When I asked readers to vote on which of these 8 books I should talk about next, I got a strong vote for Boundaries With Kids.
I was expecting that boundaries would help me with parenting so I was excited to read it, but I got as far as the point where it said kids need parents with healthy boundaries (in order for them to learn and respect boundaries) and that my kids will wear me down if I don’t take care of myself, specifically regarding supportive relationships and time to myself. So I put down Boundaries With Kids and picked up Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. You can read my post about how to add margin and escape overload. I really enjoyed reading the book and considering the equation of power and load that can result in margin or overload. I love when I read books close together that inform each other, and I think the concept of margin provides the perfect context and starting place for a discussion of boundaries. We need mental space and energy in order to learn and practice habits that will improve our relationships, especially as parents because parenting children is constant and children have so much to learn.
So my takeaway about margin for boundaries was that I need less stuff, fewer commitments, more margin and deeper, authentic relationships – so that I can actually put boundaries in place and practice limits and parent in a way that is aimed at character development.
After reading Margin, I started with the original book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries. The basics of boundaries include:
- accepting the consequences of your actions
- taking responsibility for yourself
- embracing the power you have to control your emotions and decisions
- accepting the boundaries of others (when they say no)
- allowing others to decide how to react to your boundaries
- communicating your boundaries clearly as necessary and appropriate
In this first book they go in depth about the different ways individuals can struggle with healthy boundaries, and the roots are often a combination of personality and upbringing. If you have any dysfunctional relationships that keep your life from being in balance, you might want to read this book. But I think for most of us, we have fairly healthy relationships, and we manage fairly well – being adults and dealing with adults.
As parents we have an incredible responsibility to teach our children about boundaries and to model healthy boundaries. If you look at the list above and think about teaching those things to someone else, that may feel like quite a challenge. It is, but I think being intentional about our own lives and getting into the right attitude toward our children and our role as parents will make the progress natural and rewarding – not easy – but doable and incredibly worthwhile.
Boundaries are the “property lines” between people. Children are not born with this understanding, we have to teach it to them. Here is how the parenting book about Boundaries starts. In a nutshell: Your character is your destiny. Most of our problems result from weakness in our character. Your real goal in parenting is to develop your child’s character.
Wow. Did you know that? I feel like maybe I knew that, but I really needed this book to tell me that again.
They say on pg 15:
If a person’s character makeup determines his future, then child rearing is primarily about helping children to develop character that will take them through life safely, securely, productively, and joyfully.
Here is how they define character:
Character refers to a person’s ability and inability, his moral makeup, his functioning in relationships, and how he does tasks. What does he do in certain situations, and how does he do it? When he needs to perform, how will he meet those demands? Can he love? Can he be responsible? Can he have empathy for others? Can he deal with failure? How does he reflect the image of God? These are a few of the issues that define character.
When you set clear boundaries you help your children to know who they are, what they’re responsible for, the freedom they have to make choices, and the reality that they get the consequences of those choices, good or bad. Boundaries enable children to understand true love and true freedom.
The core principles involved in developing healthy boundaries are self-control, responsibility, freedom and love. Being responsible is more than just chores it means understanding ownership. As appropriate for their age, children need to exercise ownership of their personhood and life. As parents we need to allow them to take responsibility for their feelings, decisions, abilities, actions and dreams. We want our children to be loving. Loving people respect the boundaries of others. Exercising freedom means taking responsibility for your choices. As we exercise self-control and allow our children to reap what they sow in the small areas of life early on, they will have the opportunity to experience freedom and learn to exercise self control.
Teaching boundaries means giving them a safe age-appropriate environment in which to grow, learn, fail and succeed. When you state consequences, stick to them. Don’t bend the rules and don’t rescue your child. I think that was one of my biggest takeaways. Teach kids about reality, success comes one step at a time. Laziness has consequences. Your children are free to live the life they want if they take responsibility for their choices. They are not a victim.
All of our parenting should be character-oriented, facilitating in our children a process of growth that gains knowledge, develops abilities and faces negative traits and changes them.
This will require character growth for us as parents, and we will all be the better for it. Everything I’m reading is starting to make me realize how truly lazy our culture is becoming. Character building may not sound exciting, but if that’s true we need to reframe our thinking. I think along with authentic relationships it is a key to the future we want for our families.
What is one way you could enable your children to take ownership of one of these things: their feelings, decisions, abilities, actions, dreams? For each of your children pick a category and then one regular activity you can hold them accountable for.