Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors
A woman asks about setting boundaries with a neighbor impinging on her personal time and space.
Help! I’m stuck!
Is there a good way to amicably pull back (way back) from a relationship with a neighbor without permanently damaging the relationship?
Here’s the situation:
Our neighbors are a sweet family from another country. The girls “adopted” us as honorary grandparents two years ago, something we readily agreed to. We have no kids of our own.
We love these neighbors and naturally don’t want to offend them. Yet, I am worn down by all this and clearly need some serious space!
The mother’s parents are no longer living. She has taken to calling me “mom,” which I should have stopped from the beginning.
Now, quite honestly, I’m sick of it. I’m drained from the constant text messages she sends if she doesn’t hear back from me right away. Even her teenage daughter started checking in with me.
I tried to put a stop to this by acting like I was receiving too many texts from people in general and could only respond once a day. Twenty-four hours went by and they began sending texts saying that they missed me.
When I checked in two days later, I made my text short and sweet. They responded: “Oh, we miss you sooooo much Mom! It feels like it’s been a really long time!” Good grief, it had only been a couple of days.
The mother obsessively texts greetings every morning and night with “likes” and “loves” texts in between. She also alerts me whenever she is going somewhere on her days off. I have yet to understand why she feels a need to do that.
They don’t seem to understand my need for space. And they don’t take any kind of hints when I try to pull back!
I know I’m going to have to bring myself to have a heart-to-heart and ask her to call me by my given name. I’m rather tired of them calling me mom.
Other than my husband, I have no family of my own. Maybe they think they are filling a hole because I don’t have close-knit relationships with friends and family.
I grew up differently in a very dysfunctional blended family, and pretty much kept to myself, enjoying my solitude. I do need and want friendships/relationships but this is so over the top.
Compared to other mean or standoffish neighbors, these people are good as gold but I feel smothered. They are sweet and fragile, and I desperately don’t want to hurt their feelings.
Would you advise me to just be direct and not worry so much about how it will be accepted?
Isn’t it nice to be adored? But to feel smothered…that’s adoration taken to an extreme.
We get it. From your note, we sense your frustration is at the breaking point. Yes, you need to take some action and set boundaries with these neighbors to change this situation.
Don’t blame yourself for being too nice or letting it go on for too long. Seemingly, it felt good at the time, and there’s no way you could have suspected it would go this far. There’s no sense in going back; we suspect you’ll be far more cautious in the future.
Maintaining good relationships and setting boundaries with neighbors is always tricky. If the relationship goes south, seeing your neighbor’s door each day can be very uncomfortable.
You need to be honest and direct but at the same time, you need to be kind. You do like your neighbor, and want to stay on good terms with her without hurting her unnecessarily.
We suggest that you get together and have a heart to heart with your neighbor (the mother of the two girls). Tell her you appreciate being friends but that you weren’t brought up in the same way as she and her family.
Explain that you need more downtime for yourself and don’t like to constantly be texting. Try to be unambiguous about the amount and type of communication that would feel comfortable and “right” for you.
Would you want to suggest that you catch up at the end of every week (by phone or by text) unless there is an emergency?
It’s less important that the family refrain from calling you “mom” or “grandma,” because what’s really annoying you is the intensity of these relationships.
Assure her that you’re very fond of her and her daughters and that this has more to do with you than it does with them. Tell her you hope that she can also find a good way to explain this to her daughters.
We realize this will be a tough conversation but in the long run, it will be an easier path than feeling resentful and put-upon as you do now. At the same time, it will help to preserve a friendship and spare hurt feelings.
Hope this is helpful.
Irene & Sheryl
It’s prudent to be friendly but also to set good boundaries with neighbors.
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