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A Conscious Parenting Primer: Boundaries

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One morning, I was in the office, working on some routine things, nothing pressing, just things that needed to get done. I had a little friend who was 5-years old. He had picked up the phone that morning and called me, in tears, asking me to come. I asked him a few questions and he told me that nothing had happened; he wasn't hurt or anything. He just wanted me to come.  

It was only a ten-minute drive or so for me to get to his house, maybe a little more if the traffic was bad. What I was doing in the office wasn't urgent at all, yet I convinced myself that if I “come” to him this time, it would set up a pattern and he would think that I would come any time he called. So, I told him that I couldn't come right now because I had work I had to do in the office, but that I would see him soon.   

He kept crying on the phone and kept begging me to come, and I kept gently telling him that I couldn't, and finally I hung up. It worked. He never called again. And that's the part that breaks my heart when I think about it. If I had gone to him, would it have made him think that I would come any time he wanted me? Maybe. But maybe it would have only been that one time. Maybe it would have only been that one time. Maybe all he needed to know was that he was more important to me than any office task. And maybe he would have called again. And each time I could have determined if I really could have left what I was doing or not. True, there might have been times when I really couldn't have just dropped what I was doing to go to him, yet we could have dealt with that if and when it happened. At the time, it seemed like that strategy would have been way more complicated and maybe it would have been, but most things in life that really matter are complicated.    

Yes, children need boundaries; whether they realize it or not, they crave them. They need to know where the lines are and what is okay and what isn't. As much as they may fight them, boundaries are a foundation they can rest upon. It’s part of their work of growing up, to test those limits and push those boundaries. It is our work to set those limitations and figure out where to draw the lines and when to move those lines as they get older. Yet we need to be aware of the times when we are setting a boundary just because it is easier for us.  Certainly there are times when that's all we can do because of limited resources of time or money or energy or sleep, or a combination of all of those things! But the times when we do set a limit just because it is easier, well, there's a price for that too, and I am still paying the price of that phone call, eleven years later. 

The reason I am still paying the price is not because he has punished me in any way, by acting out or withholding his love. The punishment is from the pain I feel when I remember the way in which I was unwilling to step beyond my own ideas and my own comfort. The pain is from seeing the ways in which I still want to make my schedule and the things I think I need to do, which seem more important than my relationships. And I am grateful for that pain, because when I feel it, or remember it, it helps me to put the children first, to say yes, and to be present. I know, truly know, that those are the things that really matter in life.

July 2013



Joanne Fitz

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