I don’t think anybody really likes to hear the word ‘no’. Even as an adult, I struggle whilst standing at the fridge taking huge bites off a tasty lump of cheddar. Cheese cravings are lack of love remember?! Anyway, this is not about my Secret Single Behaviour, it’s about setting boundaries and sticking to them. We need boundaries. Boundaries separate out where I begin and where you end. Boundaries protect you and they help your children grow into well-rounded emotionally intelligent adults.
Boundaries: I love me and I love you
Does your child push you to the limit? Does he keep on and on wearing you down until you give in? I’m sure he does. Your child will want to test you as he sees that as proof of your love and how safe you can keep him. I often hear parents say: ‘This is the last time. If you do that again, you will go to bed.’ Two hours later the child is still up watching TV and the parent is shouting the very same thing. In most relationships the power balance is 50/50 but in parent-child relationships the ratio is very different. Children are dependent on adults to guide them and show them the way. They need you to take charge and if you are sick of repeating yourself, then this may help you.
Last week, I wrote about my deeply moving and life changing experience at The Holistic Horse and Pony Centre. This is part two of that post which moves onto talk about why we need boundaries in relationships. Transformational how I got to grips with boundaries.
“No” is a complete sentence.”
― Anne Lamott
If I’m honest, I never really understood how to set boundaries. ‘No’ wasn’t just a dirty word. It didn’t even exist in my vocabulary. I was more about the people pleasing and not wanting to upset the other person. I thought that if I didn’t go along with what the other person wanted, that they wouldn’t want to be my friend any more. Further more, I thought that if I said ‘No’ I had to have a good reason not to want to do what the other person wanted me to. I didn’t realise that I couldn’t just say: ‘No I can’t!’ ‘No not today.’ I wanted to say 50 sorries and urrm and err about why I was letting the other person down
Then I started to read books about setting boundaries and tried to apply them to every day life and yet still, there were people invading my world and I didn’t feel as if I could stop them. So the Universe cranked it up a notch and started to send in some really tricky customers who were boundary invaders. The ones who didn’t even hear my no or respect my wishes. Are you with me dear reader or are you thinking what is wrong with woman? She is a Coach for Godssake. Doesn’t she have it all worked out? Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t but hopefully my c8ck ups will prove to be invaluable learnings for others.
So you can imagine my surprise when my day out at the stables, made my work on boundaries crystal clear. After a hearty lunch of cheesey jacket potatoes; all crispy with a green salad (back to the cheese cravings again), we lead our chosen horses out into the paddock.I was full of fear. Pablo was big and strong. I am 5 foot nothing and the strongest thing about me is the colour of my hair. ‘Leave a smile in your rope!’ instructed Wendy. So I let the rope go lax and felt my toes curl in my leopard print wellies as I tried to relinquish control. Pablo was having none of it, he wanted to bolt to the gate and leave every time I asked him nicely to stand still. Asking nicely is not setting boundaries. ‘Will you please stop playing with that box of matches’ doesn’t quite cut it with your children.
Locked in a power struggle is a lose/lose
Wendy then asked me about who had the power in this relationship. Clearly it was Pablo who was yanking me about all over the place. I was scared he was going to tread on me with his big hooves. Oh the metaphors for my real life boundary setting dilemmas were a plenty. What I discovered with Palo was that when I allowed him to wonder a bit by himself. I lead him round in a circle and we managed to avoid the gate, he was more open to cooperating when I set my intention and told him what we were going to do, I encouraged him gently, he did it. I also noticed that when he had zoned out from me (we weren’t connected), he didn’t respond to my requests to move left or right. Locked in a power struggle (him not listening, me trying to get him to go left or right!) Sound familiar? When I let go of my need to be right and removed my energy from Pablo, he came back to me and I could guide him where I needed to go. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there for parents and their children?
I then watched another member of our group lead their horse around the tyres. Right near the end of the exercise her horse stopped still. Stubborn he was. I could feel myself mildly irritated by watching her struggling to get her horse to finish the job. I noticed that it reminded me of all the times I had felt trapped or at the mercy of somebody else. It all fell into place. Another lady’s horse wouldn’t stand still. He was constantly butting her with his head. The teacher asked her to put a firm hand on his neck and push back. She was firm but did not hurt her horse. It was then that I saw it: The lady wasn’t being horrible to the horse, she was protecting herself from being trampled on. It was then that I realised that setting boundaries wasn’t cruel or wrong, it was a necessity.
If you don’t have boundaries you get hurt
I have proof of that because my shoulder blades are killing me today where Pablo pulled me about. Let’s look at my client Pamela. She is separated from her husband and has a 9 year old son who doesn’t like the word ‘no’. He creates such a stink when she refuses his requests, that he has been known to push past her to get what he wants. He also has extreme amounts of anger which cause Pamela to feel anxious.
I know adults (and I’m sure you do too) that are stuck in a childlike state when they hear the word no. They haven’t learnt this word. They don’t respect other people’s no. They create hell on earth if they can’t get what they want. No doesn’t exist in their vocabulary. They surround themselves with people who they see are less powerful than them which means they always get their way. Or they turn to manipulation and are less overt in their boundaries trampling.
You are not being a Mean Mummy
If your child is always getting their needs met, then how will they learn to have consideration for others? How will they learn to be disappointed or uncomfortable feelings needed for their development?
“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” ~ Henry Cloud
Some children even fall behind in their school work because there are no limits around going to bed, eating a healthy diet or be allowed to do things which are not age appropriate. By the way if you struggle with getting your child to bed, you could try this for a novel approach. It’s been tried and tested on my Facebook page and has proven to be pretty successful.
In some families where there is enmeshment, having boundaries and separating yourself out is no mean feat. Enmeshed families depend on each other to feel complete, but they do it in a way that sacrifices psychological health.
Relationships with no boundaries can make people vulnerable to depression, anxiety and estrangement as they lose their sense of self. When we have children, their sense of self is formed largely from the adults around them who act like a mirror feeding back to the child who they are. It’s important we don’t unknowingly project our stuff onto them.
In a world where over indulgence and excess is becoming the norm, how do we ensure that our child does not join the masses and knows that their self worth is wrapped up in who they are and not what they have or what they can do?
We set limits and we use that little word ‘No’. Most parents don’t want to upset their children so they find it hard to say no or they are worried that their child will throw a tantrum and embarrass them. Why is this embarrassing for parents? Maybe it’s because they think having badly behaved children will make them look bad? It’s really not about you. It’s about a child learning. Children need limits as it makes them feel safe. They need to know what is right and wrong and they need routine.
“The permissive parenting style undermines the parent-child relationship. When children can’t trust that parents can help them with the full range of their emotions, they don’t feel connected to the parent. When a child doesn’t trust that parents will enforce rules that keep the child healthy and safe (“Ok, I guess you don’t have to wear your bike helmet if it makes you that unhappy….Ok, I guess you can spend the night at that party without the parents there”) the child disrespects the parent and becomes more challenging, looking for limits (and proof that he’s actually loved.) When a child mistreats the parent, naturally the parent gets angry and resentful and is less nurturing to the child.” ~ Dr. Laura Markham
When no means no
It has be that way and for the same things. Here are 17 alternative ways to say no to your children. You have to mean it though Are you tough enough to see it through? If you liked what you read here, please share it on Facebook with your friends, or you can sign up to my newsletter to keep in touch.
Giddy Up Your Confidence Workshops for Children
September sees the start of Giddy Up Your Confidence workshops at The Holistic Horse and Pony Centre . So if you’d like to join us, then book your place NOW! There are only 6 places for 6 lucky children.