“I’m not here to be your friend” was my parents’ mantra during childhood. They had a job to do. Their goal was to train us to be functioning members of society who know how to work and know how to give by 18 years old. Even after the divorce, there was no dividing and conquering one parent to play against the other. Co-parenting was their highest priority, married together or not.
This blog series is based on the book, Boundaries. We will be looking at how we can “Draw the Line” to create boundaries with kids.
Kids like to test limits to make sure they are firm and to find out if they are pliable. Overworked parents find it easier to make kids happy (and quiet), so the rules get broken more often. Parents teach children if “no” is a real answer or the beginning of a negotiation.
Develop boundaries early in young children. Teach responsibility, limit-setting, and delay gratification to have a higher probability of YOU surviving THEIR adolescence.
Parents’ job is to prepare children for adulthood. There are real consequences to choices. When children have a safe place for trial and error, they can learn from their mistake to do better next time. When parents don’t practice good boundaries with their kids, society will put their adult-children in grown-up “time-out”, called jail. Using the family to simulate society, parents have the opportunity to help children see how their choices affect other people. It is better to learn tough lessons from gentle hands.
1. Self-Protection – Give your child the freedom to say no, tell the truth, and maintain physical distance. For example, if a dad is rough-housing with his son. The son can say, “Stop Dad.” The dad will respond without withdrawing love or teasing. By giving children permission to disagree without losing love, we teach them to stand up for themselves.
Rite of Passage: During the teenage years, parents get to see what kind of character has actually been built into their children. We want our young people to say no to bad influences. We want our tweens to assert a comfortable physical distance from someone who is getting too friendly. We want our teens to tell us the truth, even if we don’t like the answer.
2. Taking Responsibility for One’s Needs – Helping children identify their feelings so they can communicate emotions will serve them well. When kids can self-monitor what they need, then they can take the initiative to get it. Boundaries help kids define what their needs are and how it differs from the needs of others. The freedom of verbal expression allows kids to ask for something that may go against the grain. When young people initiate caretaking of themselves, they learn the power of self-sufficiency. They will grow into adults who are empowered instead of placing the burden of their needs on someone else.
“We must allow children to experience the painful consequences of their own irresponsibility and mistakes.”
Throughout my childhood, we were given clear expectations. We were expected to do our best in school. The C+ in math was my best, not my strength. We were allowed the space to experience natural consequences to our choices that my parents’ didn’t shelter us from (e.g. cutting my own bangs way too short). Some bad choices meant we paid fines out of our savings account because we broke a rule. Other bad choices meant we did work-detail in the backyard in absolute silence for an hour.
We were not sheltered from the car accidents of drunk drivers. We knew there were real dangers out in the world and that our parents were training us to make good decisions. My dad told us every child-abduction that made the news as a reminder of what could happen when we don’t protect our personal safety and trust strangers. We were allowed to express our thoughts as long as we were respectful. We learned to persuade our parents to consider extending our boundaries by making a strong argument and addressing their concerns for our health and safety.
My mom and dad’s parenting theme was to help me survive without them at 18 years old. Good discipline sets limits and delays gratification to teach responsibility. My parents’ role shifted from active parenting into adviser-guide as I transitioned into the passage of real adulthood. Parenting is an important job. Training children to become functioning members of society is challenging and emotionally uncomfortable. I learned tough lessons from gentle hands. I’m thankful my parents weren’t my “friend” during childhood so we can be friends now.
Reflect & Share: What boundaries did your parents have for you that served you well? What boundaries do you use on your own kids that is effective?
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