A happy, feel-good blog for the Christmas season? Kind of like the 12 days of Christmas? Sorry, this one isn’t it! I do hope it’s helpful, however – especially since ’tis the season to be with family!
In my last post, I talked about boundaries. Naturally, many of you started looking at where your fear of boundaries originally came from, and where you struggle. And some of you started to notice how you influence your children, or how you were influenced as children.
So I wanted to make an easy cheat sheet for you. Here are 12 basic places boundaries issues creep in with children. See if you don’t recognize some of these from the home life you grew up in. Since the Holidays are coming, hopefully this will be helpful material to understand your own quirks…
1) Guilting children. Essentially, making your child responsible for your need to be loved, your need to have an ally, etc. This creates a pattern of fear of intimacy, fear of commitment, and fear of showing up. (Sadly, this one is hugely common for mothers to their sons! Yup, probably you…)
Solution: Connecting to your own personal sense of safety and security helps you to notice that you are loved and that you have an inner ally who is unsurpassed at supporting you! When you are really grounded in that place, your children are free to hate you or love you according to what is going on for them.
2) Hovering – a.k.a. helicopter parenting. This is when you control many aspects of your child’s experience under the guise of “keeping them safe,” stepping in to save them from all consequences. This creates out-of-control children who have no impulse control, no internal grounding, and no self-awareness. These children are often rejected by friends, by schools – they are labeled “hard to manage” and “challenging to be around.” And as adults, these stigmas become more reason to never risk or challenge themselves. By hovering, the parent is thinking they are “keeping my child safe,” but in the child’s shoes it’s a direct message that the world and other people are unsafe. Sadly, they rarely evolve out of this.
Solution: Adopt a parenting mantra: “How does this support my child’s need to be authentic?” This will help you keep front-and-center the knowledge that, as a parent, you help your child to be their own person in the world. It’s when you’re unclear on the mission that you default to “keep them safe!”
3) Shaming your children’s emotions. “You will not get angry at me!” or “Stop crying, we don’t act like that in front of people. Cheer up, I want to see a smile!” This creates a very confused place for children with their emotions. As adults, they learn to suppress their emotions in order to get love, often creating very unhappy relationships or work life, and illness.
Solution: Children are welcome to express their emotions, but in private. A sacred refuge, sometimes called a time-out space, or a calming space, is the perfect place for that. And if you are in public, a quiet spot outside the restaurant, like a courtyard or deck, etc., is perfect; you can stand beside them, perhaps with your back turned, and give them 5-10 minutes to express and reground themselves.
4) Needing your children to be physically affectionate with you, or family or friends, as a way to show love or be polite. “Give Daddy a hug. He has had a hard day, so sit on his lap and snuggle with him.” This creates a sense that the child’s main purpose is to serve and please others, making them feel that they have no rights of their own—their existence or worthiness is solely to please others.
Solution: Ask your child if they would like a hug. “Do you feel like a hug right now? Daddy just got home, I’m sure he would like to snuggle you.” ” Would you like a hug? Aunt Janet is a great huger!”Be sure to notice it’s okay if they say no, and maybe it’s you who would really like that snuggle or hug.
5) Making your children responsible for your emotions. “You are making me angry!” “If you want to make mommy happy, you’ll eat all your dinner.” “You hurt my feelings because you were not listening to me.” “My kid knows where my buttons are!” This creates a sense of over-responsibility or codependency in your children, later supporting dysfunctional relationships—especially with romance, where they feel they need to be responsible for making their loved ones happy, when in reality it’s not something they can control.
Solution: You are welcome to express your emotions, but privately. A calming space is great for adults too! If you are in public, step outside to a deck or under a tree, give your kid your phone to play with, and take 5-10 minutes to express and re-center yourself.
6) Discussing your intimate and private lives in detail with children. Children are emotionally unable to process these kinds of details: “I hate my boss! He’s an ass and he treats me like dirt.” ” Your grandmother is crazy, she and her husband can go to hell.” Children are dependent on adults and need to feel safe in their company. Discussion of this nature can lead to rebellious behavior, discipline issues, and children acting out. Later, as adults, there remains a sense of injustice that they can’t be in control and therefore need fear and to fight.
Solution: We all need an adult friend who is on our wavelength and that we can confide in. Having kids is not a reason to skip out on creating these relationships and nourishing them. Just like a date night, parents need a “friends night out” a few nights a month. Think of it as a parenting play date, and as important as your kids play dates.
7) Speaking unfavorably about the other parent, or other people the child knows and loves. “Your father never follows through on his word.” “Your mother is crazy; don’t pay attention to what she says, she is insane.” Our children are dependent on the primary caregivers for safely. They don’t have the ability to process that one of them may be unsafe until they are about 16-19 years old. This behavior, like the earlier examples, leads to a deep-seated feeling of injustice, stemming from a lack of clear safety.
