Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important than having firm and safe boundaries in relationships, and in the relationship between parent and child, establishing and maintaining boundaries not only sets the tone of the entire relationship, but also determines how children will set boundaries for the rest of their lives.
THE REST OF THEIR LIVES! No pressure…
Deep huh? I know, and a statement cloaked in truth. But, let’s face it, this boundary setting isn’t always easy because there are always going to be, wait for it (I know you want it….)
That’s right. Sometimes the lines are blurred. From tot to teen, our offspring need us to be the gatekeepers, and that means we have control the metaphorical flow of what goes in and out of the gate. So much grey area, yet there are some black and whites, especially when the kiddos are very small. Like the popular song says, “But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature.” Yep, the wee ones are animals despite their human nature, and they need training and taming. This can’t happen without boundaries. Here are some guidelines I use when advising parents as a therapist and advising myself as a parent –
1) You are the parent. What you say goes. You have to earn respect, but you don’t have to earn authority. YOU are in charge, no matter what your toddler/teen says.
2) A right and a privilege are two distinctly different things, even within the confines of a family. Your children have the right to be cared for in a way that makes them feel safe, and gives them dignity as a human being. This is a basic human right. However, despite what they make believe, children do not have the right to iPads, X-Box, or unlimited screen time. They don’t have the right to disregard the safety and dignity of others by demanding to be treated differently than rest of the family.
3) All family members are important. Being a member of a family is a privilege and should be treated as such. Common courtesy, kindness and respect are three things happy families have in abundance. Name-calling, threatening, and emotional abuse, as well as physical and sexual abuse are unacceptable and cruel ways to interact with loved ones. Withholding food, clothing, shelter and medical care is abusive.
4) There are rules and expectations for family members. When expectations aren’t met and rules are broken, there will be consequences. Not punishment, but logical consequences that fit the particular situation. For example, if 10-year-old throws a tantrum, and breaks a lamp during that tantrum, that 10-year-old needs to clean up the mess and work to earn the money to pay to replace said lamp. They do not get to negotiate the terms or continue to rule the roost with their physically threatening and immature behavior. Which leads us back to #1. Once kids learn that #1 is always in play, the frequency of broken lamps declines exponentially.
So in conclusion.....
If you are a parent who is currently feeling stomped on, helpless, and powerless, totally at the mercy of your family, there’s a very good chance that you haven’t been setting good boundaries and being consistent in maintaining them. I am not saying this is an easy task, nor am I judging you. I've been there and had to replace my chalk with a Sharpie when drawing lines quite a few times. I know that it’s really hard. It takes a lot of work and insight and careful attention. The care and keeping of a human being is a job that requires you to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a minimum of 18 years, always ready to adjust and adapt, as human beings evolve and change quickly.
In the early days of parenting, the lines need to be BOLD. As time goes by, these lines blur a bit, as they should. It’s appropriate for parents and children to work together to create a family unit that allows for each member to feel valued, inspired, safe, and cared for.
Good luck with that...