People talk a lot about the need for “boundaries,” but what does this word really mean? As a parent, you can think of a boundary as the line you draw around yourself to define where you end and where your child begins. Kids push these boundaries every day. As parents, we sometimes cross boundaries ourselves in our attempts to fix things for them. Understand that one of our most important jobs as parents is to stay loving and separate from our children. We do this by clearly defining our principles and staying in our role as a parent.
How does it feel when boundaries are crossed? Sometimes we get clear indications that it’s happening, while other times, it’s more subtle. You might feel anxious or uncomfortable, angry, tense, embarrassed, resentful, or put upon. Other times, you could react by feeling diminished, as if a rug has been pulled out from under you, or simply put in a position that doesn’t feel right. You might also see your child stepping in to a place he doesn’t belong, by giving you dating advice, for example, or acting as if he’s the one in charge.
When we get anxious about our kids, we often over-function for them and that’s when boundaries can get blurred. This means that we do too much for them, and “get in their box” instead of staying in our own. When this happens, we’ve forgotten where we end and where our child begins. At the root of all this is anxiety. When you become nervous about your child’s success or ability to handle things in life, it might feel as if you’re alleviating stress by jumping in and taking control instead of letting your child work things out for himself.
We naturally want to make things better for our kids and “fix things.” But know that when you aren’t able to let your child work through obstacles on her own, you’re denying her an important experience—the experience of how to overcome disappointment, how to deal with an argument with a friend, or how to talk to her teacher about a grade. This is not saying that we should never help, guide, coach and teach our kids; of course we should. What it is saying is that we need to let them try to fight their own battles when possible and appropriate.
What blurred boundaries look like
Doing for your child what he can (or should) do for himself.
Letting your child invade your boundaries as a couple—making your kids the center focus at all times. Over-sharing with your child about your life; treating them like a friend rather than your child. Living through your child vicariously; feeling as if their achievements are yours, and their failures are yours as well.
Your child is upset, and you fall apart.
How does it feel for you as a parent when this is happening? Sometimes, it might not feel bad. For example, you might feel like you’re simply sharing with your child even though you’re over-sharing. An important thing to ask yourself in this case is, “Is it my child’s role to listen to this particular problem or story? Is this too much for her? Would this be something more appropriate to share with my mate or a friend?” If your child is giving you advice on your dating life, you may have “invited them in.” If, on the other hand, you’re worried you might be living through your child vicariously, ask yourself, “Am I relying too much on my child’s successes to feel good? Do I need to start focusing more on my own goals?” And if your child is controlling the house with his moods, behavior or demands, sit down and ask yourself,
“Am I playing the role of a parent who’s in charge, or am I giving up control of the house to my child out of fear or anxiety?” What parents might not be aware of, in all these instances, is that they’re operating from anxiety in some way. The best advice here is to try not to react from your emotions, but instead, stay in your parental role and respond from your principles. This is the best way to recognize those parent-child boundaries and honor them.
How can you set good solid boundaries with your kids?
Define your boundaries. To develop boundaries for yourself, you have to know where you stand. This is not always easy to define, but it’s so important that your child knows who you are and what you believe. This doesn’t mean you should be rigid; it means you communicate your personal values and stick to them. If your value is to be honest, then be honest. Kids are guided in life by watching what you do, which often makes more of an impression than what you say.
Make your expectations known. Make a list of what you expect for yourself in relation to your kids. Think about what you can and can’t live with; think through what matters most to you. If it’s helpful for you, write it out. Tell your kids what your guiding principles are. Notice in coming up with this list that you are not attempting to control your child but rather, you are taking charge of yourself
Focus on yourself instead of your child. When your child is acting poorly and not listening to you, think about how you can more clearly communicate what you expect—and hold her accountable when she doesn’t listen. Try to say things in a way that conveys that you mean business; expect to be listened to and taken seriously. As difficult as it is to look at yourself openly and honestly. It will open you to the possibility of taking charge of yourself. Your own self-knowledge and maturity will help lead your kids to find theirs.
Help your kids experience the impact of crossing boundaries so that it becomes part of their reality. Admit when you have crossed someone else’s boundary and apologize for it. And when your kids cross one, let them know and hold them accountable.
Don’t Beat Yourself up
Sometimes parents have a hard time holding on to themselves and their boundaries even though they know it’s in their kids’ best interest. This can happen because we are simply worn out. You’re having a difficult time staying “separate” from your child. We all have hard times, moments when we give in. Nobody—and no parent—is perfect. Instead of beating yourself up for this, you might have to let yourself off the hook for letting them off the hook. Simply try your best not to make it a pattern. You may have inadvertently programmed your kids to get you to finally give in out of exhaustion. When you know where you stand, you’ll know what you will and won’t put up with from your child. Define your boundaries and try to stick to your principles rather than reacting to your moment-to-moment emotions. If you let your thoughts and principles drive you, you won’t be so apt to let your emotions determine your parenting—and both you and your child will be happier for it.
Pincus, D. (May, 2013). Parental roles: How to set healthy boundaries with your child read more.
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