At our house this month we are talking about boundaries because we don’t seem to have a good grasp of the concept. Why you ask? Because I am hearing things like this: “Stop bugging me!!! That is my boundary!” and “I need you all to stop talking so I can listen to my music. That is my boundary.” And when sister A got mad at sister B for her yelling at her about her boundaries, sister A threw a cup at sister B’s head. That was apparently her boundary.
As a student of boundaries myself I am troubled that my kiddos haven’t picked this up by now. I have made it clear how my children can speak to me, when their chores are to be finished, and what happens when we are out in public and they don’t want to listen to me. I took Casey on a trip across country and we stayed with gracious relatives. After a long day of entertaining us the mom had stuff to do, so I volunteered to take the kiddos to dinner. Once we sat down at the restaurant the boys immediately started playing video games. I said, “Hey guys, let’s order first then you can play your games” to which I received absolutely no reaction. I said it again. No reaction. I realized I needed to make my boundaries clear and stated, “If we cannot chose our dinner by the time the waitress comes over, we are out of here.” Casey’s eyes grew wide and a look of alarm came over her face. She turned to the boys and with some urgency, shouted, “She’ll do it! She means it! Pick something, hurry.” And they did. And we had a nice meal. It’s good to feel successful as a parent if only for just a moment.
Anyhoo since I am raising normal kids I have found that they don’t always speak to me in a calm or respectful manner (understatement) or even think about doing their chores. And that is why boundaries need consequences. Any limit I set must be accompanied by reinforcement. Instead of forcing them to do what I want, I need to focus on reinforcing my boundaries. If you scream at me I will not listen and I will leave the room or I will send you to yours. If you don’t do your chores I will do them at the rate of $20 per hour and take the money out of your allowance. If you won’t get ready for school on time, you will go in your pajamas. (And then I hope she wears her good pajamas that day so she doesn’t look like she’s been living on the streets.)
So this week I am teaching my daughters how to bring in their own reinforcements. When they are feeling irritated by one another, which happens a lot with three teens and a tween,
(1) I want them to own their feelings because they can only control that which they own. Boundaries are about controlling ourselves and those things we are responsible for and not about controlling others. That is why “Stop bugging me” is not a boundary. “the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23.
(2) I want them to set their boundary by asking for what they want. I’d like some space; can you sit somewhere else? I need some peace and quiet; can you hold it down? It’s important for them to define what they want not just what they don’t want. And since we can ask someone to respect our boundary, but we can never force him or her,
(3) I want them to reinforce their boundary. I think this is the hardest part of all and yet the most significant. Without reinforcements my children will constantly be frustrated and feel powerless around others, which is not good when trying to promote family unity, but with reinforcements (options such as go to another room, close the door, or choose not to hang out with that person) they can get their needs met and enjoy good boundaries and nice relationships. And all without throwing a cup at someone’s head.