Why (and how) I Set Clear Boundaries With My Child

I have been working on self-awareness to resolve the key issues plaguing my life.

While I succeeded to some extent in getting an insight into their root causes and triggers, there is something that has been undermining all my efforts.

After much struggle and facing constant failures, I taught myself the art of being a peaceful parent.

I was confident that I had already won half the battle.

I was sure that the road ahead of my parenting journey would be rather smooth that I had conquered (or rather well understood) my biggest enemy, my anger.

Little did I know that all this while I had been ignoring a major fault in my personality.

One that held the power of undoing all the good my new-found wisdom brought my way.

The flaw of not setting clear boundaries.

The lack of certainty in my actions.

The blurred, unclear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour I set for my child, soon started nibbling on my new found peace.

Amongst the many strategies I’d adopted, my success (in being a peaceful parent) rested on two major conditions being fulfilled.

Bestowing positive attention to my child

and

Making room for self-care.

I noticed that in my quest to make more room for quality time to bond with my child, I had gone overboard.

I did not notice it right away.

The extra time I was spending with Pari soon started stepping on the time I had set for myself.

While I was mindful of this encroachment in the start, the doting mother in me chose the wishes of her daughter over her well-being.

Gradually as this became a routine, I found myself returning to the bad old days of yelling and feeling agitated over trifle issues.

This time around I was conscious enough to notice it right away.

On reflection, I discovered the one powerful emotion that is ALWAYS responsible for the devil take over me.

Feeling powerless.

I felt powerless when my child wouldn’t let me complete my assignments because she wanted me to play with her a little longer.

I felt powerless when I couldn’t control my child’s behaviour.

I felt powerless when despite planning well, I couldn’t get my child to sleep on time before an important event.

I felt powerless when I just couldn’t get my kid get ready for school on time despite an early start.

I would have been better equipped to control these negative thoughts had I not been feeling weak on the inside.

This weakness came from having skewed my self-care routine.

I was working late into the night to accommodate my kid’s request for an extra story.

I was sacrificing my exercise time to cook elaborate breakfasts on school mornings.

I missed out on an important work assignment because of spending an extra hour at the playground, just because my kid refused to get back home until dark.

I was sacrificing my diet plan by obliging to let my kid have an extra serve of the dessert only to end up having to eat it myself.

In hindsight, these situations look pretty manageable.

But on the day, for an exhausted mom, these occasions were enough to make her feel powerless, weak and an incompetent parent.

And that was how I realised I still had a lot more work to do before I can begin to feel I have this parenting thing sorted (somewhat).

While I was clearly saying NO, I was diluting its impact with repeated requests, orders and sometimes threats that I did not follow through.

I was failing at making up my mind as to what mattered most to me. Giving into my child’s momentary requests or allowing her momentary grief to go on with life as per plan.

I was failing at setting clear boundaries.

I was an emotional mess.

I would hurt when my child threw a tantrum when her requests weren’t granted and when I did succumb to her pleadings, I would end up kicking myself for the chaos my daily schedule ended up being.

The worst came to fore when I let self-care take a back seat.

I was letting my personal needs to be pushed to an unseen tomorrow and as a result, it was having a devastating effect on how I was treating my child in our regular interactions.

It was in this hour of crisis, I came across this quote;

How do you set limits as a parent when you've got sour faces to look at? Setting Limits with kids can be really difficult. Read on to learn why it is setting and establishing boundaries for children so vital and learn how I'm creating healthy boundaries for my family. #theerailivedin #selfcare #momlife #parents #kids #children #positiveparenting #singlemom #toddlers #toddlers #settinglimits

This provided me with ample food for thought.

By ignoring myself I was teaching my child to not learn to respect the needs of others. I was modelling a behaviour where putting ourselves after the people we love was a norm.

This message was all over in my attempts to prioritize my child’s needs and desires over my own.

This was my wake up call.

The people pleaser in me, the part of me that sought validation in gifting joy to others was shaken.

I was brought to the point where I had to consciously decide what I wanted to see happen in my life and my home.

I had to make my child aware of my needs, be confident in enforcing the limits and stick to them no matter how much I wanted to act otherwise.

But life doesn’t unfold like a scripted play.

No matter how much research you invest in making your relationships work, it always boils down to customising your approach if you wish to see any success.

My case was no different.

All the parenting books and articles that I have been reading say two prominent things.

Discipline without bruising your child (or their heart).

Parents need to show their children (through their words and actions) that they’re the boss.

How in the world, could one implement these two together?

I had to learn to find the middle ground.

I was not ready to fight another war with my kid. The very thought of possible power struggles, arguments, emotional meltdowns and yelling loosened my grip on the resolve to set clearer boundaries.

At this point, I wish to share, that I found this bit hard to work around because I have never been allowed to (or rather shown how to) assert myself or to put my foot down in my growing years.

