This is a topic I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about, because I see that it comes up a lot with the parents of LGBTQ+ kids. There are basically two approaches that I have observed parents take with a family member who they think is non-affirming. Approach # 1 is where the parent cuts ties. They insist that there is no place in their lives for friends and family that don’t wholeheartedly support their child. Approach #2 is where the parent attempts to set some type of boundary, but it’s done off the cuff, frequently in the middle of an argument and usually comes out like an ultimatum.
Do you know anyone who responds well to an ultimatum? It feels pretty terrible to be on either end of one. If you deliver an ultimatum by demanding that somebody act a certain way, you have basically lost the ability to resolve the situation. You may think you are in control, but you aren’t. You’re basically left standing around waiting to see what's going to happen. Remember, in diplomacy, the ultimatum is frequently what happens just before the bombs drop.
To set a proper boundary you need to come at it from a place of love. You need to be calm and deliberate when you are deciding on the boundary you want to set. It’s important to keep in mind that you are not upset at the moment because this person has violated your boundary; it’s because you haven’t actually set a boundary and you haven’t been speaking your truth.
To get into the right mindset to set a boundary, I have found it helpful to pretend that I am setting a boundary for an 8 year old. This thought can really help reduce the drama and tension that your brain is producing when you think about setting a boundary with someone you love. It sounds silly, but play along for a moment. My love for my children when they were around 8 years old was pretty simple. And I knew that there had to be boundaries and consequences, otherwise I would be raising wild animals. I didn’t agonize over what boundaries to set. I didn’t over think it. I just loved my kid and set the boundary. Love the person. Set the boundary. Enforce the consequence. Keep loving the person.
These 8 steps will help you set the boundary. I have used non-affirming relatives and pronouns as the example, but you can fit any situation in here.
1) What is the boundary violation?
My mother and father don’t use my child’s correct pronouns.
2)What is the boundary you want to set?
I want them to use the correct pronouns because it's disrespectful and very hurtful
to J. when they don't.
3) The Request: If you refuse to use the correct pronouns and you keep misgendering J...
4) The Consequence: Then we will not be spending time with you.
5) What are your fears, if any, around establishing this boundary?
I am afraid that my parents will be mad at me. That they won’t agree to go along with it. My siblings will side with my parents. That they don’t understand why it's so important. I will cry. It will be a painful conversation.
6) What are the benefits of establishing this boundary?
I am supporting my child. I am being true to what I believe. I have been very clear about my request and the consequence. My child will know that they are safe with me.
7) How will you set this boundary?
I will have a conversation about it in person ahead of time. I will discuss it on the phone. I will include my child in the conversation; I will have the conversation privately. I will be calm and relaxed while I express myself.
8) How will you ensure that you honor your boundary?
Decide ahead of time. This is really important. Will you get up and leave? Will you correct them on the spot? How many times will you correct them? One and done? Whatever you decide to do matters less than that you deliberately decide and in advance and actually do whatever it is.
Remember, the goal here is to take control of your own behavior. It is not to shame anyone or attempt to manipulate another person’s behavior. It doesn’t require yelling and screaming. The boundary is for you and about you, nobody else. When you have set an appropriate boundary and enforced the consequence you will be able to move forward in your relationship from a place of calm certainty- and always love. If you are interested in learning more, book a free 20 minute discovery call.