Monday, April 18, 2011

The Value of Good Boundaries

Setting up boundaries in the family can bring order to the chaos and it really isn’t the hardest part of parenting.  It's fairly easy to identify the regularly occurring events in family life that need clear expectations:  Leaving for school, homework, chores, bedtime, friends over, curfew, activities.  First make a decision, then an announcement “the car leaves at 7:20.” Now you have a policy boundary.  If the kids are buckled in with their appropriate gear and shoes on their feet – the expectation has been met and you are well on your way to a smoother routine.  If Anne can’t find her back pack and Lizzy is still in pajamas . . . now you’ve found the hard part. 
Boundary enforcement is a bummer.
Without enforcement your boundary is a wish, or worse, a broken promise.  It is the fairy dust that makes change stick for families.  Often parents equate enforcement with punishment which is one way to enforce a boundary.  Maybe the kids go to bed 10 minutes earlier because the car didn’t leave until 7:30. Maybe there are more chores to make up for the time mom had to scramble to help search for shoes and clothes for Lizzy.  You might want to thing about problem solving with the kids-this can also be a great way to enforce a boundary.  “Hey guys we need to leave at 7:20 tomorrow- what can we do tonight to make that possible?” Once you get the kids buy-in you might be surprised at the insight they bring to the brainstorming table. “My shoes are never in the same place, I need help to organize them.” “Anne turns off the alarm when she wakes up, I always end up sleeping late.”  You just don’t get this kind of wisdom from punishment alone. 
Yesterday in church I saw two families working on a difficult boundary.  What do you do when your child has to go to the bathroom during a particularly sacred part of the church service? 
One mom shook her head no, tried patiently to ignore her little boy's whining and wiggling, but when he grabbed onto his private parts and spoke louder than the priest- she caved.  It was a tricky issue.  Her son went multiple times to the bathroom throughout church, the whole family looked frazzled.
When the mom next to me was asked the same question by her son, she leaned down and whispered “As soon as the homily is over I will take you.” Knowing there was relief in sight satisfied her son temporarily.  Sure enough, when the homily was over they excused themselves quietly.  A promise made and kept.  This family had a more peaceful experience.
What boundaries are hard for you to enforce?  What boundaries have made life easier in your family?

1 comment:

  1. "What boundaries have made life easier in your family?" Childproof drawers and locks on doors!

    Seriously, I'd like to read more on setting up boundaries for toddlers. Our little guy tests ours all the time. I'm never sure if that's growth--or defiance.