Saturday, June 14, 2014

An Epiphany About Boundaries

I was involved in a conversation the other day with a friend of mine.  She was pretty upset about some of the choices one of her now adult children who hasn’t lived in her home for quite some time has made.  It’s a choice and scenario that I’ve seen so many others play out as well.  The kid that appeared to be doing so well has now left college after only a short time, toured the country with strangers only to find herself stranded in the middle of nowhere, and then claims she is returning to live with her “real” family (aka bio mother). 

The conversation turned to not understanding how our kids can do this kind of stuff or how can they completely reject safety, love, stability, and a supportive family but still fantasize about how great things were with the bio family.  We talked for some time about how kids (and adults, too) are biologically wired to love their birth families regardless of how they were treated there.  My response to my friend was this…

“Their brains don't operate the same way ours do. Remember that they see the world very differently. They don't have the same logic and reasoning capabilities we have and they get stuck in very young developmental thinking. As such, they may truly not get the difference between scum bags and a good life where people love them. All they can see is the fantasy that they can have everything they want and do anything they want without boundaries.”

And then I had an epiphany about boundaries.

The reason so many of our kids got hurt is because there were NO boundaries in their first families.  There were no boundaries among parents, regarding parental behavior, or between parents and children.  Our kids never learned the concept of boundaries.  Far too often, they were not viewed as children who need love and care, but as an inconvenience, nuisance, or an extra mouth to feed.  They became the punching bags, targets, and door mats that their first parents used to hide, express, or manage their own very big problems. 

When they came to us, they came with absolutely no concept of what healthy boundaries and discipline are.  Therefore, they also came with no concept that boundaries are there to keep them safe, not oppress them. Nor do they comprehend that the lack of boundaries is WHY they got hurt.

I wonder now if that lack of boundaries if that's not part of the fantasy and connection some of our kids have with their first families, though?  I wonder if because they don't understand boundaries and don't like the parental boundaries we impose, they long to go back to a place where there are no boundaries and they don't have to rely on or trust anyone else to keep them safe. And yet, at the same time, they also lack the logic and reasoning skills to know that the reasons they got hurt…and will get hurt again…is because of the lack of boundaries.

I get accused all the time of being too strict and not giving my kids enough freedom.  I've known many of the reasons for this all along.  I do believe, however, that my little epiphany has just given me even better words. 

It’s not about strictness.  It’s about safety in all areas (physical, emotional, and sexual) TEACHING my children about the personal and interpersonal relationship concepts they didn’t have the opportunity to learn through normal developmental means.  In order to be able to function in society, they need to learn how to conceptualize and practice boundaries at home.  Once they learn that adhering to, living within, and setting boundaries on their own is what keeps them safe and functional, they will have more and more freedom to explore the world.  Until then, we will continue to enforce and teach the concept of boundaries regardless of whether anyone else likes it or not.


Jen Alexander said...

You nailed it!

christieminich said...

It is interesting you mention no boundaries in first homes. That was the exact scenario for our youngest daughter. She and her sister are now reunited, and when we visited at Christmas time, they were both romanticizing their lives in Russia. They DID have good times, fishing and drying fish, gardening, and more. But no parents were involved. Both parents were abusive alcoholics....yet the carefree life of doing whatever you wanted was evident.
It is true that learning to be in a family setting is very difficult for the "street child".
They have to learn to trust and give up that total freedom for something better. They may not know it is better... and that is the tricky part.
How do we teach them that having a stable, loving family is better than a freedom that comes with great cost?
Slowly. Surely.... they will eventually get it.
We are proud of our sweetie. She has been home 3 years plus now, and is processing all of this as a 14 year old now, instead of an 11 year old.
Good post Diana!