Boundaries between parents and children

Uncategorized Feb 28, 2022

The word boundaries have come up time and time again via memes, healing bandwagon groups, and friends’ circles.

Recently it came up via a message from a mum. She said ‘I don’t feel respected.’

This is a big thing for me as disrespecting a parent was a big no in my childhood home. The brown parent slipper was always easily accessible as the last resort. What was not accepted was backchat, swearing, insubordinate behavior, and lack of respect for elders. If we ever spoke back or behaved out of line, our parents would want to know why. And then the punishment would ensue.

With my own children, from the onset, I made it clear that violence would never be an option. Having left a violent relationship myself, and living with a brother who thought it was OK to use his strength to control what we said and how we behaved, I could not be the physically abusive parent. So, when people praised my children on their manners and behavior and asked me how did I manage it, I just always said, ‘it’s the will of Allah SWT.’

But when speaking to this parent, where she said she was never respected by her twelve year old and the older child thought her mother was beneath her and spoke in a very patronising manner, I kept thinking what I was doing differently. And I realised that one of the things was, I had a clear idea about what was unacceptable and how I relayed it to my children.

Then, during well-being sessions with another mum, she said her daughter constantly did not respect her and felt it was OK to mock her. 

A son said the same about his father; they were constantly arguing about differences where the dad thought it was OK to compare his son to the more favoured son.

What do children need to see from a parent to respect them and their boundaries?

 ~ Control: Are you in control of your emotions and what you relay to the children and how you relay it? Or do your emotions control you and do you have meltdowns in front of your offspring?

When a parent can control their emotions, it gives the parent a stronger personality. Someone who is overcome by emotion is easily more manipulated or seen as weak. Not only do meltdowns scare your children, but they can see that you are easier to manipulate as you have very little control over your decisions. This is why staying decisive when you’ve said no is good because you are not being swayed by the guilt trip or persuasion.

~ On Demand: Do you give in to requests and demands or do you make your kids work/wait for it? My client received no help with housework from fully grown children but was happy with spending money on their treats. The message you’re sending your child is, ‘it’s ok if I give and you keep taking.’ Not only is this creating a toxic foundation for them in the future for any spouses or relationships, but it’s creating a sense of ingratitude. They won’t appreciate you and your needs as a parent and will keep demanding or asking even when you can’t give in.

~ Yes Yes Yes: Do you overcompensate for lack of time and attention by lavishing them with treats, gifts, and screen time?

Gifts are a form of love language yes. But in healthy, disciplined doses. Pay attention to when your child acts up. Nothing makes up for the time, love and attention they need from you.

~ I or We Are you a ‘doing’ parent or are you a ‘let’s do it together’ parent?

If you can see that your child needs to commit to cleaning their room or doing a chore, do you find it easier to do yourself rather than fighting your child on it? Because they’re getting the message that it’s ok if they don’t do it, mum or dad will sort it out eventually. 

~ Foot in mouth disease: If you have zero filters in front of your child and speak freely about their shortcomings in front of friends and family, expect your child to feel disrespected, low in self-esteem and do the same to you and others. A child that is low and moody will constantly test your boundaries with their mood swings. They will act with the label you give them.

~ Body language: A lot of parents are telling their children off with a jokey demeanour. It doesn’t work. You need to level down with your child, make eye contact and keep your expression neutral. Your firm voice and open honest demeanour let them know you are the authoritative figure. Remember to level down rather than stoop over them, as this will reduce intimidation but increase rapport and respect with them.

~ Yes No, High Low, Do Don’t stay consistent! If you don’t follow through neither will they. Children copy and paste so make your behaviour consistent. One day they’ll respect your boundary but as soon as you don’t follow through it’ll be overstepped. 

Why do you need boundaries?

Boundaries are a healthy way of showing your child what is and isn’t acceptable in the real world. No means no, I can’t do this for you right now, I need some space, please hear me out, can we do this together, can you help me? These are all phrases your child will learn in their later relationships. If you model healthy boundaries, your child will have healthier boundaries growing up. And most importantly, they will respect them.

But namely, a relationship doesn’t work without boundaries. Because if you do not respect your child and vice versa, sooner one or both will start swimming in negativity for the other. This is the disintegration of a household.

CASE STUDY: An elderly couple reached out to me as both their older married boys did not communicate with each other and cut the other out. This did not work during family functions and distressed the elderly couple a lot, especially as it became the talk amidst the community. When digging deeper, one sibling had been treated differently to the other. The younger one had no boundaries with no repercussions. The older one had his boundaries breached again and again, with violence and verbal abuse from both parents who favoured the younger. The rift grew between both siblings as it became apparent one was favoured over the other. One had strict boundaries with a ‘you can’t’ and the other had none with a ‘do whatever.’ Now in their forties, I could not help apart, from tell the couple that joint therapy was not an option as both sons were so hostile towards the other and neither would attend.

The earlier the consistency in boundaries between all parties, the better the harmony in the house. And when there is peace and love in a house, the less chance you’re creating a future toxic being. If you ever scrape beneath the service of a toxic person, you’ll find that there was a lack of boundaries in their home, a manipulative mum or violent father or parents who simply never said ‘no.’ Silver spoons are meant for dining, not for raising little children.

If your children are still preteens it’s not too late to build on healthy boundaries:

Communicate effectively: teach your children to express their opinions and needs in a respectful manner. You can do this by firstly speaking in the same way to them. Listen to your tone, check your body language. Are you demanding? Are you asking with a please? Do you let them know when something is unacceptable by politely speaking to them or do you snap and fall apart because it’s uncomfortable laying down the law?

Family meetings and family rules: Have a family meeting often to repeat rules. Some rules might not work but that’s why the family meeting is a good idea. Have a clear idea over the ‘no go’ area. There is always a non-negotiable in every house; e.g., screen time, TV time at dinners etc. This has to be reiterated and consistently followed through.

Keep it simple: keep it short and don’t over explain yourself. An example is: ‘Why can’t I bring my iPad to my Grandma’s house?’ A simple answer is, ‘she doesn’t see you often so I don’t want you engaging in screen time at her house.’ There is no need to engage in a long explanation with your child. However, bring a consequence to it. ‘You won’t enjoy the lovely time with your Grandma, she has some amazing treats for you.’ If they still don’t listen, be firm, without yelling or intimidating. Let them know that you have the authority on this matter.

Have patience: don’t expect your children to get it right away. Let the boundaries sink in, let them get used to not being the one in power. Where boundaries have previously never been set, the child will feel insecure and anxious. And remember, healthy love has boundaries. The sooner your child understands that you are the authoritative figure, but you are just and fair and not oppressive, they will trust and respect you. But if you are authoritative by being intimidating and threatening, they will only fear you and follow you out of fear. Remember that our best example of love was our Prophet (SAW) and his gentle assertion with children was always merciful and kind. 

‘’Indeed, among the believers with the most complete faith is the one who is the best in conduct and the most kind to his family.’’ (Sunan At Tirmizi)

In these chaotic times, parenting isn’t easy to strip back to basics. Spend time together, spend in the way of each other with sunnah gifts and bring respect from each other by being respectful towards each other. But as a parent, you have a right over your Amanah from Allah SWT, so be gentle and kind in your admonishment and keep them away from something you know is unhealthy. Show them your disapproval without being oppressive. These life skills will extend to future generations to come. Boundaries create bounties when introduced early on. It lets the child trust you, the parent, that you are strong, you know what you’re doing and you can protect them. And may it be easy for each one of us, whether we are parents already, becoming parents or planning on parenting.


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