How I set boundaries with my desi parents

Okay dosts, I can honestly say this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Setting boundaries with desi parents is a very “American” concept in our first gen identities, and I’ll go over some steps and tips on what helped me in my process. Lets get into it.

But before we get into the nitty gritty on now to set boundaries with your desi parents…

**Here’s your friendly reminder that I am NOT a mental health professional. All views shared in my posts are from my experiences and have worked in my very specific case. Knowing that many situations vary from each other, below are some resources available to any US citizen.

National suicide hotline number: 988

Domestic violence hotline: 800-799-7233

Now, how did I set boundaries with my desi parents? Well, the answer was, it was tricky (and still is to be honest). And writing a “how-to” is even trickier. Not only are everybody’s families different (with nuances, relationships, etc), there is also no guarantee that this will work. Whenever people or relationships are involved, there is no guaranteed outcome. This isn’t an exact science (1 + 1 may not = 2).

Having said this, l figured out the following steps helped me keep a modicum of sanity during the process. The steps are as follows:

  1. Figure out your boundary
  2. Make sure it is safe express the boundary
  3. Talk about the boundary with a trusted confidante (preferably not your parents haha)
  4. Practice saying the boundary out loud
  5. Set the boundary with your desi parents
  6. Reinforce your boundary with your parents through your words and actions

What I am currently writing are some helpful steps that helped ME. Steps I wish I had when I was setting boundaries with my very very desi parents (my parents are from Pakistan and I was born in America for reference).

But please, I’m begging you, take this with a ginormous grain of salt. Before implementing any of these steps, make this work for you. This is a very personal journey and only you can make the decision for yourself. This process is difficult, grueling and not fun at all. But it’s worth it and is an amazing way to show yourself that you got you! Check out my post on how do I love myself? here! But I’ll be right here next to you if you need me dosts, we can go through this together, one step at a time ❀️❀️.

Some background:

Setting boundaries with my desi parents was one of the biggest motivators for starting this blog. I lived away from home for 10 years and decided to come back home during Covid. After a grueling 2 and 1/2 years of living at home, therapy, and lots of emotional work, I can finally say I’m at a place where my parents know me….for me. Which is HUGE in the desi community (a lot of us have dual identities, one ghar ke liye [for home] and one bhar ke liye [for outside the home], more about that in another post).

At the onset of covid I rediscovered my passion for writing. And at the beginning of journaling, I quickly realized that I was very afraid to move back home. Actually, deadset afraid of moving back home (and if you know me at all dosts, I pride myself on being fearless).

So I did what I typically do when I’m afraid: I faced it head on. I was back home about a month after the big realization.

The decision to move back home was simple. I thought it was finally time to start setting boundaries with my family (something I was afraid of doing as a young child, and still was afraid of doing at the age of 27). Mostly because I wanted my family to know me for me, not the people-pleasing, always yes saying, push over Heena I always showed them whenever I visited home for ashort period of time. So lo and behold, this HAD to become a blog post (even though it was one of the hardest to write, I’ll admit).

Okay, lets go over some of the steps I wish I read before setting out along my journey (but remember, it is up to YOU to make this personal and figure out what works for you. This is not and should not be cookie cutter!).

Photo by Nicholas Safran on Unsplash

1. Figure out the boundary you need to set with your parents

This may take a minute for some of you to figure out, but listen to what your internal dialogue says (as difficult as that can be in desi households). What do you not like? Do you not like it when your parents do something specific? Does it really annoy you when they walk into your room unannounced? How about treating you or your sibling differently (especially if that sibling is of the opposite gender)? What actions do they perform that make you upset? Finding an action upsetting or angering is usually a great place to start.

I’ll give you an example: I’m an extroverted introvert. This means that as happy and bubbly I am on the outside (and talk to sooooo many people when I’m in a group!), I need my alone space. I need to recharge. I need to be by myself. And that’s okay.

My parents did not (and still don’t) understand the introverted concept whatsoever haha. I come from a family of extroverts and this did not go over well when I first moved back home. I was not able to sit with my introverted self at night because of the constant social interaction and that was a biiiig problem for me and my well-being dosts. (Update: they now give me my space to recharge even though they have no idea why. They know I need this space to plug in and refill my cup, and that’s all I can ask for!)

