Friends, I have been hearing from a lot of you recently via email and many of you are struggling with boundaries in your lives. I am not a counselor, and I am not a psychologist, but I wanted to tell you a few things I have learned about boundaries along the way in the experience of my life and I hope it will be helpful to you. I encourage you if you are having challenges with this to go and talk to a qualified counselor. This can be so helpful in getting your life, your family and your parenting going the way you want it to! What a wonderful way to start the New Year!
Boundaries, to me, are a skill that many of us have to learn. Perhaps our ability to set boundaries was damaged in childhood or early adulthood. Perhaps we are not even sure what a boundary is or why we would want boundaries. Or perhaps we have too many boundaries and have erected relentless walls in order to keep the world out.
Yet, healthy boundaries are so necessary. A boundary is something we set in order to separate ourselves from other people; it tells us how far a person can go with us and how far we can go with another person. It keeps us from becoming enmeshed with another person: enmeshment is a complete state of feeling so empathetically with that person that we take on the other person’s feelings, responsibilities,challenges and problems completely and wholly as our own. As parents, we are separate from our children; we are different people. And, boundaries not only separate us from our children, but it also shows how we are linked together in familial roles. We are linked together, but we are not the same. We are the adult. The relationship is not an equal one. We have more experience and more guidance, more logic and reasoning to bring to any situation. We also have a duty to honor the developmental stage of our child and we can do this with boundaries.
Relationships without boundaries cause dependency and stunted emotional growth for both ourselves and the other party involved. If we have too many boundaries, no one can get close to us at all and we end up isolated and alone. With good boundaries, we learn to develop an appropriate sense of roles amongst family members and the other people in our lives. We learn to respect ourselves and others. We can trust and listen not only to ourselves, but to others.
Specifically in parenting, boundaries allow children to feel safe and secure. Boundaries helps children learn self-control and how to function with people outside of their immediate family. Parents who set good boundaries for themselves and for their children are modeling for the children, how, in turn, to set emotional and physical boundaries for themselves. If we can be calm as a child tests out what the boundary and line in the sand actually is, then we are modeling for our child how to handle this in their own lives. We help them learn how to function in the world.
For parents who have trouble setting any boundaries for their children, out of “respect” for the child, I often will ask the parent:
Would you let someone in and start hitting your child?
Would you let someone come in and scream at your child?
Would you want someone to constantly interrupt your child when they speak?
Would you want someone to stand on your dining room table and yell at your children whilst they ate?
Would you want someone to get in your child’s face and demand that your child immediately stop what they are doing and go do something they requested? This minute, this very minute…and scream until this happened?
Would you want a person to come into your home and jump all over your counters, your furniture, stand on your computer, etc?
Okay, if the answer is no, of course not…then why are you letting your children do this to you and your home ? This seems common sense, but yet so many parents get hung up in treating their children with respect that they are missing basic boundaries for their children to have in treating them. If we have no expectations, then we offer nothing for a child to rise up and meet. It doesn’t mean that a tiny, tiny three year old isn’t going to yell at the dinner table, but it does mean that offering a boundary on this (“we use our inside voice at the table”) and helping our child means that they will eventually get it. It also means that you will not be starting from scratch with a seven or nine year old…Friends, you can do this. Setting boundaries is not mean; it is how we live together in peace. It is how all needs of all members of the family are met, not just the needs of one child.
If boundaries seem difficult and foreign to you,and the above examples don’t seem too bad to you in terms of your own children…. then again, I really think counseling could help you sort this out.
Love and connection is what every child needs…along with boundaries. Here is a post ,with some very specific examples by age, of how to hold authority in a good and loving way in your home: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2012/06/07/the-rant-of-the-day-parenting-with-boundaries/ and here is a whole page of boundary posts from the search engine on this blog: http://theparentingpassageway.com/?s=boundaries
Are you helping your children grow up into being kind, compassionate, flexible, adjusted children who can step into life and not have everything revolve around their needs? Boundaries are your friend.