Parenting boundaries are the definitions of our expectations for our children. We have different boundaries that relate to how our children interact with us, their siblings, or other people. We also have boundaries around what behaviours are allowed and when they’re allowed. Everyone has dozens or more boundaries for each person in their life, including their partners. When you clearly know what your boundaries are, then you’re able to clearly communicate those boundaries to others.
Parenting boundaries are not the same as rules. Rules are things we make up to protect our boundaries. This is why it’s so important to understand your own boundaries and why they’re important to you. Through this knowledge you’ll be better prepared to create a home environment that is filled with love, cooperation, and connection.
Clear boundaries let others know what you expect. They also let you know what you expect.~Sarah Langner
Often we don’t establish good boundaries because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, aren’t comfortable dealing with what we perceive to be a confrontation, or (more often in my experience) we don’t even know how to define our boundary. When this happens as a parent, we risk falling into the anger, yelling, blame, shame spiral. We feel horrible, our children feel horrible, but worse, they have no idea why we reacted the way we did. So they continue to push our boundaries over and over again. Which can quickly lead to resentment.
When we don’t set clear boundaries about what we’ll accept from others and what they can expect from us, we instead send a different message. Our children still learn a boundary, unfortunately it’s not likely the one we want them to respect.
Having clearly defined expectations allows you to see clearly if someone is approaching your boundary.
Triggers show you where to place your boundary. If you know you often become frustrated or angry in a specific situation, then you know somewhere in there is a boundary you haven’t communicated. A boundary that’s getting crossed time and again.
During a quiet moment, take time to reflect on the situation and explore when you began to feel tense. Specifically what was happening? If you could wave a magic wand and re-live the situation without your boundary being crossed, what would it look like? How would you respond differently in that situation?Printable Boundaries Infographic
What are some of the ways you could change the way you respond so that others would clearly know what your expectations are in that situation?
Be aware, maintaining your boundary means you don’t cross it either. If you know something triggers you, don’t place yourself in a situation where being triggered is likely. For instance, if you’re preping for a party and need your house clean, then don’t allow your children to play outside unsupervised on a rainy day (or have a plan to deal with the mud before you agree to let them outside).
Not crossing your own boundary also means that if you have a particular boundary that you don’t want crossed, then you shouldn’t cross it for/on someone else. Crossing your own boundary in the opposite direction sends very mixed messages and can make it a lot more difficult for others to respect our boundary.
The exception to this is if you and older children or adults have clearly communicated with the other person and you both agree that it’s okay. Communication is really such a powerful tool.
Maintain Your Boundary
The only way you can maintain your boundary is to know what it looks like and where it is in the first place. As mentioned above, one way to define boundaries is to work backward from your trigger points. A different method is to determine what’s important to you and work from there to create boundaries that encourage those values while discouraging situations that would undermine those values.
Once you know what you you really want, then you can create a boundary that’s easy to communicate with others. I’ve found that when we’re not clear in what we expect, we often feel resentful or angry when someone approaches our boundary.
On our membership site a member shared how she wanted her children to leave her alone while making dinner. In order for her children to respect that boundary, she recognized that she needed to clearly communicate that expectation to them.
If that was you in that situation, how might you communicate that expectation to your children? Would your expectation or the way you communicate it be different for different ages of children?
Once you’ve clearly communicated your expectation to your children, then you can let go of resentment and anger because you know you’ve done your best and the boundary pushing is about the other person not you.
In the case of small children this might mean they are either not mature enough to respect the boundary yet, or maybe your expectation was too high. It’s also possible that they need extra attention. Whatever reason they might have for ‘pushing buttons’, you will be better prepared to continue communicating respectfully with them.
I know you’re hungry. I’m making supper as fast as I can. You can either sit in here with me, or you can go play. But I’m not stopping what I’m doing.
A Boundary Can Only Be Changed By the Person Who Makes it
If someone pushes and pushes against your rule, they aren’t changing where your boundary lies. If they break your rule, they still haven’t changed your boundary. The only person who can make those changes is you.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to change your boundary, or if you want to reinforce that this is your line and you don’t want your child to cross it.
If you want to reinforce the boundary you can re-state it along with possible consequences and a way to move forward.
I hear that you want to stay up late. I already told you ‘no’ and explained why. If you didn’t agree with my reasoning, you could have talked to me. To make sure you listen this time, I want your book. Tomorrow you can try again.
Maybe you want to rethink the boundary. For instance, if I’ve been working full-time hours for more than a day or two, my children would not be able to respect my rule to stay out of our shared office space while I’m working. I would need to either stop working or readjust my rule so I could meet the needs of my family and business at the same time.
Boundaries or Walls
A boundary is a rule, a line. It isn’t a wall to hide behind. They are not designed to keep others out, but rather used to strengthen relationships. Like the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Healthy boundaries allow your life to feel more fulfilling; they do not restrict friendships or the way you live your life. They are a definition of who you are and what you hold important.
Walls block people out or use over-sharing as a way to prevent others from knowing you well. In parenting, building walls might look like assuming your child is trying to be bad, so you shut them out instead of seeing things from their point of view. Building walls may look like asking your child to join you when you want them to, but refusing when they ask you to join them. Building walls cuts people out and prevents deeper relationships from developing.
Unhealthy and Healthy Boundaries
When you don’t protect your boundary, you often feel unhappy, angry, alone. The more this happens the harder it can be to define and maintain your boundaries.
Unhealthy parenting boundaries include taking responsibility for your child’s feelings. This is often seen when a child is unhappy or angry and the parent tries to make the child happy again. Both people end up frustrated and the situation often gets worse.
A healthy boundary recognizes that you are responsible for your own emotions, and only your own. It is not your job to make your child happy. You can help them process their emotion, but it is up to them how long they’re unhappy.
Another unhealthy parenting boundary is when you absorb the feelings of your child. For instance your child becomes angry about something, and soon you’re angry also and you’re both screaming at each other.
A healthy boundary allows you to value your own emotions as separate from your children. Your child can be angry or sad about something, and you can view their situation with curiosity, without taking on their emotion.
An unhealthy boundary is when you take on your child’s problems as your own. For instance, your child fails a test and is upset. There are so many ways to approach the situation, but if you take responsibility for either changing the grade or pushing your child to study more, then you cross both your own personal boundary as well as their less defined boundaries. It’s perfectly okay to guide them to figuring out how to do better next time, but then leave it to them to take action.
A healthy boundary is recognizing how to offer support vs taking on the problem as your own.
Boundaries are meant to be flexible, to work with you and for you. They’re based on your values and help you create stronger relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.
You can tell when you aren’t maintaining your boundaries by how you feel around certain people. Most of the time maintaining healthy boundaries requires clear communication and that’s it. But sometimes professional help may be needed.
Please ask for help if you need it.
I’ve created a printable infographic about boundaries for you I linked it up above, but you can also grab it right here:Printable Boundaries Infographic