It would seem useful to consider the difficult, but interesting, conception and dynamics of the word “boundaries,” in the context of its recent use, as regarding social relationships. In general, the pluralized word, has, in modern times, acquired a functionally versatile, practically, ubiquitous application.  Classically, we are familiar with “boundaries” as a mandatory and proprietary declaration of limitation, as applied to the limits of territorial ownership, related to legal issues of ownership and trespass.  Yet the word has, in modern parlance, permissibly, been extended to signify as well, one’s extent of tolerance for language or action, as determined by his perception of the relevant relationship. If challenged to give an all-inclusive, generic, definition of the noun, “boundaries,” we would, simply define it, as a line that separates two things, spatial or behavioral.

With regard to previously established human relationships, there will already have been, tacitly, or expressly consented to, personal and subject matter boundaries. In traditional settings, such as weddings, funerals and other public or familial events, expectations and boundaries of speech and behavior, are situationally circumscribed within the normal and expected societal context. There are similarly, respective expectations of the observance of traditional boundaries and limits, on the job, in school, the theater, in museums, school, houses of worship, at parties, other gatherings and at dinner (home or restaurant). The accepted and customary boundaries of relationship and behavior, in these traditional contexts, are not open to question, since they are predictably defined, and delimited, by precedential social expectation; and may even be described as stereotypical.

In this essay, we are interested, in the establishment and existence, of the more nuanced and problematic boundaries, experienced in the normative context and setting of the intimate family; the occasion of the birth of a daughter’s first child; and, additionally, our suggested boundaries, applicable to new social relationships.

The variable nature and quality of the spousal, interactive relationship, as we perceive it, is a joint product of their interactive personalities and married history. In a healthy marriage, there will have been established, a working partnership of sorts, respecting mutual responsibility and function. However, of the greatest importance, is mutual recognition and observance of respect for the separate integrity and needs, of the other. Most matters are shared, based upon their affectionate and recognized relationship, yet each may have particular areas of private concern and sensibility. These are appropriately private, and not inconsistent with a mutually loving and faithful relationship; but are purely personal, and are to be considered as boundaries, not wisely trespassed.

Parents must establish reasonable boundaries of respect and action, consistent with a secure, loving, and trusting relationship, with their children. These should be appropriate to the respectively defined roles, of parent and child, and evidence the usual and normative boundaries, which begin to be gradually, nuanced, consistent with the children’s changes in age, dependency and stage of maturity. Intimacy is an essential ingredient, affording the feeling of security in the child, but never practiced to the extent where a parent trespasses the appropriate, parent-child role (boundaries), and becomes the child’s “friend.” The singularly most important factor, aside from the utilitarian nature of the parent-child established boundaries, is unfailing and respected, consistency.

A more complicated matter is the subject of family “boundaries,” is presented upon the birth of a daughter’s baby; most particularly, her first born. The new parents, themselves, are for a time, somewhat, in the throes of disbelief and mild shock.  Often the maternal grandmother by evident necessity, takes on the surrogate task of instructing the inexperienced parents, in the care and maintenance of the newborn baby. It is appropriate, and essential to appreciatively, and fully, recognize the multiplicity of generous services and instructive advice, rendered, when such assistance was needed. However, at some point, the mother of the newborn, will need to assert her desire to personally and exclusively, exercise her maternal role in succeeding to the full management of the affairs of her child. These boundaries should be, gently and lovingly urged, and done so, with recognition of the intimacy which had developed between the newborn and the helpful grandmother. It is important, for the continued, amicable relationship of the family, that this timely assertion of determinative authority, (boundaries) on the part of the baby’s mother, be clearly and definitely, but, thoughtfully and empathetically, articulated.

Clearly communicated boundaries are essential in all social relationships, but most especially, in new ones. The adequate understanding of one’s self, and the mutual communication to, and exchange of, those mutual understandings, respectively, to one’s new partner is essential, including, when appropriate, the subject of desired goals and intentions. When both parties are clear on the subjects of identity and intention, there reportedly develops, mutual feelings of comfort and retained self-esteem. Each party should be aware of the desired boundaries of the other, socially and sexually. Preferences and tastes, as well as dislikes and uncomfortable subject areas, should be expressly and clearly communicated.  As time goes on, and the parties to the relationship proceed to know each other more intimately, they become more comfortable with the desired boundaries, asserted in the relationship.

The universally insurmountable boundary, consisting of evident neurosis, or personal insecurity, is predictably, and all too often, a cause of failure. Each party to the relationship must be, and appear, reasonably confident and independent, and not desire to lean, or depend upon the other. This feature is a determinative boundary, seldom crossed.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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