One thing about working on boundaries while parenting is that sometimes you just don’t gave the answers.
I’ve been working on boundaries for a few years now. I am frightfully allergic to setting them, in seems. People pleasing habits die hard. But I’m working on it, and I’ve made a lot of progress! The thing is, I still don’t know everything I need to know in order to set good and consistent boundaries. That means I screw it up sometimes.
Sometimes, I try to control how someone else is living their life. That is not a boundary, it’s a demand. Other times, I try to control how someone else sees me. That is not a boundary, either. I try these not-boundaries anyway, leaving both me and the other person confused about just what exactly I’m trying to do here.
A boundary is simply what you will and will not accept from other people, and how you are willing to be treated. I want to teach my kids how to set boundaries well. So, when conflict comes up, I try to use it as an opportunity to teach them something about boundary setting.
Problem is, sometimes I get conflicted. Sometimes, I just don’t know what the right answer is.
The other day, I brought home to little kaleidoscopes from the Target Dollar Spot. Rookie mistake, I bought two that were not identical. I got a yellow one for my son (his favorite color), and a purple one for my daughter (her favorite color). And of course, they fought over the yellow one. Why? Beats me.
Here’s where I got conflicted. My first instinct was to tell Roman, “hey baby, if your sister wants the yellow one, then it would be really kind of you to give it to her.” Thankfully, I stopped myself dead in my tracks. What was I doing? I was teaching him the very same people-pleasing mindset that I’ve been trying so hard to get away from. I was also indirectly conditioning him to believe that not giving his kaleidoscope to his sister was unkind. So, instead, I said, “Roman, that yellow kaleidoscope is yours. You can trade with Abby if you want to, but you don’t have to.”
He chose not to share.
Abby was devastated and began to cry. I hated seeing her so sad. I suggested that Roman could have the yellow kaleidoscope for 15 minutes, and then they would trade. Abby was happy, but now Roman was upset. I had just undermined the very boundary I had allowed him to set. In my efforts to appease my daughter, who had just experienced a fair outcome to their problem, I had upset my son.
I had to recant my offer.
Thankfully, it all worked out in the end. Did my kids learn an important lesson about boundary setting and sticking up for yourself? Probably not. But I came away from the situation realizing that I have more work to do as it relates to setting boundaries, and modeling those to my kids. I’ll get there eventually. It’s just going to take consistent and persistent work.