Tag Archives: the importance of boundaries in love–parenting

Trending Easy III Ugly is OK

Wasn’t there a song once, “Parents don’t let your kids grow up to be cowboys”? Is that because cowboys do whatever they want? Because they grow up rebellious?

They used to be rebelling against over-controlling or absentee parents. Researchers call it authoritarian (high control, low nurture) and neglectful (low control, low nurture) parenting. The last one can be parents who are there but not engaged. Often because they weren’t taught how to engage. Both types were coming from what was given them, they just didn’t know how to parent and didn’t know how to get help. Often men say, “Well, I turned out ok, so they will too.” When their kids and wives are saying to themselves Uh, you are not ok!

Those are the two most undesirable forms of parenting. The other two are the most desirable. Best is authoritative–High control, high nurture, second best is permissive–low control, high nurture, according to the study done by the University of Minnesota, (one of the leaders in education).

It’s hard to look at ourselves, but it is really important. How are you inside? We are all products of where we came from; no, you won’t be perfect, but you could be interested, communicating,  present and strong enough to set limits and hold them.

I’ve said before that boundaries make a kid secure. They constitute fences that the child or teen can push against and know they won’t move. It makes the child feel loved. Someone cares enough to stand up and fight with me and for me–my true self. That means a parent has to be strong.

What has inspired this blog on parenting, yet again, is kids programming. The shows that I see movie trailers and previews for are scary for values. They are rude and crude, not to mention they move too fast and are too loud and too bright. That was my experience of kids TV with my grandsons a couple of years ago. Nickelodeon, and another I don’t remember now, were really bad for that. After watching it for 2 hours in a motel room with them I felt like I had ADD or ADHD–way over-stimulated, exhausted and a little crazy. But the rudeness in all the shows was really objectionable and supposed to be funny. It wasn’t funny at all.

I was telling my daughter about it and she said that is why she never lets them watch those. I was glad to hear it.

This week my husband and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy just for something fun. Someone had told me it was light and fun, and her value system is pretty close to mine, so we went for a fun date. It was pretty much like kids programming–loud and flamboyant, rude and crude. It took me a while to figure out what the values encased in it were. Here’s what I came out with: the galaxy is full of a bunch of bad dudes of various colors and ugliness, all fighting each other, and Ego describes himself as “a god little g” who seems to be good but ends up wanting to make everything like him, and so has to be destroyed, and the bad guys turn out to be good guys in the end–that was a little troubling. Their saving grace was caring about others. So not terrible, but there wasn’t much value on life. One of the “good” characters says, Let’s go see if he’s for real and if not, we’ll just kill him.” Some of the dialogue is pretty rough and a lot of killing. And at first I thought they were saying evil is good and good is evil, but then decided it was–not everything is what it seems.

I wonder how I will feel if my grandsons went to see it and liked it. I guess I would want to know what they liked about it. The guardians of the Galaxy certainly aren’t someone I would want as role models for them! As I said last week, it seems our country is getting a lot more rude and crude.

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Trending Easy – Part 2

Last time I wrote about how tricky it is to focus on a child–even in love. It is often stored in them as anxiety–the parent’s angst says to the child that he/she is not adequate.

So how do we build resilience in our children? Why must we let them suffer? Does that even make sense?

Yes! An over-solicitous parent is an anxious parent. A wise parent trusts the natural course of development and God. Struggle is how we grow. Is it easy for a child to learn to crawl or walk? No. But they are so motivated, and we are so motivated for them to learn, the struggle doesn’t seem bad. Is it bad if we keep a child from crawling? Yes. It eliminates a developmental task which affects how the parts of your brain process together.

It isn’t easy for them to learn to talk or run or read or anything we value for them. Do they misjudge? Constantly! Do they fall? Of course, and if we are overly concerned we create fear of trying.

We want to build resilience in them: the belief that they can do it, and falling is a normal part of learning to walk and run. We don’t want to push them before they feel ready, but neither do we want to replace their effort with fear or doubting their ability. Struggle is trying something new. It’s necessary to development all through life. And easier if you have a sense of I can do this.

