Having our boundaries respected is one of the most common challenges in our relationship journeys. Conflict and dissatisfaction occur when our boundaries are violated, or our expectations are not met.
The problem that comes up in navigating the parenting journey is the mismatched expectations. Where we, the adult, want our child to meet our expectations, the belief being that it’s our role to ensure they can follow instructions. In the process, what can happen is that we totally disrespect our child’s right to express their boundaries.
In parenting there is this common complaint about the “strong-willed” child. That child that doesn’t follow instructions, the child that confounds our wishes.
What if the problem isn’t a strong-willed child?
What if the problem is a parent whose expectations and beliefs are not being met?
What if the child is only seeking to have their own boundaries respected?
As parents, something that we’ve got to remember is that we need to appreciate that our child has a right to an opinion. We don’t have to agree with that opinion (desire, request, action) to validate their right to have that opinion. That can be really tough for some of us, especially those of us who may have been brought up by parents, who didn’t listen to us, didn’t allow us to have our own opinions, got upset if we got mad, wanted us to be quiet to do the right thing, to behave without question.
The challenge with this attitude can be that by imposing our boundaries without enabling our child to express theirs is our child misses the opportunity to learn how to develop functional boundaries. When we impose our will, they learn that their wishes are not important, that we don’t value them.
IF our desire is to raise an emotionally intelligent and resilient adult, someone who can functionally navigate the world, make great decisions and have rewarding relationships, they need to be able to learn how to bump up against other people’s boundaries without losing themselves in the process.
Functional v Dysfunctional Boundaries
We have either have functional boundaries, or we have one way boundaries. One-way boundaries means that we are either great at protecting ourselves though may, without conscious intention, disrespect others (more of a controlling behaviour), or disrespect our own, and placate others, (more of a people pleasing or conceding behaviour). Most of us are on a continuum with these at either end at the extreme.
Dysfunctional and unresourceful boundaries are when we either allow other people to put their own beliefs on us, expect us to agree with them OR the other way around, expecting people to agree with us, putting our beliefs and expectations onto the them, and being offended if that doesn’t happen.
When we have functional boundaries we understand the edges of our world, meaning we know that other people (including our own parents) will have opinions, preferences and beliefs, and that’s about them. Adulting is being able to roll without taking things personally or getting caught in their whirlwind.
Impact of Parenting Styles.
Dysfunction boundary development is a particular challenge if we were brought up in families with authoritarian or permissive parents. What’s more, there is no definite which side we will have come from because it’s how we, as a child then decided what we needed to do to keep ourselves emotionally, and sometimes physically safe.
I am watching this in action with my now adult children. I am beginning to appreciate the impact of the parenting relationship pathway we had together. How their individual behaviour profiles responded to the environment that was created that they formed their identity within. I am beginning to recognise that without conscious awareness, I was often disrespectful by being focused on my wants first ie to keep them doing what I wanted.
My oldest was a child who had (and btw still has at 39) very strong needs to win. As someone who had a similar tendency, my mum was highly anxious and just wanted us to “be good”, I was always pushing to have my voice heard, driving mum crazy by wanting to have the last say. With the “shark music” of wanting to be heard and my desire to “not be like mum” I had to learn how to graciously respect my son’s right to express his desires.
Circle of Security Knowledge Gaps
At the time, I didn’t have awareness that as the adult, I had more capability to manage my responses (even if I didn’t want to). It’s amongst the impacts of missing the development of a segment of our circle of security. Without having the full range of emotional maturity, we end up responding in childlike ways, due to the lack of intrinsic skills in that segment.
Having gaps on the circle of security is how we end up repeating the tribal cycle. When a child is in an unpredictable environment, such as being with a parent/carer who isn’t consistent or is emotionally volatile they end up on edge. This can evolve into hypervigilance as they try to prepare to handle what we think, how we might react, what might happen to them. This is a lot of pressure for a little kid, who’s just trying to figure out how to BE.
It’s the purpose of validation.
We can validate the child’s feelings/wants, that doesn’t mean we’re approving of their behaviour or words. The validation is about us demonstrating the acknowledgement of them and right to express their boundary in that moment. It’s important to listen without judgment, justification or defensiveness. Because as soon as we say something like, but you can’t do that, to me, we’ve gone into judgment. We’ve moved the focus from our desire to support them learn, to having our expectations met first.
They may receive the lesson, but they get a truckload of other stuff as well. And it’s the truckload of other stuff, which is what damages their self-esteem. It’s not something any of us are choosing to do consciously. I know you have best intentions, the problem is, that children can’t interpret for intentions.
Enabling Emotional Intelligence.
If the mission is to create and enable your child to have great self-esteem, we must think about those boundaries, we have to consider that when they’re melting down, they’re not doing it on purpose, they’ve got a problem. Even if you don’t like the behaviour, in that moment, it’s not our job to tell them what we want (first). It’s our job to support them with acknowledging their own feelings, appreciating what’s going on for them, supporting them to get clarity about what’s going on, so that they learn how to think. Accepting that they don’t yet understand everything. We’re supporting them to learn how to process their experiences, acknowledge their feelings so that they can learn how to manage them as their neurology matures and they can take charge of themselves.
For some of us, I know, having been there, that it can seem unfair to have to look out for them first. The thing is, I am assuming that you want to break the pattern of how you experienced your childhood. That means, that we must do something different.
Break the OLD Pattern
What I know is that I had to move from what I didn’t know I didn’t know, through accepting that the choice on how to proceed was in my hands. I had to learn how to become that person. The mother that I wished I’d had. That I wished I’d been when my kids were little.
My deepest desire for you is that you discover that you are enough, that you are worthy and that the magic of becoming a confident parent is in becoming your ultimate self. That person who has healthy boundaries. That person who understands the edges of their world, without disrespecting other people’s boundaries, especially your children’s. So that they learn how to have healthy boundaries, like you never had the opportunity to fully form when you were growing up.