A frequently asked question at The Meadows is what does appropriate parenting look like and how do I become a “better” parent. The Meadows’ belief is that parents typically do the best they can with what they know. However, if you were provided limited information on healthy parenting it is going to be challenging to parent in a way you have not been taught or experienced personally. Unresolved trauma, distorted beliefs, codependence, addiction or mood disorders will all affect your relationships with partners, children, friends, coworkers etc. Clearly anyone who wants to improve their parenting skills or wants to become a “good enough parent” (adequately meets the child’s needs) the first step is doing your own work. Parents need to practice self-care, having measured vulnerability (boundary), being real, moderating self and having a knowing of their inherent value. This is the Meadows Model of Developmental Immaturity in action. Parents also need to learn to get real with what are the natural developmental behaviors of a child. When the parent doesn’t know how to handle “the nature” of the child through affirming, nurturing and setting limits it sets the child up to struggle with loving, containment and protection while being relational, practicing self care, having self awareness and having an attitude of moderation in all things. This is no small task and may require the support of professionals especially if you have unresolved trauma which is defined at The Meadows as anything less than nurturing.
Raising children is a challenging task. Raising healthy resilient children that are capable of expressing their emotions in the appropriate setting, at the right time with the appropriate degree of intensity and with the appropriate person is pure genius. Who hasn’t seen or heard a child throwing a tantrum in a mall, at a park or in a restaurant? Parenting with boundaries takes conscious awareness and intent on the part of the parent. It will not happen in the depths of depression, the intensity of anxiety or in the craziness of addiction.
Let’s be truthful even with the desire to raise children to be happy, well adjusted adults it is hard to stay focused after a long day at work, fighting kids, homework, getting dinner on the table and all of life’s day to day challenges. The good news is parents do not have to be perfect to provide effective parenting, they just need to be “good enough”. This means that the majority of the time you are meeting the needs of the child whether this is setting limits, kissing a booboo(nurturing), providing a nutritional meal, or verbalizing your joy in their uniqueness (affirming) and that you are providing “some” of their wants such as a toy, outings, outfits etc. It also means you are modeling appropriate behaviors which include utilizing boundaries.
What do you communicate nonverbally to your child or children? Does your face reflect delight in their presences or does your reflection suggest disapproval, judgment or even contempt. Do you tell your children about your relational issues, financial issues or sexual issues? Do you argue within the visual or audible space of your children or have you placed your child in the role of spouse, parent or best friend? If you have answered yes to some or all of the above questions know one you are human and as a human you will typically duplicate what is known to you and two you have had a boundary failure.
Unfortunately, boundaries are a learned behavior and if you were raised in a home that did not model boundaries you most likely have been operating in the extremes of being boundariless or walled off or bouncing back and forth between the two extremes. Fortunately, it is never too late to learn boundaries or to reap the benefits of utilizing boundaries. This in turn will allow you to use your own boundaries with your children and to teach them how to have their own boundaries.
Adult to child boundaries are unique in that as the parent part of your job is to protect the child’s vulnerability. This means you are not in a balance of power or maturity. The child cannot tell you to behave or go in a timeout. The child often doesn’t have the modeling or maturity to even recognize inappropriate behavior because the inappropriate behavior becomes what is normal to the child. Children will make sense out of the nonsense even if they have to distort their own truth in the process. An example of this is the child being told by one parent that the other parent deserves to relax as they lay passed out on the sofa or the child being told after they have been beaten that they are loved.
Adult to adult boundaries are designed to contain and protect you both physically and emotionally. This means you do not mindlessly state whatever thought enters your mind or blindly take on whatever information that is shared with you. It also means that you respect the physical space (sexual and non-sexual) of others and that you ask the same of others related to yourself. There is no blaming, shaming or judging. No assuming, mindreading, manipulating or controlling. You listen with curiosity and share to be known. What is present in adult relationships with adult to adult boundaries is equality and respect of self and others.