That doesn’t change even though the tasks get harder to accomplish, and your questions and fears as a parent grow.  And that takes us to boundaries. They are so important for the child’s security. Feeling safe is critical to development. Safety comes from knowing you have parents who are in charge.

I role-played the child in a class once where a parent was leaning over me screaming to clean up. I knew I was in charge because the parent had lost control. It was a profound experience. And it didn’t feel safe.

For a child to know they are in control makes them feel crazy. It is way too much stress. I know a child who isn’t even 1 year old who runs her parents. You probably do too. It’s an epidemic wearing out our children and making them insecure and angry. It is too much power. Too much responsibility. A child needs to hear “No.”

A client told me this week that her friend who owns a daycare said people who work in daycare are being taught to tell parents not to say “No” to their children! I about flipped. There goes their children’s security. You don’t have to say it in anger or harshly or even loudly. But you need to say it AND make it stick. You have to follow through. That gives safety, security, and rest to your child. It makes a happy child. Of course they will throw fits, that is their job, to push you and see if you mean it. You are the parent. You are the adult. You are in charge–they need you to be, so they can relax.

This poor little girl who runs her system because the parents can’t say “No” comes to her babysitter exhausted every Monday morning, and seems relieved. And she turns one next month. Her mom just went on anxiety meds. Isn’t that sad? We are so afraid of ruining our children it has gotten crazy. The pendulum has swung WAY over to the other side. Children need boundaries!

I wish I could shout it from the rooftops! You are making your children crazy with all their power and decisions and lack of boundaries and consequences. Please give them some loving discipline. We have made a generation of entitled adults. Everyone wants their rights. What will it be like when these children are adults, insecure and demanding? When freedom is interpreted as no law?

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Trending Easy – Part 1

I don’t know if parents have always struggled with this or if it’s a new phenomenon, but I’m seeing child idolatry mushrooming by people I respect, admire, and believe in their spirituality.

In fact, I was guilty of it, and might now question my own spiritual hardness if I hadn’t just had an epiphany on it.

I have a dear friend who I think is an amazing mother, she is doing a lot right that I did wrong–taking time to be present and enjoy her daughter. She is also a great encourager, and does have boundaries, but she is creating an anxious child by her own anxiety. What anxiety? Being afraid to let the child suffer or struggle. I watched as she on two occasions anticipated the child’s discomfort and managed it instead of letting the child learn the rudiments of coping.

The 2 yr-old started to squirm in her highchair in a restaurant and the parent took her out and sat her on her lap. It happened again the next day at home. The daughter started to squirm and the mother asked if she wanted down without requiring the child to learn containment since the meal was still in progress. And she allowed her to keep eating. Another golden opportunity lost.

We are close friends and I have explained that the child’s security comes by knowing that the parent is in charge. I have explained that the task for age two is trust–that it is easier for a child to trust a parent who sets limits and follows through with them. That is just common sense, and she agreed. But she can’t stand for her child to be disappointed, cry, or suffer in any way. I’ve watched as she tries to make sure that everything is completely risk free, and happy; disappointment is avoided. It’s almost creepy that the child is learning fear–the opposite of her mother’s intent. (She has already read and ok’d this.)

I also watched a father with his 2-yr-old son, the father got worked and the son got his way. The little boy didn’t want to sit in his highchair in the restaurant we were at. The father started by telling him to sit down repeatedly, to which the son said, “No,” and the father put him on his lap.

I know him well also, and I know he has no trouble saying “No” to his older sons and requiring hard things of them (I sometimes wish he was gentler). I knew he didn’t want to be hard to the 2-yr-old, didn’t want the child to start crying, didn’t want to give him a swat; and suddenly a scripture came into my mind. “The kindness of God is meant to lead you to a change of heart.” (Rom 2:5)

The thought warmed my heart, and I began to wonder, does that work on broken people? especially children? It has to, or God wouldn’t use it. I do believe it’s His first plan of action, if we would (could) respond to kindness. And I do think it works on some people (obviously better on adults), but probably not most of us. Why not?

