Dear Kiki: How do I set boundaries with my kid?

Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area can be submitted to, or anonymously using this form. Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Dear Kiki,

I’m in a blended family and as a result, the kids steer clear of our bedroom lest they find their non-biological parent nude. Well, my SO’s kids steer clear. But mine? Not so much. He comes in whenever he wants, hangs out on the bed to talk, etc. I don’t want to make him feel unwelcome but I also want to be fair to everyone. I don’t want the other kids to feel like they’re not allowed to be in our room while he is. I don’t really know how to bring it up without being RUDE or honestly making him feel like I don’t want him there. Because while I don’t mind his company while I’m chillin’ in my robe, I really don’t want our room to be open territory — it is my sanctuary, after all — and I realize that’s unfair.

–No Kids Allowed

Dear NKA,

You’ve got a lot going on here, I think. The first question you have to answer is, does it make your SO uncomfortable that your son hangs out in your bedroom? Presumably, that’s why his kids steer clear: so as not to get into a weird situation with you. If your SO and your son have a relationship that can withstand that, then you have no problem, on the surface. Thing is, NKA, enforcing rules across the board without regard to circumstance may seem fair, but it’s really the farthest thing from it. Your kids are not all the same human beings, so they will not always have to follow the same set of rules. Or, if it feels awkward to explain that harsh reality, just frame the “rule” in question not as “no kids in the bedroom,” but as “no kids who aren’t mine risking seeing me naked,” and explain to them that that’s your rule and your SO’s rules differ.

But, NKA, it honestly seems like you’re hoping for a different answer from me so that you can use this rule to enforce boundaries that you’re not comfortable enforcing. I get it. Boundaries are challenging, especially when we want to have as open a relationship with our kids as possible. But it really is OK to say, “This is my room; I was fine with you here yesterday, but today I want privacy.” Because sanctuaries are so, so important! It’s totally, utterly, completely and without question fair to defend yours.

But NKA, where it risks becoming unfair is if you don’t offer him the same respect. Establish your sanctuary with full knowledge that his room may one day become his sanctuary, and even — perhaps especially! — as a parent, you don’t get to violate that without his permission.

xoxo, Kiki

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