It seems the theme this week, both in my practice and in my life, has been regarding boundaries with kids and our grown-up kids. I’ll take that as a hint that it is blog-worthy!
When I am talking about boundaries, I am referring to guidelines, lines we draw in the sand in relationships, our personal space (physical and emotional), and expectations we have of others.
In parenting, particularly, it can be so difficult to set and keep boundaries with our children. However, when we don’t, they suffer. I mentioned in a previous blog that children actually want boundaries. They have no idea how to be a civilized human being when they are born. That is what we are there to teach them.
I see a lot of parents who say, “I don’t want to be the bad guy” or “I want to be their friend”. I certainly want an amicable relationship with my kids. But right now my main goal is to parent and teach them. To teach them responsibility, taking care of themselves yet caring for others, to live with good character, and ultimately, to have a relationship with God. If I lose out on being their friend in the process of doing this, I am ok with that.
What does it look like when kids that didn’t have good boundaries grow up? What happens when parents constantly rescue them all in the name of “helping them” and don’t let them experience natural consequences to their behaviors? I can tell you what it looks like. The child grows up emotionally crippled. They are unable to take care of themselves. They constantly need money or a place to stay, even though they are old enough to take care of themselves. They are sometimes in and out of trouble and they don’t know how to get out of trouble because someone has always bailed them out.
I am not talking about when your kid might be experiencing bad luck and they need a little help. I am talking about this chronic condition we are seeing now with kids coming back to not just stay a few weeks, but to plant themselves on their parents couch, not work, and mooch off of their parents. I am speaking of the financially irresponsible grown-up child who makes enough money to support themselves but spends their money foolishly on what they want so they don’t have enough money to pay their rent. This is what we are seeing too much of, grown-ups who are crippled because they did not have boundaries to help them learn.
What can you do about it?
When they are young (preventative)
1. When they are little, give children boundaries. Give them your expectations of their responsibilities and behaviors.
2. Follow thru with the boundaries.
3. Initiate consequences if there are not natural consequences to their behaviors.
When they are grown-
1. If they have to move back home, set boundaries and expectations. Set a plan for their employment, when they plan to move out, and how much they plan to help financially while they stay (there is nothing wrong with having them pay something- it encourages them to not get too comfortable and keeps you from paying more in groceries, utilities etc.)
2. Stick to the plan- have regular meetings about what they are doing to stick to it.
3. If it is financial help they need, sit down with them and go over their budget (they will probably not have one- this is a good time to start one!) Find out where the money is going and talk about responsibility. Set boundaries regarding when you will and won’t help them.
4. Stick to your boundaries.
Do you see a theme here? Set boundaries, stick to them. Set boundaries, stick to them!
This may seem mean, non-compassionate, or even not Christ-like. However, God wants us to help others but he also requires us to help ourselves. We MUST do our part and this includes our grown children.
When Jesus healed the crippled man, he didn’t say, “Ok- you are healed! Let me help you up and I’ll clean up your mess you have been laying in.” He said, “Get up! And pick up your mat and walk!” He gave him responsibility to help himself as well. I wonder if Jesus did this to help this man begin to develop dignity and self-respect. He had been laying there for a long time and I’m sure he felt very bad about himself. Maybe Jesus wanted him to begin feeling good again. But he couldn’t do that for him. The man had to start helping himself, now that he could. This is loving compassion. Balancing help with empowering others to help themselves!
That is what I want for my children. To teach them and empower them to help themselves, in return helping others.
Thank you for reading this lengthy blog today. It feels a little preachy, I know. I feel really passionate about this. I hope it has helped you. I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave a comment about how boundaries have helped you or your kids.
Have a great week!
*Natalie Chandler, MA, LMHC is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Natalie enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, and couples counseling. We also specialize in family counseling, child, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville