For so many of us who start this work, we come to realize that all of the patterns and behaviors that no longer serve us were taught to us as children. Does this mean your parents are bad? No! Does it mean that if you’re years into your parenting journey and just now wanting to set boundaries in your home, that you are bad? Absolutely not! I get a lot of messages from hurting or wounded mothers who feel that this work is against them, when in fact, it is so deeply for them. We all fall short. We all need grace. Boundaries are meant to be freeing.
What are a few examples of things that we may have learned, how did we learn them, and how do we prevent passing them on?
- Guilt – If you are someone who is a chronic people pleaser, maybe you have seen patterns in your childhood of a caregiver using guilt whenever you assert yourself or have a different point of view. This happens a lot even as adult children! If you say that you don’t want to come to the family Thanksgiving this year because your family needs a break from traveling, and your caregiver says things like “I can’t believe that everyone will be here without you…” or “You know, your grandmother is just getting older each year, and she doesn’t get to see enough of the kids. I don’t want you to regret this when she’s gone.” You can probably trace subtle signs of guilt to gain compliance in your childhood as well.
- Lack of Separateness – Being separate as individuals is good! But have you ever felt like, to your caregiver, you being different or apart from them was not good at all? Maybe this looks like a parent having dreams for you, telling you what you were going to be when you grew up, the sports you would play, and what your likes would be because they aligned with their own. Even now as an adult, maybe you are living a life that doesn’t feel authentic to yourself. Maybe you have the desire to move or experience something new, but are terribly afraid. Maybe you have noticed patterns of your caregiver not really liking anyone that you bring around (a boyfriend, spouse, best friend). These are all signs of codependency. We are all made beautifully AND uniquely, and that is the way it was intended to be. There is nothing more painful than missing out on the life you were meant to have, in lieu of living one that someone else creates for you.
- Absence – The opposite of lacking separateness is lacking presence at all. For many, they are the first in generations to really be active parents in their children’s lives. Under this can fall abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and can all be found prevalently in homes that lacked stability. As a child, you thought you learned that your needs didn’t matter. You likely had no boundaries at all and had to grow up much quicker than your peers as a means of emotional or even physical survival. If a caregiver was absent to your needs, that sets you up for a life where trusting others and allowing others to get close to you is difficult. You may even find yourself drawn towards people who are unhealthy, wanting to fix them or bring yourself back to something familiar from your past.
Okay, great Courtney, what now? Well, one of the most powerful things I have ever been told is that anything you learn, you have the ability to unlearn. It starts with seeing our children as individuals with a need for structured support + guidance, and the ability to differentiate who they were created to be. They are not extensions of us, but they need us as steady and emotional boundary keepers for them. They need to feel comfortable disagreeing with us, but strong enough in their connection to us to know that being disrespectful isn’t something that we would allow. Children thrive off assertive (not passive, and not aggressive) direction. They feel safe and free to be the child because they don’t have to carry the burden of being in charge. It is called Assertive Parenting, and it is a daily, challenging, worthy effort that I hope to dive more into soon. Stay tuned!
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