Why Our Kids Need Boundaries

boundaries - kids would rather play than work

My childhood home had boundaries – not fences and padlocks, but boundaries which we knew we should not cross. There were perimeters like disobedience and defiance.

I remember the evening like it was yesterday. I was supposed to be helping with the dishes, but I skipped outside to play. The sandbox was much more fun than washing dishes and I wanted to be with my siblings. Even though they reminded me that I was to be helping inside, I chose to stay outside.

Eventually, the guilt got the best of me. I wandered into the house and through the kitchen. My mother and another sister stood in the kitchen washing dishes. I waited for one of them to say something to me, but nobody did. I walked through the kitchen to another room. Nothing. I walked through the kitchen again. No one said a word. Finally, I went back outside to play.

The sandbox wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t belong there because I was shirking my job. Neither did I belong inside because nobody “made me” do what I had been told to do. I was too stubborn to acquiesce on my own.

You know why I remember that so vividly? I remember the guilt and the insecurity I felt because I needed to be made to do what I should do, yet nobody followed through.

boundaries include doing chores

I grant you, I’m still baffled at how I got away with shirking my job that evening. I wonder if my mother and older sibling forgot that I’d been told to stay inside and help. I wonder if, when we all went out to play, they decided to just let us play. Maybe they thought they’d get done sooner without a younger child helping. Perhaps they decided since we were having so much fun in that sandbox that day, they’d just let me play. I wonder if, when I wandered into the house, they were so nearly done with dishes that they didn’t feel the need to say anything. Perhaps my mama thought guilt would win me over.

All I know is that this was not normal in our house. What we were told to do, we were expected to do. (Oh, let me assure you, many times we ended up doing less than expected or got by with less because we knew how to finagle what we wanted, just like all kids do.)

Because of the guilt I felt that evening, I know how important it is for us to help our kids learn obedience. I know how insecure I felt. Not only did I experience this as a child, I also saw it in our kids – and continue to see it in other children.

Our kids should never feel insecure as the result of our own negligence as parents.

One of the dreams every mom (or dad) has is for their children to grow up feeling secure, settled, safe, and unafraid. They will be convinced of the love we have for them; certain that no matter what happens, we will be there. The only problem is, there are times we fail them. We think about their fun and their “happiness” and we forget that our job as parents is to make certain they are safe and secure. Not having boundaries is a way we fail as parents. Another way we fail is when we ignore the disobedience of our kids stepping outside those boundaries.

When we fail to provide promised consequences for obedience (or disobedience), children will feel insecure. When our kids don’t even know what is and isn’t allowed, they will feel insecure.

Even though our kids might fuss and kick (figuratively or otherwise), they still want to know that the boundaries are there. When there are boundaries, our kids are secure.

Boundaries - our kids need them

How well I know how hard it is at times to follow through. When we’re tired, busy, in the middle of something, on the phone, rocking a baby, or having an adult conversation or . . . .

Just this once, OR I can bend the rules a little this time, are not ways to raise kids.

I’m all for mercy and for grace.  We should exhibit those to our kids because we’ve experienced it from others and from Jesus.  Yet, when Jesus gives us mercy and/or grace, He acknowledges our wrong and then grants us these favors. We should do the same.

When our kids hear us lie to others (in defense of them when we all know they were wrong), it makes them feel insecure. If we’ll lie about them, then we’ll lie to them.  Doing it in the name of protection really isn’t protecting them. It’s throwing them to the wolves to figure out for themselves what is truth. When they’re too young to read between the lines, too vulnerable to know when another adult is not being fair or truthful, too inexperienced to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s when they are unsafe. In these situations, we are often to blame.

boundaries like stop signs

We have laws in our country for our protection. What if there were no stop signs, no traffic lights, no rights-of-way, and everybody did what they wanted when they wanted?  What if there was no set time for school to begin or a work day to end? What chaos, insecurity, and uncertainty there would be!

Yet, we do that to our kids. We voice boundaries and don’t follow through. We set a boundary and then move that boundary so we don’t have to deal with defiance. We make excuses and make exceptions in the name of I-love-him too-much. No wonder the insecurity level in our kids continues to climb.

I’m all for mercy and leniency if a child is going through a difficult time. God gives us wisdom for those times and will help us find our way through that maze if we ask.

Boundaries - kids need them

In the end, what we really desire is for our kids to feel safe and secure.  The only way to do that is to have boundaries they must follow. It’s our job to keep those boundaries so they will be safe, both physically and emotionally.

Setting and keeping boundaries is one of the best ways to raise kids who are (and feel) secure.

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