Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Boundaries II

I’ve had Sheltie dogs for the last 15 years of my life.  My first was a four-year-old named Simba.  He was a rescue who’d been beaten horribly by his first owner and he had seizures – scary seizures.  At the time we got him, we lived in a big old Victorian home.  It didn’t have a fence around the yard.  I had to keep him on a leash when he needed to go outside.  The one time I tried to go out with him without a leash, he took off after an old-order Mennonite family in a horse and buggy and their horse took off running.  Shelties, even over weight Shelties who suffer from seizures, are FAST.  I have another rescue Sheltie now.  He’s somewhere between 8 and 11 years old.  We’re not sure.  We have a fenced back yard now, but we found out he can be really fast, too.  We had to buy baby gates to corral him in the house because if the mailman or the UPS guy comes to the door, he’ll take off after them.  He’s chased the UPS truck down the street twice since we got him eight months ago.  The baby gates provide a boundary that keeps him, as well as the UPS guy and mailman, safe.  The leash kept Simba safe, as well as the Mennonite buggies that went by our old home every day.

We have some pretty tight boundaries for our traumatized teens, too.  Some people think I have them on a tight leash and have told me so in so many words.  Others think we have a pretty high fence around our family.  I think they’re right.  And I’m totally okay with that.

Boundaries help traumatized kids feel safe! 

Let me just say this before I begin.  I know there are readers who will strongly disagree with me.  If you are one of them, I simply ask you to look at the results of my parenting practices.

As we’ve traveled through the last five and a half years of parenting our adopted kids, we’ve learned this in very clear ways.  We knew boundaries helped our older, neuro-typical boys feel safe.  However, we’ve learned more acutely than ever before how firm boundaries have helped Youngest Son and The Princess.

For example, our kids do not have the freedom to come and go with other kids like our older boys did at the same age.  My older boys could navigate the challenges most teenagers face because of their secure and consistent-from-birth background.  I know my youngest two do not have that same background and it makes a difference in how they are able to handle certain situations.

We waited to allow Youngest Son to get a learner’s permit to learn to drive.  He got it last spring and still has it.  He will not be getting a driver’s license any time soon.  He’s not ready and I’m not ready to allow him to drive.  We tried, but it’s not yet time.  And I don’t want to risk allowing him to damage my car multiple times – or risk having him get hurt.  He’s proven he’s not ready.  What kind of parent would I be to allow him to continue to participate in an activity he clearly cannot handle?  Does it show him I don’t trust him?  Or does it show him I know this is a better choice and that I love him enough to keep him away from danger because he’s demonstrated he’s not ready for this?  I think it’s the latter.

We also don’t allow our youngest kids to date.  They’re not ready.  The American cultural phenomenon of dating is not a necessary developmental milestone for teenagers we have learned.  This actually developed over time because our oldest son did not want to go through the date and break cycle.  He chose to wait until he was ready to make a commitment to someone and it was then he pursued a relationship with someone he believed might be a life partner.  Dating wasn’t casual for him.  His younger bio brothers adopted that idea and we, as the parents, adopted it from there.  We believe God was ahead of us in this for the sakes of Youngest Son and The Princess, even as He was for our older boys.

This doesn’t mean our kids haven’t had boy/girl feelings for certain friends.  And we don’t discourage that.  But we don’t allow one-on-one dating situations.  It’s one of our boundaries while our kids are still not ready for the responsibility.

People have asked how we stop it?  Why don’t our kids rebel and have a boyfriend/girlfriend anyway?  The answer is, we don’t need to stop it.  Our kids know the boundaries and they feel safe because those boundaries are firm.  They’ve actually told us so.  We’ve taught them the reasons why.  We’ve taught them that God places His own appointed authority over us and as kids, their primary authority after the LORD is us, their parents.  We’ve also taught them that while the government may say they are “adults” at 18, we know they are not fully ready for all the responsibility of an adult at the age of 18 and their older brothers confirm that.

Just like anyone else, we cannot watch our kids 24/7/365.  But we don’t need to because our boundaries are firm.  Our kids feel safe.  We make the boundaries broader as our kids show they are ready.  If the widened boundaries turn out to be too broad, we reign them back in.  We make our kids’ worlds smaller.  It works.  We’ve learned this as we’ve gone along.

Youngest Son does not participate in any activity that is not adult supervised.  If he goes somewhere (on foot) with a friend, I know where he is and he has a firm time frame for when he is to return.  I use technology.  I know where he’s going and I follow up.  Since setting this boundary, we’ve had zero problems with our son behaving appropriately in the community.  He has a job.  He participates in sports.  He comes straight home after school and he texts or calls me when he’s finished training and is on his way home.  It’s the same time every day.  I know he’s on his way, but he still texts me.  It makes him feel safe and it’s one of our boundaries.

