Putting a roof over your child’s head and providing food is only part of parenting. Truthfully, a child can get these things in an orphanage. Parenting means really tuning into your child’s emotional wellbeing and giving them the tools to survive in the world outside of your home.
Teaching your children personal emotional boundaries is a strategy that will help them navigate their parent’s divorce and beyond. The ability to determine and enforce an emotionally safe environment is an incredible skillset that will serve them for life.
What is a boundary
I like to think of a boundary as a fence that goes around your property. Inside of the fence you allow behaviour that, in your opinion, keeps your emotional environment safe. Anything that feels unsafe or undesirable is kept outside of the fence. Notice that the undesirable behaviour will still exist, but it is up you to keep it outside of your fence.
A boundary is not an ultimatum nor a method of controlling another person. We all agree that we really cannot control other people, and we cannot expect our child to control their other parent.
The components of a boundary
A boundary has 2 parts:
- the request
- the consequence (if the request is not respected)
It is a simple sentence that goes: Please stop doing ________. If you continue to ________, then I am going to _________.
Here are some examples:
- Please stop talking to me about Mom. If you continue to do so, I am going up to my room and putting on my headphones.
- Please stop asking me about Grandpa’s business. If you continue to do so, I will ask dad to pick me up for the rest of the weekend.
Demonstrate boundaries for your children
I hope that you will agree that the only part of a relationship equation that you control is yourself. You cannot control how someone else behaves…especially not your ex.
You can request a change in their behaviour, the first part of a boundary, if you find that it violates your emotional safety. If they choose not to change their behaviour, then you can assert part 2, the consequence.
example: Please do not yell at me on the phone. If you do so, I will be hanging up.
Implementing and following through on boundaries sets a really strong example for your children. You are the model to teach them personal emotional boundaries with your ex.
Help your children assert boundaries
Even when your children are young, they can establish what behaviours make them uncomfortable. Help them decide ahead of time what they will do if they experience that behaviour. I suggest you practice these scenarios with your child to alleviate any anxiety they may have about their other parent’s behaviour. I did a lot of this with my teenage son during my battle so he could manage some of his father’s disparaging comments about me.
The key is to help them understand that they cannot control their parent’s behaviour, nor is it necessary to do so to stay safe. They are sovereign beings. They can reject unwanted behaviour simply by disengaging or removing themselves from the location where that behaviour is occurring.
This level of control is empowering to young people. My adolescent son was able to use these strategies to manage his father’s inappropriate behaviour during our separation. It allows children to assert their boundaries in a non-confrontational and safe way.