Parenting is at it’s heart a relationship.
Treat it as a garden which needs sunlight, water, nutritious soil and the right amount of shade. Tend the garden of your relationship carefully everyday with the sunlight of your loving presence, the water of your unconditional acceptance, the soil of all of the practical things which allow our lives to function well, and the shade of clear, consistent boundaries.
Research by Brene Brown uncovered the surprising finding that the single trait shared by the most compassionate people was cast iron boundaries! It turns out that when we respect our own feelings and needs it is easier to feel genuine care for others. If we consistently override our needs by failing to have healthy boundaries it can be difficult to find the generosity we need to display genuine kindness.
How do we define our boundaries?
The first step is to understand what your needs are. On the Centre For Non Violent Communication website you can find a list of human needs which I have linked here. You may find it helpful to glance over them and notice if any of them stand out, or give you a feeling of sadness, anger, resentment or regret when you look at them: This could be a need which is crying out for attention. If so I recommend taking steps towards meeting this need, even in small ways, as well as allowing the uncomfortable feelings which arise when we recognise it.
For me recognising needs, and acknowledging I was allowed to have them, was a slow process, as was understanding what my boundaries are. Sometimes a visceral pang can give an indication that we have overridden ourselves and agreed to something we didn’t have time for or felt unsafe doing. Money has been a hard one for me. Because of self esteem struggles I have had a tendency to under charge or give my time for free. Now I have a way of checking in with myself; if I work for this amount of money will I feel resentful while I’m doing the work? If the answer is yes, I will negotiate, with a willingness to let go of the contract.
Boundaries keep our children safe
I noticed anger building up within myself during the first lockdown. Introspection helped me to realise it was largely because I was consistently allowing my son to override my boundaries and persuade me out of my nos. His life and social contact had become so limited as a result of covid and adding my boundaries on top felt painful; however our relationship was starting to suffer! My son (then nine) has been raised with a lot of awareness about feelings and needs. This meant we were able to talk about what was happening. As soon as boundaries were restored, the small discomfort of boundary setting paid off with a lot more joy over all.
I recommend getting support and going gently with this work, especially if you have a tendency to neglect your needs for the benefit of others. A heavy weight of social conditioning or subtle messages that our needs don’t matter could be in the way. When I first began saying no to requests I felt as if I was being aggressive; I had internalised a belief that I had to please others in order to be accepted and safe. I needed to find a lot of internal safety before I could risk potential abandonment. If you also struggle with this I recommend this Richard Grannon podcast on co-dependancy.