Solution: Just don’t do it. Don’t do it!
8) Worrying. Chronic and constant worry about the state of the world, your health, safety in your home or neighborhood, and worry about your children. These children grow up to fear life and internalize that there is something very wrong with them. “Why would mommy worry so much if I was a normal kid?” The children develop mysterious illnesses, under-actualize as adults, and fit the stereotypical “flaky” personality.
Solution: It’s not healthy or “natural” to constantly feel doubt, fear, insecurity, or unease. Being a parent does not mean you have signed up for a lifetime of worry. All it means is that you are in over your head and you need some support. And support can be found in actively deepening your relationship to the sacred. That might be by joining a church, through meditation practice, etc. Also, it means that finding some professional support could help you navigate where to find a deeper relationship with safety and how to unravel these deep fears, finding your way to more natural sense of ease.
9) Parents speaking unfavorably about themselves in front of the kids. “Oh, I’m so fat and hideous,” or “I’m such an idiot!” Children mirror you. A common mistake parents make is thinking if they treat their children lovingly that will be how their children treat themselves. But because children primary learn through mirroring, how you treat yourself is more influential to their development. (This one is especially common for mothers to daughters!)
Solution: Meditation is where you can develop self awareness. Becoming aware of how you feel about yourself—and more importantly, how you talk to yourself—is the first step in stopping this internal bullying when you are with your kids. Your devotion to wanting your children to be free of an internal bully will help you silence yours!
10) Requiring children to suppress their authentic needs because you don’t have the skills to provide for them. This can be subtle: “You have to eat the peas and the steak on your plate!” Or more acute, like you walk into their room without knocking, you demand they clean their spaces to your preference, you demand they learn arts or sports or careers that you find appropriate, you demand they eat a vegetarian or gluten-free diet, etc. Or outrageously acute: You believe their mission in life is to take care of you. And your children were born to be your little man or woman and provide for your basic needs in your older age. These children grow up to be either deeply rebellious and out of control, unable to express of find a boundary for themselves, or become human doormats and are taken advantage of and/or easily conned by aggressive people. (Very common problem for fathers to their children!)
Solution: It’s impossible to be able to provide for all your child’s needs. So, remember the basics: your primary mission is to help them be themselves in the world. That is how people become happy. An authentic person is a happy person. It’s when we are confused and feel pressure to be inauthentic that we start to suffer. Apply this insight and let this be your primary value and focus as a parent!
11) Stay-at-home parents that stay at home too long! These parents mirror to their children that the children’s needs are a full-time job and therefore they can’t be successful, wage-earning, purpose-driven adults and take care of their kids. These children grow up thinking they aren’t capable of taking care of their own needs, so they always depend on others to see or be aware of themselves. They also become overly dependent on a job, a relationship, or material goods to know and define themselves as successful. These children often become under-actualized adults.
Solution: If you haven’t started back to the workplace yet by the time your child is 8-11 years old, get going! It’s time for you to go to work, even if that simply means volunteering for an organization you care about. Note: one that YOU care about, not your children’s school or choir, etc. Or, go to school and get some skills. In any case, now you need to mirror what it means to be alive with purpose. That is your child’s need—more than having you get them ready for school, or be home doing the domestic chores.
12) Physically slapping, molesting or spanking a child. When an adult is unable to solve an issue (mainly because they don’t have the skills!) they reach out and hit the child. This creates a child who will reach out and hit other children, and then once they are adults, they will hit other adults, and then their own children. These children have challenges with impulse control, and usually suppressed rage. It goes against our basic integrity and dignity as humans to be physically violated in this way. Importantly, it also opens the door for your children to be hit by others. Physical violence endorsed by the parent creates physical violence as a reality for the rest of the child’s life.
Solution: It’s okay to be in way over your head. You don’t need to have all the answers or know how to deal with really hard stuff. It’s okay to ask for support, it’s okay to take time out, and it’s really, really okay to say to your co-parent or your family or a professional you respect, “I really don’t know how to handle this, can you help me?” But it will never, NEVER be okay to touch your child in anger. I know it’s how your parents touched you, but it was not okay then either.
So, let’s start to erode the idea that it’s “innate” to parent, and start to endorse training, skill-building and self-awareness for those who might like to parent or for those that currently are! And perhaps we can offer some real compassion for those parents who are in WAY OVER THEIR HEADS. It’s really hard to parent when you have no real support, or skills, and God knows that society will shame you for reaching out for some skills, and then shame you again for not being “innately perfect!”