When I was a little girl, I lived on a busy road with lots of cars, but I loved to play outside with my friends. One day before leaving for work, my mom took a bottle of leftover glitter gold spray paint and sprayed a line on the sidewalk and said, “Don’t cross this line. And you’ll be safe from traffic.”
Being the rule follower I am, I never crossed that line. But one day, I had an adventurous friend that came over and she crossed right over that line with a proud smile. I didn’t even know what to make of it. Does she not care about respecting boundaries?! I wondered. Because while my little mind was stressed as I watched her walk near the traffic, her little mind was joyful.
Boundaries and Parenting
When I think of this story, I can’t help but laugh because the world is filled with boundary breakers and boundary respecters. And if you have a child, you have witnessed this reality firsthand. From the time a child begins to walk and move, you can quickly see if they like to respect the boundaries, push the boundaries or just run past the boundaries with their diaper off.
No matter what type of child you have, it doesn’t take long as a parent before you begin to see how necessary boundaries are to keep your children safe and secure. Yet enforcing them can also be challenging when our children get unhappy with us for being the “bad guy” instead of the parent that lets them do what they want.
As parents, it’s important to remember that being a good parent means there will be times that we have to be the bad guy for the sake of prioritizing our child’s well-being over their desire to have fun. So here are some guidelines to keep in mind when seeking to set healthy boundaries and feel good about them.
Children will have plenty of friends in their lifetime, but only one set of parents.
Before you can think of setting healthy boundaries, it’s important to remember that you are not your child’s friend. Instead, you are the one and only parent your child will have (unless you’re in a blended family and then they are blessed with a few.) And as a parent, your role is unique and special because you are here to love, enjoy, guide, teach, and protect your child. While that should involve having fun with them, fun is not the only priority because love prioritizes what is best for them at the moment. Having fun is not always the most important.
Healthy relationships have boundaries based on respect.
If you were to study successful relationships in the world, you would quickly see that healthy boundaries are a part of them. Boundaries allow for respect to be demonstrated and shown to the people within the relationships. This also means that for your child to feel respected and for you to feel respect in return, you must set boundaries for your child. It teaches them about respect toward you and how to show this same respect to others. (For example, you can’t yell in my face or a teacher’s face, and I can’t yell in your face or my boss’s face.)
Boundaries protect our children from physical and emotional harm.
Sometimes to feel freedom in setting healthy boundaries, we must remember why we set them. We don’t set boundaries for our children because we want to be drill sergeants or because we want to control them. Instead, we set boundaries for our children because we desire to protect them. Teaching our children the reason behind a boundary is an easy way to help them understand why it’s there. (For example, “You can’t cross the street without looking. Cars are not expecting you to be there, so they aren’t ready to stop and can hit you.”)
Children ultimately feel love through boundaries.
When I was in high school, I was friends with someone that could stay out as late as they wanted. While my parents didn’t have a set curfew every night, they always told me a time they wanted me home. As we were leaving my house one night, my friend looked over at me and said, “I wish my mom gave me a curfew.” And I remember feeling shocked. But it was the perfect example of how boundaries demonstrate love and care. We think our kids whining about a boundary means they don’t like it. But ultimately, it helps them feel our love as they see our care behind it.
Boundaries should be reasonable and flexible.
While boundaries are necessary, they don’t have to be rigid. There are time boundaries that can stretch or sway based on circumstance. Often, flexibility versus rigidity allows for more success in respecting the boundaries we set. While it’s important to have a bedtime or naptime, there are times when letting these things be flexible can make for a fun experience or memory together. Every parent has to decide when a boundary is necessary and when a boundary has room to flex. But rigidity is often a recipe for frustration so remember to give yourself and your child room to enjoy each other too!
As you consider what boundaries to set as a parent, remember that boundaries must exist in healthy relationships. But that doesn’t mean those relationships can’t be fun!