I learned about setting boundaries in a room full of tiny humans.
I take my 16-month-old son to a RIE group where he can explore and interact with other littles his own age. But in all honesty, the class is for me.
I’m attempting to take a RIE approach to parenting my son – consciously fostering independence in him while being respectful of his needs and emotions. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually quite radical in some ways and involves undoing things that have been hardwired into my subconscious.
One such rewiring is the setting of boundaries. When Judah does something or reaches for something I don’t want him to, my impulse is to give him a loud and firm, No. However, I don’t want to become a no-no parent, constantly telling Judah what he can’t do in the world. So, I try to find creative ways of expressing that something is not okay, like:
- I see you found a pen cap. That’s not safe to put in your mouth. I’m going to take it.
- It looks like you want to pull the kitty’s fur. Here’s a stuffed animal you can pull instead.
- That’s dog poop. It’s icky. I don’t want you to touch it.
These are obvious no-nos. The reason for steering him away from those things is clear.
But there are other not-so-clear-cut situations. Like, when he wants to take all the pots and pans out of the cupboard. I don’t want him to take everything out of the cupboard. Yet, it’s not going to harm him. So, I let it happen, and then feel put out by having to put them all back after he goes to sleep. Or sometimes he wants to use my body as a jungle gym. I don’t want him to climb all over me but I find myself allowing it because, well I guess it’s fine. And he’s having fun. So, whatever.
I fluctuate between feeling too strict and feeling too easy going. I want to give him the freedom to explore but I don’t want to be a push-over. And (my deepest fear of all) I don’t want to be one of those moms who people roll their eyes at, thinking, Control your kid, for God’s sake!
I brought up this inner-conflict in RIE class. The fellow parents in the class offered helpful insight. Then one mom interjected, “I think it’s important to know why you’re setting a boundary.”
And there it was: truth bomb.
I was conflicted because if something warranted a firm no (running in the street, for example), I felt justified. But if he wasn’t in danger, I questioned any boundary I tried to set. Was I being too strict or denying him an opportunity to explore and learn?
Setting boundaries is hard when you don’t know why you’re setting them. This is true in parenting and in interacting with grown-ups. See, by making excuses for why we don’t need to set a boundary or say no, we’re really ignoring our true feelings about a situation.Setting boundaries is hard when you don't know why you're setting them. Click To Tweet
RIE class taught me the most important thing about setting healthy boundaries: it’s okay to tell my kid he can’t play with the pots and pans as long as I know why. Problems arise when you say things like, “I don’t want you to play with the pots and pans because…I don’t want you to play with the pots and pans.” That’s just a straight shot to, “Because I said so.” And I don’t want to go there.
Next time you feel the need to draw a line, ask yourself why, then do it.
Ever since this revelation, I’ve been hyper aware of every opportunity to set a boundary. It’s a lot. But, I’ve been working on it. And when you practice setting boundaries in your life, you get really good at it, which means a lot less guilt and a lot more joy.
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