Simply because ‘good girls’ don’t do that.

As skewed is this mindset, so is the conditioning ingrained in my very being.

However, this was my chance to turn things around.

For myself and my daughter.

It was the golden opportunity I couldn’t let go because on it rested the emotional well-being of us girls and our relationships.

This is why I choose to take it one step at a time.

After all, growing a back of steel can’t be a one-day act, isn’t it?

When I pictured setting healthy boundaries, I visualised the time when Pari was a few months old. Every time I would have to run errands or step away from her, I’d create a barricade of pillows and cushions that kept my daughter safe, playful and me without the worry of constantly supervising her or interrupting her with repeated “No(s)”.

I had to do just that.

My initial steps at putting my foot down were met with extreme resistance (as expected) by my daughter. In those times, often an undue argument would ensue and I’d be drawn in to either engage in a power struggle that ended in my getting angry or me choosing to succumb to my daughter’s wishes and wants.

It took me a long time to figure out that being the boss didn’t necessarily mean that I had to overpower my child.

The desire to overpower triggers yelling, threatening or bribing which take us two steps backwards in the quest to set healthy boundaries.

Intimidation is seeking favourable outcomes out of fear. We’re losing respect in the bargain. And if you look closely, threatening is a form of bullying.

Then what works?

Be you.

The person you are, in your honest, assertive form who is eager to connect with the child but is determined to play the leader.

It actually works because you’re harnessing the powers of your authentic self. This approach gifts encouraging results with us (the parents) sticking to our words and enforcing the set rules with confidence.

No bargaining, threats or bribing along the way is allowed.

When I first started setting boundaries, I’d tell Pari to do something (for example to put her toys back in their place) and she’d push back.  It took me immense will-power to not meet her head-to-head.

It was my responsibility to make this work. That’s why I’d deploy the one trick that works well with my willful child.

Options.

I’d give her options that she could pick what she wanted to first. Put her clothes in the laundry basket or rearrange the toys. Though it meant that eventually, she’d be doing all I’d asked her initially.

Pari was relieved to see that she could exercise some control and had the power to choose.

This worked for sometime before Pari understood how this works. This was the cue for me to shift gears. I added competition to the mix.

I’d challenge her to do a task at hand faster than I did the task I had scheduled for the day. No rewards were needed. The prize would be the task done and the pride that came with winning a challenge.

Though there were times when Pari wouldn’t agree to do as told.

Earlier, after telling her a few times, I’d eventually get the work done in a huff. What I realised later on was, this was having a deleterious impact on my child. I was teaching her to be slow deliberately so that the work got done by someone else.

That’s when I started leaving the work undone. If Pari cared enough for the task, she’d have to do it herself.

This was very difficult for the cleanliness freak in me and rather convenient for my kid. That’s why I created a backup plan. I started using consequences for the actions delayed beyond a certain time.

No enforcement, no threatening, no pressure. Only direct consequences.

No tidying up the room meant no TV time that day.

No homework meant no going out to play.

There was whining, sobbing and lashing out in anger in the start.

It took me a while to see that It wasn’t an ask to fix every problem for my child. At times, it was best to let them figure it out for themselves.

All that’s needed is to accept, acknowledge, and let the feelings be.

The one thing that has helped me cross the bridge between feeling powerless when my kid threw a tantrum and confidently putting my foot down is that on all these occasions I set limits in clear words.

When I can’t oblige by reading another bedtime story to her, I calmly say “You want me to read another story, I hear that. But for now, mom has to complete her assignment.”

It didn’t come naturally to me.

I faltered by sounding unsure if I really wanted to break my darling’s heart only to regret doing so, later.

While there might be many tactics that I employ, the one thing that has stayed common in them all, that bear results was to,

Define boundaries with certainty.

The calm confidence with which you give clear instructions actually sets the tone of favourable outcomes.

Where does the confidence come from?

Practice my dear parent.

When you define boundaries on a daily basis, your child learns to respect them because the certainty these limits gift makes them feel secure.

While being the boss is important, it’s vital that you follow through when executing the consequences.

I’ve seen my daughter thrive on positive outcomes. The ones when she’s made to feel like an important part of the workforce helping the smooth running of our household.

In due course, simple, predictable days offer more dependable break times because children are more likely to go with the flow when they know the routine.

We, the parents, especially moms need that time each day to recharge our emotional batteries and, if nothing else, think our own thoughts.

Self-care is essentially getting these rejuvenating breaks.

What’s the bottom line?

Parenting is an exhausting, overwhelming responsibility. But it needn’t feel that way if we mindfully set healthy boundaries for the well-being of the family.

Go ahead, love your children. Care for them well.

But, in the process, don’t forget to love and take care of yourself a little too.

Am not yet fully sorted, but am working on simplifying life, setting one boundary at a time.

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The song on my mind: Zindagi ki yehi reet hai ~ Mr India

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