Each week I answer one of your parenting questions. This week I answer “how can I set boundaries that work?”, I hope the response helps you to be the parent you’d like to be.
When I meet with parents, there are many reasons they find boundaries challenging to stick with. Let’s explore them here and see which ones resonate with you:
It is much easier to say no to that thing when you’re not tired. When I first became a mum, I remember thinking to myself, “why is it that the right thing to do is always the hardest?” and being quite upset at this realisation.
Solution: Erm, is there a solution to parental tiredness? Yes. Take care of yourself, eat well, exercise and rest when you can. My opinion is that even these things can be hard to achieve. Yet, within the busy days that parenting and life bring, see if you can dial down your expectations. Reduce how many boundaries you have, and be a bit more mindless. The sky won’t fall.
2. Not having a clear idea of what you’d like to happen
When anyone faces a new decision (like every moment in parenting!), and your head is whirring quickly, it’s challenging to show leadership.
- Think about what you’d like to be happening. If you’re not sure, then go slowly.
- Take a step back and see where life could be a little more structured and where you can take your foot off the pedal.
- Remember that there is a fine line between boundaries and control.
Does each child need a different limit for their well-being? What boundaries do you need for yourself? Our kitchen closes at 8:30am so I can tidy before we leave the house or get overwhelmed. And it’s a slippery slope if the day begins on the wrong foot for me!
3. Being scared of the fallout when setting a boundary
Many parents fear their children’s reactions when putting a limitation in place.
Solution: The only way children have to let us know they are not okay is through their behaviours. They can’t always articulate how they feel (and they shouldn’t as their brains are developing), so communication may well come like an explosion. The tricky part is that this triggers parents’ inner world, inner childhood experiences, feelings of guilt and shame and a need to make things okay by saying yes.
I’ve worked with many families scared of their children’s response to boundaries. We put steps in place to support the parents, so these situations aren’t insurmountable. And when this happens, children’s negative responses reduce over time too.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like being told what to do either.
4. Being afraid of the long-term effects
So many parents are fearful that a decision they make will damage their child or not be the right one.
Solution: Research shows us that it isn’t so much what parents say; it’s more how a parent can share and show delight with their child. This exchange only happens when a parent is authentic, and being genuine means being all of you. Yes, those parts you don’t like can be refined, processed and understood. However, children need a leader to help them become themselves. You don’t have to always say the right thing to lead with compassion, strength and clarity.
5. Strong or weak boundaries as a child
Many parents set boundaries (or don’t) based on those they experienced as a child. However, boundaries aren’t one size fits all, from family to family or child to child. Replicating your childhood boundaries or lack of could leave you frustrated where you thought you had parenting aced.
Solution: How was your childhood? Did you have clear boundaries that helped you feel safe, was your household very punitive, or were you given too much freedom? It is hard to set an effective boundary if we’ve no real experience of being treated that way ourselves, but of course, it is possible.
6. Not being okay in the grey areas of life
Many parents like to know with certainty what to do or say.
Solution: Take the pressure off. You don’t have to always know what the right thing is to do or say. You are in a relationship with yourself and your children, and relationships are messy. They aren’t seamless and are riddled with people doing and saying things they regret. Hang out in the grey. Tell your child you don’t know what to do and that you must think about it. Repair and apologise when you threaten a ludicrous boundary. And laugh about it! After all, we are only human.
If there’s one thing I’d love parents to know about setting and holding a boundary, it’s this; boundaries help children feel safe. They don’t have the life experience, brain development or ability to create contexts that allow them to make safe decisions.
And parents, when your child finds a boundary difficult, this is your golden moment to create safety within your relationship with them. This occasion is where you use your empathy to let your child know how hard it is when life doesn’t go their way and that you are there for them and with them when they find life hard. With your help, your children can practice learning how hard life can be within the safety of their relationship with you when they are young.
If anything in this blog resonates with you and you’d like support to create change, you’re welcome to book a free call with Bethan here to explore your support options. Make sure you download your free 5 Steps to Calmer Parenting. If you’re looking for immediate parenting support, you can start your free 7 day trial in the Calm Parenting Club where you’ll find the answers to your parenting problems and be supported to become the parent and person’ you’d like to be.