Carolyn Hax: Draw a hard line with parents

November 12, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My parents want to hang out with my husband and me every weekend, and often invite us to do things far in advance. We enjoy spending time with them, but we need to start turning more of these invitations down to see other people and prepare for our upcoming baby.

How can I politely decline an invitation when I can’t give a specific reason? Whenever I turn them down, they ask what we’ll be doing that weekend instead, and they are very sensitive to any impression that we’re choosing other people over them.


You say, “We have other plans,” and when they press, you draw a line. “Mom/Dad, I love you and enjoy your company. We have friends, though, too, and also need our alone time.” If they press even more, then you say, “I’m happy to make plans with you (your preferred frequency), beyond that our time is spoken for.”

That “very sensitive” says they almost certainly won’t take it well, but the longer you put off this reckoning, the worse it’s going to get.

If there is not a cultural foundation for this expectation in your family, then please consider talking to a good family therapist about drawing boundaries.

Carolyn: Yes, I have been to therapy about my relationship with my parents — things were much, much worse for most of my life, with a lot of blowups and silent treatments on their end and tears on mine. Now I’m much more able to tell them no. It’s not a cultural thing for us, but I’m their only child and they don’t have any other friends or strong family ties, so I get a lot of focus and pressure. I guess it’s time for a harder line.


It is. I’m sorry you’re in this position. Parents choose to have children, and assume obligations to care for them accordingly. They do not confer obligations to their kids. Certainly thoughtful children come to a sense of gratitude and duty on their own, but it’s not the parents’ place to decide the what, when or how.

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