Parents Have Boundaries Too

boundary setting Jul 29, 2022

I’m going to tell you a secret to increase your patience with your sweet kids.

Sometimes when we first become familiar with respectful parenting, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that setting boundaries is altogether not part of this kind of parenting.

We tend to start veering into the other direction because we have such a bad history with setting boundaries that we want to now run as far away from setting any limits as possible.

Especially once we start to see how treating our kids like people and seeing the best in them and validating them all result in a much happier home, we hesitate to be “unpleasant” and set boundaries.

What I can tell you is this kind of pattern will at some point lead us to resentment, that’s because as much as kids need love and compassion, they do also need healthy boundaries. And no one, not even moms and dads can give and give without limits.

Respectful parenting is the epitome of “the middle way” or “etedaal” as we say in Urdu. Moderation. Since we’re human we will never achieve the perfect balance, and it’s fine to veer more towards “less limits” but we DO want to have boundaries.

The best way to model them is to have boundaries for ourselves.

It’s ok to say all of the following to our kids. Some of these boundaries should be set daily and others used more sparingly (like expressing frustration).

“I can play with you after I finish my work. I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t want to share my phone with you..”

“I love when you help me in the kitchen and today I don’t need help but thank you!”

“No, thank you.”

“Please don’t hit me, I don’t like it.”

“Please don’t pull my clothes, its not comfortable..”

“I’m going to the bathroom and would like some privacy. I won’t be able to answer you from the inside.”

“I’m feeling frustrated that my *thing* was destroyed. I’m not going to share it for now.”

“I’m really tired and I need to rest. Do you need anything before I go?” (leaving younger kids with a trusted adult of course)

“I feel like the house is always messy and no one helps me clean. I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

“It’s very tiring for me when you guys start fighting and then I don’t feel like doing anything. Can we please work out a solution before we do xyz?”

Its important to say these things from a place of confidence and self-assurity. If we feel shame and guilt while trying to establish these boundaries, we’re going to confuse our kids, and their way of showing confusion is to test our boundaries. “You don’t sound so sure.. are you SURE?”

For example, you tell your child you won’t give them your phone but give in when she cries. You say you won’t let your son hit his sister, but when he does, you just shout commands from far away without actually getting up and blocking him. You tell your kids not to use your stuff but then don’t put it away safely. You tell your teenager he needs to be home by 9pm but don’t call to remind him or stay up until he gets home to let him know this was important (no need for punishment or consequences, just letting him know that you care about the boundary).

A fuzzily set boundary causes confusion, distrust and misunderstandings.

Imagine that you’re trying to get to your friend’s home but when you get there, you can’t find her house because the house number she gave you is nowhere to be seen. How are you supposed to know where to go? You call her cell phone and she doesn’t respond. And yet she gave you a hard time about reaching on time. She didn’t clearly tell you what to do and how to do it, AND she wasn’t there to help you in case you were ‘lost’. Her “boundary” (the gate), is missing vital information AND hand-on help.

How do you feel now? Overwhelmed because you know something is expected of you. Anxious because you don’t know how to do it. Frustrated because you don’t know what to do. Lost and alone because you have no help. And maybe even shame if your friend laters tries to place blame on you in any way for failing to meet her expectations.

That is EXACTLY how kids feel when they’re not given clear and concise direction WITH help.

Unclear boundaries are neither kind nor confident and it's better not to set a boundary if we can’t be these three things.

1- Kind

  1. Kids might need help respecting your boundaries and that’s fine
  2. They might cry and be upset and we validate
  3. Our tone is always calm and controlled
  4. There are no threats involved

2- Confident

  1. There is no guilt or shame involved
  2. You know you’re an awesome parent and deserve some space
  3. You won’t change your mind because your child’s feelings make you uncomfortable

3- Clear

  1. You say exactly what is and isn’t ok
  2. As often as you can, you add as many physical boundaries as possible that can help the child in upholding the boundary (e.g. lock your door when you go to rest, have a gate on the kitchen entrance, have your phone put away mostly etc.)

Once you get good at this, you will increase your patience levels by multitudes. It’s ok to be flexible sometimes in boundary setting, but the whole point of respectful parenting is that we’re always filling our kids’ cups. We can set boundaries knowing that they’re good for them, and good for you. More on boundaries in Units and Topics (top bar of tabs).