It’s time to make progress on one of the most common issues plaguing all children of divorce: boundaries.
This particular topic is one in which we are going to go exploring together. I’m not going to sit behind my computer and pretend I have all the answers. I just know there’s a problem. It’s also a little controversial. I think we can handle it together. Instead of me giving answers, we’re going to ask questions. Good questions. Then, see where it takes us. So, let’s start with the basic problem.
Here it is: Every child of divorce, as an adult, that I have spoken with has given me this same feedback. They would identify one or both of their parents as having poor to nonexistent boundaries with them.
By this I mean, there has been or is something going on by one or both parents that is hindering or complicating the relationship for the sake of the child.
What does this often look like?
Oversharing, inappropriate reliance on the child, or even sometimes codependency.
I know children whose parents treat them as though they are their personal therapist.
I know children whose parents have treated them as if they are peers or best friends.
I know parents who have shared way too much information about their ex-spouse with the child and ruined their relationships.
Thinking about children carrying more than their shoulders are equipped to carry and relationships being ruined unnecessarily leaves me feeling kind of heavy, as I bet it does for you too. So let’s ask some questions…
What is your child’s role in your life? Are they your servant? Your chef? Your personal nurse?
Of course not.
So, why is it we sometimes treat our children as our therapists or peers?
Don’t get me wrong. While my child is not my servant, chef, or nurse, I am certainly teaching him how to clean up after himself, help out around the house, cook food, and bandage boo-boos. That’s part of teaching a child about the world.
What I’m not doing is ordering him around like he’s my personal slave or having him do all the heavy lifting alone. Why? It’s obvious here… Because he’s just a little kid!
How many times do moms or dads, especially after a divorce, over-confide in kids as if they are being paid to counsel them and expect the children to keep confidentiality like a therapist? Way too often.
So, if our children aren’t our therapists or our best friends, I think that makes them… just our kids. What a joy and responsibility that is!
The joy? We get to love them, nurture them, watch them grow. We get to pour into their lives and experience all the beautiful things that come with parenthood.
The responsibility? We have to protect them and keep them safe. From all kinds of things. And yes, even from our own processes and pains that their little brains, bodies, and emotions aren’t yet equipped to hold.
I watched a mom do this really well recently. She’s a friend of mine and a really great mom. She had been worrying about her son and wanted to talk to me about it.
So you know what she did? She talked to me about it… when he wasn’t around! She also sought help from professionals… when he wasn’t around!
She drew boundaries.
She knew her son didn’t need to carry her concerns yet. He needed only to know that he was loved and accepted and taken care of. He didn’t have the responsibility to take care of mom too.
Which is great, because he couldn’t have done it. He’s only seven years old.
Our children are not meant to carry us, hold us up, keep us strong. Oh, the load that puts on their tiny shoulders!
Instead, we are meant to carry them, hold them up, help them be strong, and teach them how to do the same for themselves when we launch them out into the big world.
How can we do that?
By setting boundaries. Healthy boundaries that keep them safe and protected, as all good boundaries should.
There are all kinds of boundaries we need to set with our kids.
There’s screen limits and learning the word no. There’s boundaries for the way they treat you and others in the world.
However, for the purpose of this blog, we’re focusing solely on the ones that need to be set in the parent-child relationship when there’s turmoil and stress in the marriage or previous marriage.
So, mainly this looks like boundaries in conversations, language, body language, and thought processes.
It looks like communicating well, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, but not over-communicating things they don’t need to know that could harm them or their relationships.
In my honest opinion, I think all parents need to read this. This is not specific just to divorced parents or children of divorce. Many parents over-expose their children to things their little developing brains are not ready to handle.
It just happens to be harder during and after a divorce because the hurt/pain level of the parent is higher leaving both the parent and the child more vulnerable to unhealthy boundaries.
Questions to ask yourself…
What if all of us, as parents, could slow down and ask ourselves a few questions before we tell our kids something?
What if we just thought for ten seconds first?
Do you think it could change the things we share with our children or at least the way in which we share them?
I’m going to provide a list of 12 questions below to read through and think through before confiding in our children.
1. What is my role and what is theirs?
2. Is this information I’m about to share too much for them to handle emotionally?
3. Is this information I’m about to share appropriate for their age?
4. How will this story or information affect my child?
5. How will it affect their relationship with their other parent?
6. How will it affect their future relationships with others?
7. What are the consequences of my child knowing this particular bit of information or story?
8. Who am I relying on and who is relying on me?
9. Would it be better if I confided in someone else?
10. Are my emotions in a de-escalated enough place to share this or am I still too upset?
11. Would this be better shared later?
12. Do I have the best interests of everyone in mind when I share this or just myself?
I know this is hard. I also know it’s a little controversial. I also anticipate some people thinking they don’t have the time/space/energy for this. I get it, I promise.
I also know that your child’s developing brain and conflicted emotions need your help. They don’t know how to ask you to draw these boundaries.
In fact, many children don’t even realize the effects of no boundaries until they are much older and confused on their own romantic relationships or lack of relationships with one or both of their parents.
What I’m hoping in asking you to help protect your children in this way is to also be protecting you and your future with them.
I want you to know too that it’s okay to not know and still be learning and curious about this. I truly believe the fact that you are reading these blogs and seeking help at all shows a great deal of love and concern for your children. Which tells me again that you’re on the right path.
Do you find yourself confused on what’s yours and what’s theirs?
Are you wondering what exactly your roles are and how to handle specific situations?
As always, know that it shows strength to seek help. Maybe it’s a trusted counselor or parenting expert in town or maybe it’s just a good friend or someone a little further down the path than you.
Learning boundaries to protect our children is a fantastic time to circle up the wagons and ask for help.
You can bet I will be!
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