Honoring a Parent With Whom I’ve Drawn a Boundary

My mom prunes the Mexican Oak tree in my front yard with her bare hands. The tree stands catty-corner to the chain-link fence, standing guard against the neighbor’s driveway. It appears diseased as my mom tirelessly rips off each limb. The branches fall around her like the many stories we hold and can’t quite bring ourselves to honor. The limbs form a border between her and the trunk, reminiscent of the boundary I’ve drawn between us.

I watch her work effortlessly. She fits right in here, in this yard, in this barrio, in this familiar space, but she will leave. She will run from happiness. She will run from being seen and I will remember our boundary. How do I honor a parent with whom I’ve drawn a boundary?


Appreciate the Moment

“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, NIV).

My mom disappears for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. It used to leave me feeling breathless and anxious. Four years ago, I took a boundaries course. I learned that my mom is never going to be the mom that I need. And that has to be okay with me. I had to stop asking why she was not around. I had to face it in order to draw a line around it. I had to make peace with it.

She won’t be there for my kids’ birthdays, she’ll not show up to her Mother’s Day lunch, she’ll turn off her phone at Christmas. My feelings, my well-being cannot be attached to this absence.

I must appreciate what I have in this moment.


Honor the Space for Peace

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

I can honor my mom by creating space for peace. My door is always open. My love is always unconditional but my boundary is strong. My emotional well-being is not attached to her absence. My heart is not codependent on her ability to show up or not.

I learn from her pruning that we are going to make it.

That’s enough hope to last until I see her again. I hold no expectation of how long that will be. She taught us to make room for hope by living her life as if it was a garden in dire need of pruning.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does not bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful” (John 15:2, NIV).

My siblings and I were never taught to plant roots. We grew in jars of water. We had what we needed but we didn’t have anywhere to plant roots. We didn’t call anywhere home for too long. We didn’t have a family that stayed together to withstand time, grow old together, and pass traditions on from one matriarch to another.

She will disappear. I understand now that it’s the space she needs to inhabit, rebuild, and find herself in relation to us again. She will prune her way back to me, in time.


Honor the Labor

“God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).

She has chiseled away at life with her bare hands exactly the way she prunes my Mexican Oak–barbaric and proud. I learn that there is hope in being strong. There is promise of hope when we prune as long as we leave our expectations at the door.

Soon, she will not rip up trees, shovel advice, or dangle windchimes from the limbs. We don’t pick our parents. We can only choose the reaction we have to our parents when things don’t fall as naturally as we would like.

“See how much better it looks?” she beams.

I stumble toward where she is. I pick up branches from the ground and carry them to the mulch bin. She looks at my effort and smiles. I may not have the muscle to prune, but I have the muscle to clean up. Today, family looks like day labor and I honor this labor in her.


Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros
Latest posts by Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros (see all)

16 thoughts on “Honoring a Parent With Whom I’ve Drawn a Boundary

  1. You are giving your mother an astonishing gift, and in the process receiving one yourself. I’m not sure we ever outgrow the jarring realization that a parent is just not able to be there for us in the way we wish they could, but the path to healing is certainly found somewhere near this grace you’ve written about today.

  2. Amiga, thank your for sharing vulnerably about this painful part of your life. I remember reading in a psalm a line about “…my boundaries have fallen in pleasant places.” It sounds like yours have as you have made peace with the mother you have and the boundaries you have to set for her. I’m sorry that you never had the mother you wanted. Love you, friend.

  3. I’m so sorry you have missed out on this love, Carolina. What an amazing work of God’s grace though for you to give as you are doing. May He surround you with other Mamas to love on you when you miss that love you’re not receiving the most. I’ve seen God do that for me since my Mama went to heaven – so I’ll be praying for that for you. It’s not the same, but it is really special to see God sees us and our need for His love in these empty places.

    I will be sharing this. May God continue to enlarge your borders in ministry to share the nuggets of wisdom He has given you through the pain. Hugs from afar.

  4. Amen to this. Learning that my parents are people–and that I can’t depend on them in all the ways I once wished I could–has freed me to enjoy them as they are. Sometimes that’s hard, even bitter work but going through it has created a lot of sweetness and peace. Thanks for posting this. (and welcome to The Mudroom.)

  5. I write and think about this topic a lot in my own life, Carolina. I understand your journey…and you write beautifully and with wisdom about this difficult relationship.

  6. Thank you so much for this. The images and deeper metaphors you create with the branches and the pruning are stunning. And I so admired this line: “She has chiseled away at life with her
    bare hands exactly the way she prunes my Mexican Oak–barbaric and proud.I learn that there is hope in being strong. There is promise of hope when we prune as long as we leave our expectations at the door.” With so many things, leaving expectations at the door often feels the journey across a lifetime. Thanks again.

  7. Beauty and pain are so often intertwined in life. You bring out both in your writing. I’m glad you have made peace with this relationship. It can be sad and yet freeing to realize what you realized. My mom will never be the mom I need or want, or a grandmother to my children, and it took me years to figure that out. My sister was a faster learner than I. We have a pact with each other now to try and be there for each and mother each other.

    • I’m so sorry you’ve endured this as well. I am so glad to hear about you and your sister being there for each other. I try to do the same with mine. xx Be encouraged and blessed, Theresa. Hugs.

  8. Beautiful friend. I hear you and understand where you are coming from. Sometimes it’s just being in the moment.

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