When will we ever learn...
I remember clearly one of my friends who, on learning she had become pregnant for the first time, told me categorically that her child, from the start, was going to be put to bed, in its own room, every evening on the dot of 6pm, and that she would set up those all-important routines that every self-help book on parenthood upholds. I smiled indulgently and kept quiet. You perhaps will imagine how it went in reality.
But having boundaries are definitely right and good when we are seeking to bring up children to be confident and resilient adults. Having a boundary and ensuring that we are consistent as parents in maintaining that boundary is a very important but difficult process. It is as important and as difficult when your children are five as when they are 15, but children who have a solid wall of certainty feel better and safer if the wall stays in place. They do need to know where they are and, whilst there may be a short term gain from the wall giving way now and again, in the longer term it creates uncertainty and insecurity.
Here at School we have had the benefit of hearing from professional counsellor Mandy Saligari on a number of occasions. She described the stages our children go through when we say “No” to them. These reactions are the same if we say no to a bar of chocolate at five, or to a party at 15. First there is shock (“You can’t be serious?”), then there is hurt (“I can’t believe you wouldn’t let me go to that party...”), then there is persuasion/guilt (“You are the only parent not letting their son/daughter going to this... I am going to be completely left out...”) and then anger (“I hate you... you are ruining my life... you never understand...”). The next two steps in her virtual conversation involve discussion and then acceptance, but how often have I given in at stage 4? I would say normal breaking point of most parental boundaries is the tears and maybe shouting that accompany the “you never understand” section - at that point we give in to keep the peace (especially if it is in the middle of a precious family mealtime) and show conclusively that the boundaries we are so eager to create are in fact worth less than the paper they are written on. And so next time, we go through it all again.
Perhaps the answer is just to think back to those excellent ideals and standards we had when our children were very small. If we could stick to it then, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep that sense of purpose now, no matter how hard it is.