Boundaries in Family

I’ve been reading Boundaries for Kids, the infamous Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend adapted for parents. So far, I dig it. The book fleshes out some of the principles I use in parenting my children, and offers some very practical advice in various situations. From what I’ve read (I’ve never actually read the original Boundaries), the idea of drawing healthy boundaries in our lives is to develop a clear sense of self, identity, purpose, in order to functionally engage in thriving relationships. As applied to parenting, they advise parents to seek to have a life outside of their children, not only to protect themselves from burnout but also to model actively living a purposeful life. In doing so, we also foster a self-identity in the children beyond their relationship with us. As I nod and mutter my “Amens” throughout the book, a nagging voice in my head seems to provoke: “Rebel! Exactly what point did you abandon your Chinese upbringing and adopt this Western nonsense and raising your kids to draw boundaries and be independent? What do YOU know about family? What if YOUR family “drew boundaries” with you, would you have the privileges of the life you enjoy now?”

The truth is, I’ve heard some horror stories of Chinese families with absolutely no sense of boundaries. One of Jason’s students recently married a man whose mother still tucks him into bed at night. Even more disturbing is when I told this story to my family, they shrugged and said it’s very common. Some of these “attachment” issues between a son and his mother causes tremendous distress to Chinese wives and I have seen destruction of families over the impossible “po-po” (mother-in-law) relations. I think a book on Boundaries could truly lift some Chinese families out of their miserable, enmeshed tangle of relationships. However, I am also weary of Western missionaries preaching the “leave and cleave” passage without comprehending the complexities of the Chinese family network. It resembles the “be White to be Christian” paradigm too much for my comfort.

So I am again left in the lovely grey area where I find myself most of these days. I want to sound the trumpets and recommend Boundaries to my friends, but am not sure how the Chinese audience would receive it. In the end, I don’t think Chinese families need a Boundaries book, written by people who have not operated in a Chinese context. This is not to say there are not “boundaries” problems in Chinese society, but that the solution needs to come from the Holy Spirit breathing His gentle nudges of change within Chinese culture. When a Christian Chinese xi-fu (daughter in law) falls on her knees crying for help to our God, perhaps she will receive what she needs without abandoning the amazing breadth of commitment and sacrificial love that typical Chinese families exhibit for each other.

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2 thoughts on “Boundaries in Family

  1. Ok, so I know this post is ancient and I don't know if you'll ever see this but … having had a couple of years to think it over, would you mind sharing a little more about how you might advise Chinese young adults who are facing what would, by Americans, be termed boundary issues with their parents? I (a white American living in China) was asked by several people recently how the Bible would have them deal with something like “I wanted to marry person X but my mother said no”– or probably less drastic things too. I know just enough to know that I'm way out of my depth here and, for some reason, thought of your blog post.

    • Hi Katie,

      Sorry I only just saw your comment after moving my blog. Such a tough issue, and I’d be hesitant to give out any advice without knowing the person’s context and situation. One thing to note is the Bible is not necessarily a rule book with specific answers to every life situation. In this case, you’d likely find examples of God endorsing submitting to the authority of elders, as well as the passage in which Jesus admonishing against loving one’s mother/father more than Him (to the angst of many Chinese parents of Christians). I would err towards obedience to family, because of the high value placed on this in Chinese culture. If the person chose to marry X despite disapproval, I think it’d have to be done with much prayer, wise counsel, and deep humility.

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