The Princess participates in orchestra at school and may have friends over.  She may also go to spend time at the homes of people I trust.  I must know the kid and I must know their parents.  Time frames are never open-ended.  There is always a specific beginning time and ending time for the visit.  Knowing when she’s coming home makes The Princess feel safe.  Knowing the parents and knowing exactly who she’s with makes us both feel safe.  As long as the boundaries are in place, we don’t worry about her getting into situations where her entire future could be in jeopardy.  The reigns are pretty tight.

We believe in second chances, though.  We are firm, but not rigid.  We are authoritative but not authoritarian.  We want our kids to spread their wings and grow.  Just because a mistake is made once doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to try again, but we don’t allow the same bad choice to happen again and again. 

I think the reason why our firm boundaries help our kids so much is because their early lives were so uncertain.  There were no boundaries.  There was no safety net.  The big people in their lives couldn’t set their own boundaries let alone set them for the kids.

Boundaries are good.  Boundaries keep us safe.  Boundaries make us feel cared about and loved.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your kids.  One day, they’ll be 25 years old and telling other parents how good it was to be raised with firm boundaries.  You may even have a 14-year-old explain to a peer how inappropriate a choice is because it does not respect their own or another person's boundaries!

Here’s an article I found about helping people with complex trauma backgrounds.  #2 – Firm boundaries!


Diana said...

Well said. We frequently get criticized for similar things because we have similar boundaries in place for our kids. Whatever. They don't live with our kids.

We allowed our 13 yr old to have a birthday party last week. This was the first party he's had since he was 8 (and before we knew better!) He invited 3 friends. This was a huge deal for him! He had to make all the calls, and he had to do all the cleaning and other preparation for it. We didn't plan any games or specific activities, and he asked his friends not to bring gifts. We let the boys decide what they wanted to do while they were here. We fed them pizza (which none of them were really interested in), and they were NEVER without eyes on supervision from either me or my husband.

One of the biggest reasons for this was that it took about 2.5 seconds to realize that some of those other kids have NO boundaries and have never known what they are. One of the little pipsqueeks (and I mean that literally) couldn't stop bragging and boasting about anything and everything...including how rich he was, how he didn't need high school, and how he was going to drop out of school, pick up chicks, and spend his life kissing them and, well, pretty much objectifying and prostituting women.

My son didn't have the words to put a stop to it. Neither did his other friends. Shoot, we learned he doesn't even have the backbone to tell one of his friends that he doesn't go by the shortened version of his name nickname his friend had chosen for him. I am also 100% certain there would have been an ER visit for at least one of them had we let them have free reign and left them to their own devices on the trampoline. Boundaries = safety!

Much to the surprise of 4 young men (and the visible relief of two of them...one of which was my son), a significant amount of time was spent at that party learning exactly what it takes to pick up a chick once mama informed the pipsqueek that she's a chick and she has a pretty good idea what it takes to pick one up. I told him point blank that if he's going to talk the talk, he better prove he can walk the walk. Boy, was that ever a pointed lesson when I pretty much made him prove to his friends he really could pick up a chick, but this chick kept setting him straight. Mama smiled real big when her little chickidee had finally had enough and joined the conversation and stood her ground as an honorable young woman and flat out told him she'd never date a boy who treated a girl like that. In the end, three boys cheered for the chicks and the pipsqueek hid under the table...and then later sheepishly came and asked me "what if I wrote her a note and told her I think she's really nice and gave her a flower?" To which I replied "Well finally, you might just be onto something that will catch a chick's attention!"

My hubs and I laughed once we finally got all the boys back to their own homes. "So, what did you do at the party?" "We learned how to pick up chicks!!" And I told my hubs if any of those mothers had a problem with it, I'd be more than happy to inform them why they got the lesson they did and what it entailed.

Michelle said...

We too have tight boundaries that are adjusted to the needs of each child. My kids are not allowed to do as many other teens do as far as coming and going so freely or hanging out at the shopping center, having boyfriends, etc. One of my children (adopted) finds comfort in it. Another is ready to have more freedom and we would allow it bur perhaps this teen doesn't truly feel ready because this teen serms to stay in tighter boundaries than we would require of this child.

Trauma Mama T said...

Michelle, Your teen that wants expanded boundaries but keeps their own world pretty small anyway sounds a lot like Youngest Son. He wants more freedom, he says. I think he just wants to have the idea that he can make his own decisions without tight reigns if he chooses. So, we've expanded the boundaries we know he can handle, but we still keep the ones we know he's not ready for (like driving around a 2000 lb. WEAPON that can kill him or someone else). The boundaries we have expanded he's used maybe once or twice (being able to go to the town's rec center with a set time to be home). He just wanted to know he could go if he wanted to, but deep down, he likes the tight reigns. He does feel safer because of them -- even if his words say differently.