I will never forget the day that I realized I was a lazy father.
My son was six when we adopted him and eight when he was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. My wife and I had known going in that he had behavioral problems and had been warned that it might be difficult to deal with moving forward. We took to the challenge with the outlook that we would love and cherish him, regardless of the struggles his diagnosis set in our path.
By the time he was nine there wasn’t much improvement. In fact, my own interactions with him were becoming worse. It was my wife that sat me down and hit me with the truth: I was being a lazy, undisciplined father and leaving all of the emotional labor of enforcing boundaries on her. I was not being good to my son or my wife.
Part of this came down to parenting style but that was no excuse. I needed to change if we were going to make any headway. Thankfully, my wife has the patience of a saint and helped me to do just that. Now, at the age of eighteen, my son is barely recognizable when we think back on those difficult first years.
The Critical Nature of Boundaries
What are boundaries? These are limits that have been set for the comfort, safety, and well-being of everyone they apply to. Every healthy, happy relationship has them and adheres to them. Failing to set and follow them will spell doom for most people as it can impact every social interaction they have, whether it is with family, friends, co-workers or even strangers.
In the home, these limits are usually put in place in the form of rules. Not only do they keep peace among the family, they also teach personal responsibility and proper behavior to your children. As they move into adulthood they will take those lessons with them and apply them to their daily lives.
Even if they won’t admit it, children both need and want discipline. It gives them a sense of security, something that you and your partner are obligated to provide. Without those limits, it isn’t long before a child can spiral out of control. That may happen in the form of acting out, behavioral issues and even depression.
Acting as a Team to Enforce Realistic Limits
Keep in mind that “limitations” don’t translate to “overbearing regulations.” Being too strict can have a deeply negative effect on your child as they grow and may lead to rebellious backlash well beyond the normal scope. Limits have to be realistic and positively focused.
Approaching it as a couple working together is the best way forward. You will be able to help one another come up with the right rules for your home, as well as the proper punishments and rewards associated with them.
Examples of limitations and rules that you could enforce include:
- Making sure all homework is done directly after dinner.
- Finishing chores before getting on the computer.
- Coming home by curfew every night.
- Turning off phones at a certain point in the night.
- Taking turns cooking, or just eating together every evening.
- Talking out problems before it escalates into a fight.
- Having a family night once a week to reconnect on a personal level.
There are many things that you and your partner can come up with together. They should be targeted to meet the needs of your family, but also to help you all grow closer as a unit. Remember that no relationship, no matter what kind it is, can flourish without putting in the work.
One responsibility we have given to our son is to help with dinner prep and clean up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He was irritable one night during dinner clean up and chucked my wife’s Bosch mixer into the cabinet without cleaning it. After clean up, he proceeded to the computer to play his favorite game. But because he had not cleaned the mixer, my wife called him back into the kitchen to finish his work. In years past, this would result in outrage and fit-throwing. But thanks to lots of patience and practice, my son did not over react when he was called back into the kitchen. He was familiar with the boundary that had been set and unsurprised when he was asked to finish his job.
What If One Parent Is Bad At Setting Limits?
As I mentioned above, I really struggled with setting limits for a long time. I still do, all these years later. My advice would be to allow the parent more comfortable in that seat to take the lead and have the other be the support, backing them up. But both should be giving a united front and working together to come up with those limits.
With a little teamwork, you would be amazed at the difference in your home.
- Goldberg, Lewis, Parenting Style Quiz, https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/parenting-style.htm
- Tartakovsky, Margarita, Why Healthy Relationships Always Have Boundaries & How To Set Boundaries In Yours, https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/02/25/why-healthy-relationships-always-have-boundaries-how-to-set-boundaries-in-yours/
- Kids Matter, Making Rules and Setting Limits, https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/managing-behaviour-making-rules
- NCBI, Effective Discipline For Children, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719514/