Setting boundaries comes up frequently in parenting as well as in relationships beyond those we have with our children.
We set boundaries in our marriage, at work, with neighbors, with friends and with other family members.
Because we are typically not taught about boundaries, we may be clumsy, unclear, demanding or hesitant. We may shut down and avoid. We may become forceful or aggressive.
How can we set boundaries with more grace?
The key words are "clarity," "practice" and "patience." Be clear on what you want, then practice setting boundaries realizing it may be messy initially. Be patient with yourself. You will get better at it. Be patient because it may also mean doing some extra exploration to gain clarity.
A mom shared recently that she didn’t like her daughter’s angry outbursts and felt like she was in an abusive relationship with her own child. She wanted to know how to set boundaries with her daughter to end the outbursts and get more cooperation.
Here is the rub. Children will have angry outbursts. It is unreasonable to think otherwise. Our response to their outbursts is where children learn about feelings and self-regulation. Children may not always cooperate. What is most helpful is an understanding of how to encourage cooperation rather than punish uncooperative behavior.
Boundaries are not about making behaviors go away. Boundaries are ways to connect. Boundaries say, “Here is how I can connect with you in ways that match up with who I am.”
This is not said to diminish the challenges. It is challenging. Here is where you call in the patience for the unexpected exploration for gaining clarity prior to setting a boundary.
The clarity for this mom may be learning how to validate her child’s feelings of anger without judging her and without judging the anger. It may be learning how to teach her daughter the difference between feeling a feeling and acting from a feeling (which can get us in hot water). It may be learning the reason that her daughter’s behavior is such a major trigger for her.
Learning these things takes patience and practice. Learning these things will influence her approach when her daughter has an outburst.
From that place of greater influence and clarity, Mom may then say, “Take a few minutes to sit with that big feeling” or, “It makes sense that you feel angry." She will be more graceful in handling whatever comes next, which could include setting a boundary.