Grown Up, Part Two
Many of us have things that we might do differently than our parents or guardians when raising our own children. In recent years I’ve seen an increase in parents uncertainty with how to encourage optimal growth and exploration in children while still instilling healthy boundaries and safety. I think the reasons for this are myriad.
First, we live in a time culturally in which there is a dizzying amount of input to sift through. There are parenting manuals, blogs, advice from friends and family, books, pediatricians. Everywhere you look you can find someone suggesting some other way you should be raising your child. The loss in all this input is a sense of knowing and trusting yourself. This loss in intuitive listening creates a disconnect from the relationship between parent and child and that disconnect can lead to a reaching for external forms of relating. Often these external connectors end up being presents and food rewards and a loveable leniency.
We mistake the healthy instinct toward nurturing independence and autonomy with a fear of creating too tight boundaries that might inhibit that growth. In our uncertainty we end up creating no boundaries at all.
And, we are busy. Between smart phones and social networking, jobs that take up all our time and energy, and keeping up a home, we want our family time to be only pleasant. Sometimes the creation and maintenance of limits and boundaries can lead to unpleasant interactions with our children and our partners, so it can seem easier to not interfere with a “happy” moment.
Here’s the thing. None of these come from bad or malicious parenting. These are all patterns that good, nurturing and loving people can fall into when parenting their children. In my next blog I will bring it all together with some integration ideas, but for now I want to close this with some thoughts about your experience as parent and how you can become more comfortable with being the creator and maintainer of a secure and sturdy foundation from which your kids can learn about their world.
Kids crave boundaries. They do. They will push against them like crazy, but knowing they are there allows them to feel safe to be kids. Without them, unconsciously, they can assume that they have to keep themselves and even you safe and that creates anxiety.
Boundaries are not mean. When compassionately thought about, boundaries can be the launch pads for fun exploration. Think about food, for example. Food can be tricky, but not letting your child eat only cookies and cereal three meals a day makes sense to most of us because the body needs protein and vegetables to be able to run and play and feel good.
Finally, you are not, nor are you expected to be, perfect. A favorite theorist of mine Donald Winnicott, coined the term “good-enough” mother to describe the parent who is thoughtfully engaged with their child and also human. You are not always going to be able to react in the way that you wish you would, but with a foundation of security, repair is easy. The structure you provide allows for all humans in your home to be imperfectly human.
Next week I will offer concrete examples of some age appropriate boundary and limit setting.