So, definitely start by figuring out what you want. It can be an action that your parents do, alone time you need etc. Once you figure that out, we can move onto the next step.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

2. Make sure it is safe to express this boundary

Now dosts, this one is key. I understand that sometimes in desi households there are power dynamics. There is emotional/verbal/physical abuse. And you are the only one that can determine whether it is safe or not to set your boundary. Consider if there is a financial power dynamic in play (ie: your parents pay for your bills) or if there is a power dynamic based on age (ie: you are under 18 and rely on your parents for most things). This is vital to consider before setting a boundary because you do not want to end up potentially in a worse situation than you already are. I was very fortunate that my parents would not consider putting me out on the streets (no matter how many times they wanted to πŸ˜‚) but I also know not all families are the same.** (Quick reminder that I am not a mental health professional. Please see resources at the end of this post).

Remember, you are already in a power dynamic by this being your parents and you being their child with the whole respect your elders thing in desi households. But with a bit of grace, lots of respect, and the right communication, you should be able to communicate your boundary clearly to them as long as it is safe to do so!

3. Talk the boundary out with a trusted confidante (preferably not your desi parents πŸ˜‚)

Okay amigos mios, this one was crucial for me. When I moved back home after living away for 10 years, I knew that I was going to need some external help. I looked for a therapist and specifically a WOC (woman of color) therapist. I knew I would need professional help with all of my emotions, feelings, etc. As soon as I knew this I sought it out. It was that simple (blog post on why therapy is uh-MAZE-ing, coming soon!).

And through our sessions, I was able to talk about some of the boundaries I wanted to set with my family (and reluctantly my anxiety haha). My therapist allowed me to vent, talk about family dynamics, cry and even laugh at times (therapy is an amazing aid in the healing process πŸ’™).

Anyways, my point is to find yourself a trusted confidante. Notice how I said “trusted”. This does not only mean someone you can trust, but someone that will not kick you when you’re down or be negative nancies. They should uplift you and always be on your side. Not your family’s side, not your society’s side, not your dog’s side… YOUR side. (And honestly, this includes your therapist too! Make sure to do your research when looking for a trusted therapist, this also just got a hell of a lot more complicated with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but more on that in another post…..)

Anyways, confidante doesn’t necessarily mean a friend. It doesn’t mean your family. It means whoever you trust and go to for these types of situations, who you know will support and be able to talk this out with you. It could be your therapist. It could be a distant cousin (hi cousin!). It could be whoever you so choose. But choose wisely. They will have the ability to make or break you in many vulnerable moments and should ideally help motivate you into setting this boundary.

I’ll be honest that in the desi community (well, really in any first gen community), I found this difficult. It’s difficult to find people who want to break generational curses and are willing to do the work, introspect, etc (Lo and behold this blog!). But I have no doubt that you will be able to find your trusted confidantes dosts, just keep looking they ARE out there!! ❀️❀️❀️

4. Practice setting the boundary OUT LOUD

Now dosts, this one is particularly important. The more you say your boundary out loud, practice saying it in the mirror, practice talking about it to those you trust, the more you’ll put it out into the world and the more confident you will be by simply saying it. This can look like anything really: giving yourself a pep talk in the mirror out loud in your bathroom. Practice talking to yourself in your shower. Practice talking about it when you’re in your car on your way to work. It πŸ‘ doesn’t πŸ‘ matter πŸ‘. Just practice the words and saying it out loud!

I know that when I started setting boundaries with my family, some of the boundaries legitimately felt like I was vomiting up the words (I remember feeling the bile 🀒), even with the practice.

And don’t feel pressured to get it perfect on the first try. It will take time and practice. But saying it out loud and talking more about it will help you wrap your mind around it and be able to give you the words you were practicing to say to your parents. And please know, it really doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to make sense. Know that you may very well feel completely flooded with emotions when setting your boundaries, so having practiced some words before hand helps…a lot. At least in my case it did. I also validated myself and my feelings in knowing that what I was asking for is logical and makes sense and there is NOTHING wrong with me for wanting these things (this is huge dosts, especially in a desi household where mind games run rampant, more on this in another blog post soon!).

Anyways, start saying it out loud dosts. In the mirror. Almost like hyping yourself up. Have you ever seen insecure? Where Issa talks to herself?* Yea, like that. HYPE πŸ‘ YOURSELF πŸ‘ UP!! πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ (and if you haven’t, check out a clip of Issa Dee from Insecure hyping herself up here!).

Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash

5. Set the boundary with your desi parents

Arright folks, the time has come to set your boundary. When setting your boundary, know that it is COMPLETELY NORMAL to feel super super anxious leading up to it. What I did before setting a boundary is I tried to calm myself down with some tulsi tea (not a sponsored post but tulsi tea helps with my anxiety, I drink one every night. Tulsi tea is a natural supplement that helps calm one’s nervous system, you can usually get them at Whole Foods or on amazon here! Just make sure to look out that the flavor you choose is caffeine free, the one I linked is one of my favs/def caffeine free!).

