Parents Need Boundaries, Too
by Carrie Kerr
Recently I presented a workshop for daycare providers on developmentally appropriate behavior. Each behavior was presented in age groups. We addressed ideas such as: Would you expect a 3 month old to mouth objects? How about a 6 month old? A 12-month-old? 18-month-old? And so on. When I got to the behavior of hitting we went through the same sequence. Do you think a 1 year old will hit? Yes. How about an 18 month old? Yes. A 2-year-old? Yes. Three? The answers started wavering here. I heard a lot of "No, they shouldn't hit at three!" And a 4-year-old? Even more "no's." I normally finished the series of questions at age 5, but for this category I decided to go on. "How about adults?" I asked, "Should they hit?" The eyes of my audience connected with mine. Ah ha! No, they should not, but do they? Yes, unfortunately, many do.
We often discuss how children need boundaries. Without boundaries children are confused and are more likely to experiment with inappropriate or undesirable behavior. As a parent, I have found that setting boundaries for my own behavior is necessary as well. Just as "no hitting" exists as a rule for children in daycare or schools it is also a rule I have for myself.
I am surprised that I have had to remind myself of this rule at times. After all, I am completely against punishment. I have learned, however, that there are times when my human nature challenges me. It is at these times that I am so grateful that I have boundaries set for myself. If I feel the urge to spank my child it is at that point that I know I have lost control. I then know that I must be overwhelmed and I really need to walk away and come back to the situation when I have a more level head. As a result, I have never hit one of my children.
As my children have grown I realize I need to continually keep myself in check. Just as our children are given new rules and boundaries as they get older, I have given myself new rules and boundaries. Most recently I have realized a need for an anger boundary. Too many nights I have gone to bed wondering if I was too hard on my daughter. Was her behavior so out of line, or was it my reaction that was out of line? My repeated guilt directed me towards some serious self-evaluation and a new boundary. If my child does something that has really made me mad I am allowed to say, "I am very unhappy about (x). I am so unhappy that I'm not going to talk to you about this for 5 minutes."
While a 5-minute hold on the discussion may seem insignificant for another parent, it is extremely important for me. I tend to over react to situations. I set off in an angry lecturing rampage about just how awful a certain situation is. Five minutes of self-containment is a huge restriction for me! However, time and time again I thank myself for taking 5 minutes before I come back to address the behavior. It gives me time to calm down, for the impulsive anger to subside, and to see the situation through a clearer lens. I am amazed that quite often it is no longer even a big deal. I usually just dismiss it or follow up with a much calmer and appropriate logical consequence.
In my earlier parenting days I had to set a spanking boundary with myself. It forced me to be more creative in my disciplining techniques and ultimately led to a more trusting, secure, and loving household. I no longer need to remind myself of that boundary, as the thought of spanking never flickers in my mind anymore. I am hopeful that the same will become true for my anger impulses. I know I will need to continue with these self-evaluation and boundary procedures throughout my parenting career, even when I am being a parent to adult children.
What do you go to bed feeling guilty about? Are you being too hard on yourself, or is it a nagging guilt that needs to be addressed? Perhaps it is time to set a new boundary for yourself, one that will ultimately strengthen your character as a mother, father, spouse, or friend. The next time you give your child a new boundary because he/she has grown to a new level, go ahead and give yourself a new boundary as well. It will lead you down the road to peaceful parenting!
Carrie Kerr is a mother to 3 children: Natalie ('98), Kate ('00), and Julius ('04). She is a co-founder and co-leader of API of Peoria, Il which has been active since December of '99. Carrie is married to her high school sweetheart, Matt. They homeschool their children in rural Washington, Illinois with the intention of just getting through one day at a time!