Children do not need robotic parents what they do need is contained parents that do not spew their own emotions all over the child or build an impenetrable wall that leaves the child emotionally and or physically disconnected. What this looks like is if the parent has had a really bad day that they get what support they need from appropriate adults. They do not become emotionally or physically unavailable. They do not take it out on the child or use the child as their support system. It also means if there are marital problems as the responsible adult that you discuss in private the issues (not yell or give the silent treatment), seek counseling if needed and do not ignore the child or use the child as a go between or confidant.
The truth of the matter is when you the adult use boundaries all areas of your life become easier to manage. This includes spouses, friends, children, coworkers, bosses, family or origin and strangers. The magic of boundaries are that you are not exhausting yourself over what others think and say, you are not taking responsibility for everything that is wrong, you are not beating yourself up for being human, you are not attempting to save or fix others, you are not taking on the emotions of others, you are not trying to make yourself into what you think others want you to be and this is just the tip of the iceberg related to the benefits that boundaries offer.
The ripple out effect of boundaries is enormous. Just think of the weight lifted off of your shoulders simply by not feeling responsible for others (meaning those who are capable of taking care of their own needs and wants). The freedom to be who you are versus the work, stress and discomfort in attempting to mold yourself into what you have believed was what you were “suppose” to be. The awaking of self in all the glory of being what you were created to be not what you were programmed to be. Can you begin to image what a parent with boundaries has to offer their children?
So how does one begin to utilize boundaries and apply them in parenting? Step one is to understand the concept of boundaries and then begin to use boundaries in all your relationships including your relationship with self. Boundaries are spiritual in nature and they are based in truth, respect and love. Therefore, any discussion will involve your undivided attention, being political in what you share, and curiosity in what another has to share. Boundaries take the need to be right out of the discussion and allow the person to be open to another person’s perception.
This all may sound impossible but in reality we often expend far more energy trying to convince another our truth is “THE TRUTH” and if we can just say it the “right” way at the “right” time they’ll get it. Or if you don’t trust your own judgment or believe you have value you can exhaust yourself chasing after validation from others that you are right and or attempting to earn our value through your actions, possessions or relationships. Lastly, if you are a sponge (no boundaries) and take on the perception or emotions of others or live behind a wall (invulnerable) you will have relational issues. The outcome of all of this typically is feeling frustrated, hurt, resentful, overwhelmed and or confused which is not a good place to be in when trying to be an effective parent.
Whereas, when we speak “our truth” without an agenda – no controlling or manipulating, listen without becoming defensive or attempting to justify our self (using a boundary) the conversation has the space to create intimacy as defined at The Meadows as into me you see. “I can be who I am in the presence of you being who you are.” What the parent models utilizing boundaries is translated for the child into I’m ok (self esteem), it is safe to explore and discover who I am (my vulnerability is protected), I don’t have to earn my value or be perfect( self identity ), I can make mistakes and be supported in learning from them (I’m human), I can ask for my wants and needs (self care) and there are reasonable and consistent consequences for behaviors that put me or others at risk or violate the rules both in and outside the home(moderation /limit setting- I can learn how to behave in a way that allows me to function in the world effectively).
Learning to use boundaries may feel similar to learning to drive a stick shift with way too many moving parts in the beginning. However, the good news is the more you use boundaries the less you have to think about them and the quicker you recognize boundary failures whether your own or someone else’s. Remember boundaries support you in regulating your emotions and processing your perceptions which then allows you to fully listen (receive) and share with truth, respect and love (give). This provides the skills for a parent to then nurture, affirm and set limits with the child which is what the child needs to thrive. Again when you take care of your own business such as trauma, addiction or mood disorders you take a lot of the work and reactivity out of your life including your role as a parent. Children do not need perfect parents! Children need parents that the majority of the time are present physically and emotionally, able to delight in the child’s presence, tuned in (listening), and meeting the needs and some of the wants of the child. This is the role of a good enough parent and it is the pathway to a child that grows up able to know that they have inherent worth and value, how to contain and protect self, knows who they are (self-identity), how to practice self care and how to have an attitude of moderation in all things (balance). Can you image all the possibilities a child has raised in this setting not to mention your own quality of life? Boundaries truly will enhance every area of your life and it will be one of the greatest legacies that you give your children.