So, I try to calm down, do some meditation, and grab my tulsi tea. Then I look at my parents and ask if we can step out of the house (this is SUPER important dosts. It helps to do this in a neutral environment. Not their house/your house, but somewhere like a coffee shop, or go for a walk!). And if you can’t do this, that is okay. Don’t let that stop you from setting a boundary (because trust me, you will come up with 100 excuses to not set your boundary. Been there, done that, still sometimes doing that πŸ˜‚).

I usually make it to the living room (which is still better than their or my room), so don’t worry too much about it dosts. The most important part is that you start the conversation and state your boundary.

When talking to your parents, try your best to keep your cool. It’s likely you’ll be feeling soooooooo many different emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, bile-induced words, etc). But try your best to stay calm and state your boundary clearly (this is where the practice of stating your boundary from step 4 helps).

In this conversation, it is okay if your boundary does not come out exactly as you practiced. Remember, done is better than perfect. Try your best to be as clear as possible when stating your boundary. Especially if this is your first boundary, just try and state it while keeping a solid ground!

And honestly dosts, you getting to this point is huge. It is ridiculously difficult for desi/first gen kids to stand up for themselves/state their boundaries, especially in our culture (it runs deeper for us dosts). So I want to let you know that I am proud of you and you should be too just for reaching this point. Wow, just wow ❀️❀️❀️.

Now dosts, I’d like to remind you that it is completely normal to receive an angry/adverse reaction from your parents. And you’ll most probably feel an overwhelming guilt at their reaction (sweet jesus I know I do every time I say no to something/set a boundary). But it’s important to remember that whatever their reaction, you are setting your boundary. Wow friends! I really like this one psychologist’s perspective is on setting boundaries: check out the conscious psychologist’s reel on setting boundaries with your parents here!

6. Reinforce your boundary with words/actions with your desi parents

Okay amigos, you did it!! You had a suuuuper difficult conversation with your desi parents about your boundaries, and that is no easy feat.

So now that you had that conversation, you must think that’s it, right?? Unfortunately dosts, it’s not. Realistically, you will have to set the same boundary multiple times with your desi parents (both through conversations and actions). It’s not a one time done deal type of thing. But can I tell you the best part?? The first time is the hardest, and that is now over.

So, what does it look like to reinforce your boundary with your parents through conversations/actions? Let’s say you set a boundary for your parents to inform you ahead of time about plans before making them (like how every time they say to their friends: “Oh, my daughter will absolutely come to this party!” without asking you). How would it look to reinforce this boundary?

-Every time your mom/dad makes plans before telling you (we’ve all been there with some dawat), remind them that they’ll need to start including you in these conversations before making a commitment for you: Verbal Reinforcement

-If they do make your commitment to plans without consulting you, don’t go to the planned commitment: Action Reinforcement

Now obviously dosts, this is just a few examples of how you can reinforce your boundary, but you can also reinforce your boundary in whatever ways you think suits your needs and your household best (here are some more examples of how to set a boundary from an theindiansextherapist!).

But remember dosts, the reinforcement is absolutely necessary. Because when you reinforce your boundary, it will show your desi parents that you mean business. And that is super duper important to build self respect and become “an adult” in their eyes. You’re in charge of your life, not them.

Concluding Thoughts…

So dosts, how do you set boundaries with your desi parents? Lets go over the steps that helped me in my journey:

  1. Figure out your boundary
  2. Make sure it is safe to express this boundary
  3. Talk it out with a trusted confidante
  4. Practice saying it OUT LOUD
  5. Set the boundary with your parents
  6. Reinforce your boundary with words and actions

Now I’d like to say dosts, this is not easy whatsoever. This is a daunting task because as children we all seek our parents’ approvals and love. And many of us think we’ll earn it if we listen to them and do exactly what they tell us to do. But friends, at what costs? Does it cost too much if we run our entire lives according to their will? Does it cost too much if we don’t pursue what career we actually want? Does it cost too much if we begin to lose sight of who we are and after some time don’t recognize ourselves in the mirror?

Only you can answer those questions. I figured out my costs and started setting my boundaries with my family about 2 years ago (at the age of 27). It’s still an uphill battle at times, but I know that I am at peace with my decision. What decision will you make??

Signing off with peace, love, and good vibes,

Heens ❀️

Psssst, I’d like to point out and reiterate that I am not a mental health professional and this is not a form of therapy. These posts are based on my experiences and helped me in my journey. There are local websites available for professional mental health services.

National suicide hotline number: 988

Domestic violence hotline: 800-799-7233

Mental Health

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