After Dad collapsed, I would try to pick up the place, but Mom always made me stop. She’d been reading books on how to cope with an alcoholic, and they said that drunks didn’t remember their rampages, so if you cleaned up after them, they’d think nothing had happened. “Your father needs to see the mess he’s making of our lives,” Mom said.

After Jeannette’s father destroys their home during his drinking spells, Jeannette wants to avoid tension and conflict, as well as decrease her father’s shame, by cleaning the mess before he could see it. But as her mother explains, to clean up after Rex is to enable his bad behavior. Jeannette’s first instinct when responding to her father’s actions is to show him compassion and support, hoping that he’ll be inspired to do better. Although that works from time to time, Rex generally takes advantage of his daughter’s kindness, continuing to enjoy a close relationship with her without ever improving on his mistakes.

“She was my mother, for God’s sake,” he said. He glared at us. “You kids. You make me ashamed. Do you hear me? Ashamed!” He turned down the street to Junior’s bar. We all watched him go. “You’re ashamed of us?” Lori called after him.

When Erma dies, the Walls children are not at all upset – after all, Erma either physically or sexually abused all of them at one point or another. They are unable to show compassion for either Erma herself or their father in his time of grief, because they have set a clear boundary: their abuser does not deserve their sympathy or sadness. Their apathy upsets Rex, who, despite his own issues with Erma and the knowledge of what she’s done to Brian, still loves his mother.

I thought it was my faith in Dad that had kept him going all those years. I was about to tell him the truth for the first time, about to let him know that he’d let us all down plenty, but then I stopped. I couldn’t do it.

Jeannette loves her father deeply, and despite his failures, she maintains a belief in his ability to better himself. Even once that belief begins to fade, she can’t bring herself to articulate to him the extent of his mistakes, because she worries that if his favorite child criticizes him, he’ll self-destruct completely. It’s important that Jeannette eventually learns to be honest with her father, as her compassion and gentleness toward him result in her having to take on the exhausting emotional burden of picking him up every time he falls.

“If things don’t work out, you can always come home,” he said. “I’ll be here for you. You know that, don’t you?” “I know.” I knew that in his way, he would be. I also knew I’d never be coming back.

Despite her father’s faults, Jeannette knows that he loves her, and that he wants to be a part of her life. Should she fail in New York, he would welcome her back home. The tragedy of their relationship is that there is no way for her to return to him without putting herself into an unhealthy environment. Jeannette loves her father, but for her own sake, she chooses to leave him so that she can finally have a chance at a better life. The greatest and most difficult boundary she sets in their relationship is removing herself from him.

“Maybe you’re just going to have to kick Mom out,” I said. “But she’s my mother.” “It doesn’t matter. She’s driving you crazy.”

The Walls parents continue to cross boundaries well into their children’s adult lives. In a turning of the tables, they end up living in Lori’s apartment, and eventually their difficult natures force her to turn them out. It’s painful for Lori to kick out her own mother – whom she’s always been close with – and despite Rose Mary’s maternal failures, Lori feels a sense of responsibility and sympathy for her. But just like the rest of the Walls children, Lori must eventually choose her own sanity and mental health over taking care of her mother.