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Focus on Your Boundaries, Not Theirs


You may have noticed that none of the sample scripts provided above includes sensitive, evenhanded negotiations with your children about rooming preferences. That's because, in your home, it's both your right and your responsibility to define boundaries. In this situation, your unilateral decision is necessary for a happy outcome.

Recently, Helen E. Johnson, coauthor of Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years, told an interviewer: "I think too many parents today want to be their kids' friends, and—sort of by default, not intentionally—they abrogate that important parental responsibility, which is making it really clear to your kids what your values are.... What I found working with college students is that they really care what their parents think about these things, and they generally don't know."

Your job is to set limits; your children's job is to push them. If your children argue with you, listen respectfully but don't allow yourself to be trampled on in the name of parental love. Establish and hold boundaries that allow you to feel most relaxed in your own home. This will give your children a powerful example to follow as they venture into the labyrinthine complexities of adult life. Don't Judge

If I were to tell you that your fornicating children are demon spawn who should be summarily disowned or that all parents who don't encourage free love are frigid, puritanical freaks, I suspect you might find my opinion a tad offensive. Although it's enlightening to hear other people honestly discuss their values, rigid judgment almost invariably creates anxiety and, usually, backlash. It makes people feel unheard and unsafe. Clarifying boundaries strengthens the emotional connection between you and your children, but passing judgment will only drive a wedge between you.

The difference is in communication patterns. When you voice your limits, describe your feelings without trying to pass universal laws for other people's sexual behavior. We teach young children that when someone's actions give them an "icky" feeling, they can and should say no. Well, what your kids understood at 3, they will also understand at 23. "I'm sorry, Sandy, it makes me feel icky to have you two sleeping together on the other side of the bedroom wall" is a much more honest statement than the judgmental, "No child of mine will engage in lustful behavior under my roof!" If you stick to discussing your own feelings and experiences rather than moral generalities, your children will be much more likely to honor your point of view.

With a little honest, fearless communication, the uneasy issue of who sleeps where during the holidays can actually help form a new relationship between parents and their grown children—a relationship in which putting conditions on rooming arrangements makes space for unconditional love, and family members of all generations rejoice in one another's sexual fulfillment...as long as they don't have to think too much about it.

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