Parmesan Gratin, with a Side of Appropriate Boundaries

“Rich, creamy, and cheesy potatoes smothered in heavy cream and parmesan goodness are sure to be a hit.” That is the nonchalant statement I made the other night to a young woman who was new to the house. I had stopped by to do my regular check in. Before I could get up the walk way she came up to me and said, “We need to talk.” I informed her we could, but I had a ritual and I plan to stick to it. I have five core boundaries rules:

  1. Treat youth equally and be consistent when engaging different youth. Remember past interactions with others and do your best to be consistent. While we can’t treat all youth the same, we can do our best to show them all the same level of respect and consistency.
  2. The power dynamic- remember this is a one sided relationship with these youth. As a representative of an organization that provides basic service needs to youth, the youth will recognize you have power over their access to these services. Thus, relationships with these young adults are almost entirely one sided. You are a service provider, not a friend.
  3. Be cautious of sharing your personal information, showing special treatment, giving or receiving gifts (even a small monetary value). These things may give youth the impression that they have special relationships. Keep your relationship with the clients inside the bounds of the program.
  4. Outside of the program when you see a client on the street, follow their lead. Disclosing that they know you and vice versa is at their discretion. If they say hello, mimic that. If they nod, quietly mimic that.

Which brings me back to my new kid. When we got around to meeting, she informed me she wanted to make something that would blow everyone away. I informed her that was a question that usually took place during group. Since she was new, I suggested parmesan potato gratin. She noted that sounded fancy. I reassured her gratin was nothing more than a dish with a light browned crust of breadcrumbs or melted cheese. She smiled and said, “I really want to make that.” I reassured her she probably could. I watched her bite her lip and waited for her to speak. She lowered her eyes and asked if she could borrow $10. I informed her I did not loan money to clients. She retorted that she blew her dinner money and the other kids would be pissed if they had to eat peanut butter and jelly. I stood firm with my answer, and asked her if she wanted to role play how to tell her peers.


  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 2 pounds white potatoes, peeled
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Finely grated Parmesan
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions :Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse and season potatoes in a strainer- this will prevent from over seasoning later. Rub the butter all over the inside of a 12 x 8 inch baking tray. Slice the potatoes as thin as possible. Heat milk and garlic in a pot until it starts to boil. Take off the heat. Place one layer of the potato slices in even rows and slightly shingled on the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and repeat for each layer- the final layer of potatoes ending with a cheese layer on top. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture over the layered potatoes, making sure to cover all of them and place in the oven. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the tip of a sharp knife can go through the potatoes. It may take an extra 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the layers.


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8 Responses to Parmesan Gratin, with a Side of Appropriate Boundaries

  1. Pingback: What Would Have Helped Me? | Real Life of an MSW

  2. Pingback: Utterly Ingenious Easy meal ideas | Real Life of an MSW

  3. prior.. says:

    the au gratin looks sooo good.
    and I loved the offer to role play at the end – excellent follow up to keeping the boundary.
    and those boundaries that are kept – well they are a gift to everyone in the long run

    Liked by 1 person

  4. prior.. says:

    and short run – 🙂 even tho the client (or service recipient might not realize the gift it is)

    Liked by 1 person

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