What are your thoughts about understanding boundaries? What do you think a boundary is? Often, people I work with think they are about strict rules and adhering to them. What if we reframe ‘boundaries’ to be about something else?

Boundaries are about knowing about your own needs and meeting them. And being understanding and respectful of the needs of others, while not compromising on your own.

So why are boundaries important? Because they teach us about our needs and they ensure that our needs are met.

For example, bedtime is often a key boundary that can come with a number of battles. Sometimes, we can think of bedtime as an arbitrary rule – your bedtime is this time and that’s final. If that is flouted, it becomes a power struggle because our children are breaking the rules.

However, if we see bedtime as a boundary that is promoting everyone’s needs being met, maybe it’s a bit different.

Your child’s need is to get enough sleep. Sometimes, we can think that’s all bedtime is about, however I’m confident that, for most parents, bedtime is also an opportunity for some much needed ‘me-time’ or ‘us-time’.

So this boundary is here to protect my child’s need for sleep and to protect my need for space.

If the boundary is flouted, I need to look at both of those things. Is my child telling me they’re not ready for sleep? If I decide my child really does need more sleep, how can they be helped to calm down enough to sleep? How can my need for space and me-time be met in the meantime? The aim, here, is different – not to get our children to obey the rules but to support them to meet their needs, while we hold our own needs in mind.

Boundaries for You

Usually, I find parents find it relatively easy to maintain boundaries that are in their child’s best interests. What they find much harder is boundaries for themselves.

How does it feel to you to take some time out? Sometimes I speak to parents and they say they do this – they see their friends once a month without their children. Or maybe they go to an exercise class once a week.

What if I suggest that we need time to ourselves every day? What kinds of things do you do to take care of yourself? How does it feel when you do that? When you stop taking care of other people and really do something just for you, what happens? How about something just for you that isn’t working towards a goal (like getting fit, learning something, achieving, working and don’t get me started on losing weight).

Does the guilt creep in? What feelings come up? Or is there just a general discomfort? A fear that you won’t be supported in that? The idea that this is just an absolute impossibility? There’s nobody to look after the children, for example?

Can you think of any positives in maintaining your own boundaries?

First, what happens for you if you don’t maintain your boundaries?

Can you think of times when you have felt pulled in too many directions? What happens to your mood? Your thoughts? Your behaviour?

How about when you have maintained your boundaries? When you’ve felt as though you have enough space for you and you are well fed, rested and watered? What kind of parent are you then? More importantly, what kind of person are you then?

Second, the more interesting one to me. What does your child learn if you have boundaries for yourself?

I think, often, the fear is that they will learn that they are not loved. That you don’t care about them enough. That we are selfish.

But what if they learned something different?

What if they learn that it’s OK to take their space? To meet their own needs? Ask for what they want? Take care of themselves?

How would this differ from a child who learns to put others first and themselves second?

Is it possible to do both? To look after our own needs and be respectful of the needs of others? When are you most respectful of others’ needs, when yours are met or when your tank is empty?

What comes up for you when you think of someone taking their space? Meeting their own needs? Feeling as though they don’t need to apologise for their own existence? Sometimes, this can seem scary. It’s not very British, after all, maybe you’re afraid that you will grow a rude, rebellious child if you enforce your own boundaries.

Thirdly, have you ever been around someone with sliding boundaries?

Someone who either says one thing and means another or who is really unclear about what they want? When you’re around someone who is not very practised at understanding boundaries, where does that leave you? Do you feel safe? Or do you feel on edge and uncertain because you don’t know what you might do that might upset them?

If you are clear about your own boundaries, your child does not have to guess. More importantly, your child does not have to take care of you because you are taking care of yourself.

Boundaries help your child to learn about their own needs

If we stick with the bedtime boundary and you are confident that bedtime is there because everyone needs sleep and this is how much sleep your child needs, what does your child learn?

They learn that they need sleep.

If we also listen to our children when they are giving us feedback about this boundary, what do our children learn?

That they need to choose a bedtime that is going to meet this need and it’s OK to wait a while until they are ready. And, ultimately, they will be going to bed.

We must maintain this boundary with kindness, acceptance and patience, so that they learn to be kind, accepting and patient with themselves when they can’t sleep.

See this post about maintaining boundaries for more information.

How do you think life would be different if everyone met their own needs, when they needed to? And felt comfortable in asking for what they needed?

How do boundaries play into this?

Which boundaries do you want to keep and which do you want to drop?