My boys have been on a long journey to healing since their dad’s passing. Some days have been harder than others, but overall they have found a new normal, a new happiness, and have found so much good in their lives since it was turned upside-down nearly four years ago.
In that time, I have faced a lot of criticism from perhaps well-meaning people, but harmful just the same. I have had to learn how to work through the trauma, overcome its effects, ensure my kids are healing, and move on with my life. It has not been easy. It took me a long time to realize that much of my healing was in my own hands—by way of boundary setting.
It’s OK to Say “No”
I finally learned that no matter the intention, any behavior that was harmful to my health and well-being… well… I was allowed to say no. I began to cut off relationships and even jobs that were not healthy and I found so much freedom in doing so.
I will never forget when one of these people wanted to visit for a weekend to see my boys. Just the thought of it was enough to send me into a panic attack. After the pain that they put me through, I did not want to endure anymore, but I tried to set it aside for the good of my children.
As this weekend began to come together, I will never forget a friend telling me, “They can see the boys, but you do not have to give them access to you for the weekend.” WHOA. It was like a great big newsflash. We were able to plan a weekend for my kids that involved minimal contact with me. Win-win.
Fast-forward two years—while I have maintained my minimum contact, my boys have not. They have been on the receiving end of some messages and comments that were quite upsetting to them. While I have requested that we keep some topics off-limits in terms of conversation (unless the boys brought it up) it has been ignored more than once. Most recently the comments on Father’s Day were enough to send my youngest to tears and my oldest to shut down.
I began to wonder if making them maintain this relationship was good for them. Despite my attempts to keep it in a positive place, the boys were now visibly upset over the interactions. They began to tell me that they were done; they were no longer interested in these people anymore. After all, if I didn’t have to see them, why did they?
I really began to wonder if it was fair for me to set boundaries while not allowing them to do the same. How much do I turn these relationships over to them? Do I allow them to take charge? Do I teach them the boundary setting is okay?
I often try to put myself in the other’s shoes. If roles were reversed, of course I would want my friends and family to maintain relationships with my boys. However, would my friends and family say hurtful things? I would hope not. But if they did, I knew that it would be well within my kids’ rights to decide to walk away from people and situations that were not good for them. I talked with some of my closest friends—they are moms and grandmas and aunts and all agreed that kids setting boundaries is the right thing to do.
4 Rules for Kids Setting Boundaries
I sat down with my kids and tried to have a grown up conversation with them. We talked about the most recent interaction and asked how they felt… which was exactly what I had been hearing. I told them that I had decided that it simply was not fair for me to be able to set a boundary while not allowing them to do the same. We talked about boundaries, what they are, why they can be necessary, and how to set them. I told them I had a few rules.
1. They were in charge of their boundaries, but they needed to discuss them with me. I can’t help enforce things if I do not know what they are.
2. They were allowed to be honest with me and those that they felt needed limits. However, they needed to try not to be hurtful. (“I don’t like you” is hurtful, “I don’t like the way your words make me feel” is appropriate.)
3. They were not allowed to lie. It is very easy for kids to say, “I have plans already” or, “I’m out of town.” And, let’s face it—they have probably heard us tell a white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings before.
4. They needed to stick to the facts. It is easy to let emotions get the best of us and derail the conversation. Keep it simple, and if it gets elevated, you are allowed to end the conversation.
These are conversations and situations that no parent wants to have to have with their child, but teaching them how to communicate their feelings and needs is a skill that they need to learn in order to stand up for themselves as they continue to encounter difficult people through all the stages of life. I hope that my kids learn to value themselves, their space, their safety and well-being as they continue to grow and develop into young men, professionals, husbands, and fathers.
Want more on setting healthy boundaries? Check out this podcast episode: Want to Be a Strong Woman? Set Healthy Boundaries – 103