The way we do boundaries with our children is the way they will do boundaries with the world – for better or worse. Our job as parents isn’t to remove their distress around boundaries, but to give them the experiences to recognise they can handle boundaries – holding theirs and respecting the boundaries others.
Whenever we hold a boundary, we give our kids the precious opportunity to learn how to hold their own.
If we don’t have boundaries, the risk is that our children won’t either. We can talk all we want about the importance of boundaries, but how can they learn if we don’t show them? Inadvertently, by avoiding boundary collisions with them, we are teaching them to avoid conflict at all costs.
In practice, this might look like learning to put themselves, their needs, and their feelings away for the sake of peace. Alternatively, they might feel the need to control other people and situations even more. If they haven’t had the experience of surviving a collision of needs or wants, and feeling loved and accepted through that, conflicting needs will feel scary and intolerable.
Similarly, if we hold our boundaries too harshly and meet their boundary collisions with shame, yelling, punishment or harsh consequences, this is how we’re teaching them to respond to disagreement, or diverse needs and wants. We’re teaching them to yell, fight dirty, punish, or overbear those who disagree.
They might also go the other way. If boundaries are associated with feeling shamed, lonely, ‘bad’, they might instead surrender boundaries and again put themselves away to preserve the relationship and the comfort of others. This is because any boundary they hold might feel too much, too cruel, or too rejecting, so ‘no boundary’ will be the safest option.
If we want our children to hold their boundaries respectfully and kindly, and with strength, we will have to go first.
It’s easy to think there are only two options. Either:
- We focus on the boundary at the expense of the relationship and staying connected to them.
- We focus on the connection at the expense of the boundary.
But there is a third option, and that is to do both – at the same time. We hold the boundary, while at the same time we attend to the relationship. We hold the boundary, but with warmth. ‘Yes it’s okay to be angry with me. No, it’s not okay to use those words.’♥️