Some of us weren’t able to accomplish trust as our first task. Our parents or others abused us before age two, or our parents were two weak or afraid to keep others from abusing us. Other parents were too wrapped up in their own feelings and needs to set any boundaries, and let us do whatever we wanted. Some parents were absentee by addictions, and their little ones didn’t learn trust either. But isn’t it sad that the ditch of too much love is just as bad as the ditch of abuse!

Favored children often end up in addictions of various kinds, or just being highly anxious and dysfunctional. My own father was one such person. The anxiety of the parent is passed down to the child for various reasons. In my dad’s case he almost died of pneumonia as a toddler. So I guess we can’t really say it’s too much love–it’s really too much anxiety–too much fear! Fear of losing the child, fear of abusing the child, fear of ruining the child, fear of failing the child (being a bad parent), and the worst one: fear the child won’t love us. These are problems given by indulgent, loving, (anxious) parents.

Having said that, I think it’s better to over-love than neglect or abuse. But wouldn’t it be better to face your fear so you don’t hand it down to your child? A parent who is willing to face himself/herself will learn a wealth of information that will allow his/her own healing, and make them more open to God’s love. He will help. You only have to ask.

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Perspective on Parents and Parenting

I think I’ve said before that vacations are always an education. This one was no different, except that I am understanding more clearly than ever how little power I have to influence change. That’s good. Someday I may even be able to visit my kids without making them uncomfortable.

They all have their struggles. Thank God I am down the road a piece. In one household I tiptoe around for fear I’ll get dirty. In the other two I tiptoe around for fear I’ll get something dirty.

It makes me thankful that my husband and I have grown together, and at least are in synch about how to keep house. It’s not a pig-sty, but I don’t feel bad if the baseboards aren’t dusted or the windows haven’t been cleaned…Uh oh, now I’ve caught myself–I just felt bad a couple of weeks ago that my windows didn’t get cleaned before I had company. But it had been a while and I didn’t feel too bad.

I couldn’t comfortably live with either of my daughters. But how can they be so different when I raised both of them? Different genetics? One is biological, one is adopted. The crazy part is I keep seeing more of myself in both of them. And it’s usually the things I want to “correct” in them!

I am getting better about telling them what they should do. I guess I thought mothers were supposed to do that. That was my modeling. But they don’t like it any more than I did at 30! Imagine that!

At least I’m closer to them than I was to my mother. I never doubted her love, I just never felt her approval. She still corrected the way I dusted her furniture when I was in my 40’s. No wonder I’ve never liked dusting!

And yes, there are still some things I can’t keep my mouth shut about. Mostly about parenting and relationships. I’m supposed to be an expert so I feel a little less like it’s coming across just as my opinionated interference. And I am trying to be more loving in the way I express it. But two things, at least, will always pop my cork, one of them being a parent, and the other not being a victim.

Making wise decisions for your children instead of expecting them to raise themselves and know what’s good for them, really sets me off. If they were born knowing, why would they need us? Yet so many people don’t want to fight with their kids, or make boundaries and hold them with consequences! So many want to make their kids happy instead of making them wise, respectful, and responsible. And it is SO wrong! They don’t want to hurt them so they do nothing. But it does hurt.

The kids are the ones who suffer from poor parenting. And many times they don’t even know it. They don’t learn how to eat, they don’t learn how to treat others, they don’t learn how to work or take care of things or themselves because no one taught them. They suffer. Society suffers.

And of course there’s the other side where all the parents ever do is yell and the kids don’t learn anything except fear and victimization. There’s no expressed love, no education, no time spent. Parents are wrapped up in trying to be happy. Very often the parents were victimized and are in such a bad relationship that they are consumed by it because they never learned how to be close and communicate from their parents.

After 25 years as a family therapist, and 35 years as a parent, and 30 as a step parent, I have to be amazed and simply thank God that He can somehow love us, and accept us, and parent us, and make us whole, even as wretched and ignorant and fearful and miserable and unparented and un-insightful and unaware and un-self-aware and different (and opinionated) as we are. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.


