…

This means, you do not need to feel like you need to carry their burden and you are allowed to maintain a distance from them.

What’s more, if you’re feeling like you’re responsible for their happiness, just think about who else they have around them.

It’s likely they have friends their own age who care.

Taking out a journal and jotting down who these people are will be a helpful exercise!

What’s more, if you feel like they don’t have a support system then you can do your part by encouraging them to go out and meet people… But remember that you’re not responsible for ensuring they do this!

What are the signs of a toxic parent and what can you do?

You’ve likely heard people saying their parents are ‘toxic’.

I’ve heard my friend say that about her mum, for instance. 

But what are the signs that you might actually have a toxic parent and how can you deal with them?

A WebMD article on the topic explains:

  • They’re self-centered. They don’t think about your needs or feelings.
  • They’re emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. They share improper info with you, like details about their intimate lives. They use you as their main source of emotional support.
  • They seek control. They might use guilt and money to get you to do what they want.
  • They’re harshly critical. Nothing you do is ever good enough. They don’t respect your good traits or achievements.
  • They lack boundaries. They might show up unasked at your home, or attack your life choices.

If this sounds like one or both of your parents then don’t worry as there are things you can do!

The article explains that you need to realize that you can’t fix them, and you need to instead choose yourself and what makes you happy in your life!

What’s more, you don’t need to tell others why you’ve made the decision to have space from them.

The article suggests:

“Have a short stock response to questions about why you’re not in contact with your parents, i.e., “I’m not talking to my parents because they’re emotionally abusive.” This can help you remember why you’ve set limits, even if others don’t get it.”

Plus, just like I described earlier on in the article, the steps you need to take from a toxic parent also include:

  • Letting guilt go and accepting
  • Remembering that boundaries are key 
  • Ensuring you have a solid support system around you
  • Putting yourself first

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Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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