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What is Emotional Health?

Thinking about emotional health, I have decided that the video of Brene Brown on  my site http://Godhelps.net is better than anything I could say.

I started to write this last week, but was too focused on the parenting talk I gave this week, in which I ended with her remarks, “We should give the message to our kids, ‘even though you are imperfect, you are worthy of love and belonging, and you are hard-wired for struggle’.”

Take the 20 minutes to watch it and expand your mind. Besides, she is entertaining–a wonderful quality in any speaker, but especially in a social researcher. This TED talk is the culmination of her six year study of vulnerability, and well worth the time.

And because it bears repeating, I ended my talk with “Don’t do for your kids things they should be doing. Don’t take away their struggle. Like the butterfly, they need it to become beautiful.” I really believe that. But I failed at it as a parent. So I’m passing it on to you who haven’t failed or at least haven’t finished parenting yet.

When I asked about my mistakes, my daughter, who was 30 said, “I wish you had been harder on me–made me deal with hard things.”

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rigid or Relational?

Had an interesting thought this morning–you can’t be both rigid and relational. Not really. Rigidity tends to squash relationships. Some of you are really bugged that I didn’t capitalize rigid in the title. You might be one of those who feels there is only one way and it’s yours–doesn’t leave much room for another person–their thoughts, wishes, idiosyncrasies. Don’t feel bad, I’ve spent some time in that camp.

I grew up there. My mother believed their was only one way to do things and it was hers. But she wasn’t rigid about her perspective on people. Maybe it’s because she’d been talking to God since she was 12. Literally, she would hear Him speaking to her through scripture–the first time was when she was 12 sitting out under a tree watching the sunset and reading Isaiah 43.

I didn’t think of that right off this morning, though; I thought about how I’ve had to grow out of my belief that God is rigid, because of course He couldn’t be, He is too relational. Many times I’ve told Him, “You give us way too much freedom!” When I’ve been realizing how easily we make mistakes–sometimes big ones–even when we are well-intentioned.

I guess I thought He was rigid because I believed you have to do things His way–like my mother. Scripture is full of details God gave to people, especially his “chosen people”. You can come away thinking God is pickyunish (that’s worse than just picky).

But here we must understand two things: one, He was setting up a symbolic system of teaching. Anything you didn’t follow to the letter destroyed the message He was trying to give. It got distorted because they were into just doing it and not understanding the symbolism or Him, which was why He gave it.

The second is that He wanted to bless them, not magically, but through living within the laws of their beings. He knows how humans work and what they need physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. So he gave them His “wisdom”–His laws–the way things work– so they could live in harmony with themselves and nature and be healthy.

He wanted them to be Blessed Beyond Belief, the head, and not the tail of all nations. He wanted to show the world (and the universe) that He was good and could be trusted, through them. Most of all He wanted a relationship with each person, but they weren’t good at understanding that. They’d come from slavery where the focus was obedience, and when they got free it was time to party! (“we can do whatever we want”).

God knew better than “If you love them they’ll be good,” where love is letting them do whatever they want. He knew they needed strong boundaries. (Lack of boundaries is the biggest problem in parenting today.) Imagine taking 3,000,000 fifth-graders camping!

They needed boundaries because of their mentality. Children need them to feel secure and loved. “No” is more important than “yes” as a parent. It provides security and strength–freedom within boundaries develops personhood. Children who have all the power in a system feel crazy and out-of-control. Many of them suffer from anxiety.

So while sometimes God looks rigid in the Old Testament scriptures, maybe the best word to describe Him and good parenting is purposeful.  The way he related was related to the needs and collective consciousness of the people. His principles never change, but his methods and rules often do.  God is so relational in the Old and New Testaments that most people think it’s two different beings. But it was the people and their needs, their perspectives, that changed so drastically.

If God is anything, He is relational, even quantum physics is showing us that!



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