Common Signs of a Lack of Boundaries with Family

Let’s look at some common signs of a lack of boundaries with the family we grew up in. Catching the Virus A common scenario is this: one spouse doesn’t have good emotional boundaries with the family he grew up in — his family of origin. Then when he has contact with them by phone or in person, he becomes depressed, argumentative, self-critical, perfectionistic, angry, combative, or withdrawn. It is as though he “catches” something from his family of origin and passes it on to his immediate family. His family of origin has the power to affect his new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life. I remember one young woman who made steady gains in therapy until she talked to her mother, when she would withdraw for three weeks. She would say things like, “I’m not changing at all. I’m not getting any better.” Fusing with many of her mother’s ideas about her, she wasn’t able to stay separate. This fusion with her mother affected her other relationships.... Continue Reading »

Boundaries and Emotional Blackmail

“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. “It’s like she’s hurt and withdrawn, and I can’t get her back. It’s really a horrible feeling to think you’ve lost someone you love.” Let’s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It’s difficult to accept another person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love. How often do we hear the statement that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? It’s true. His love is constant and never fails. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, God’s constant love is misrepresented. When parents pull away in... Continue Reading »

How to Win a Titanic Power Struggle with Your Child

In one family I (Dr. Townsend) know, seven-year-old Taylor was going through a titanic power struggle with his mother. Sometimes, she wondered if setting boundaries with kids was actually possible. Taylor fought any “do” or “don’t” she said. Finally, his mom went to his bedroom to talk to him. As she opened the door, a cup perched on the top of the door tipped over, covering her from head to toe with milk. Any parent would have blown up at her child. Instead, Taylor’s mom said, her face dripping with milk, “Son, this is really serious. I’m going to have to take some time to figure out what will be happening to you. I’ll let you know.” The next few hours were excruciating for Taylor as he waited in limbo. By that time, the mom had called her husband and worked out a plan. The plan included restrictions on Taylor’s time—such as no TV, limited outdoor time, and limited friend time—and consequences—such as shampooing the carpet and learning how to use a washing machine to clean Mom’s clothes. To avoid feeling like the bad guy, Taylor joked with his dad that evening about the incident, saying, “Dad, wasn’t that kind... Continue Reading »

Why Your Child Really Isn’t Perfect and What to Do About It

Children need more than a parent who will talk about boundaries. They need a parent who will be boundaries. This means that in whatever situation arises, you respond to your child with empathy, firmness, freedom, and consequences. This is how God handles his children, and he is our model. But, sometimes parents contribute to the problem by trying to justify their kid’s behavior, rather than addressing the issue. Setting boundaries with kids isn’t about “making” your child do anything. It is much more about structuring your child’s existence so that he experiences the consequences of his behavior, thus leading him to be more responsible and caring. Use the following three key steps to help begin the process with your kids: Step 1: Acknowledge that your child is not perfect. All kids are immature sinners; this is our human condition. Some parents have difficulty with this first step. They deny their child’s behavior. They rationalize genuine problems. For example, smarting off becomes a cute sense of humor. Laziness becomes fatigue. Intrusiveness becomes high-spiritedness. Parents rationalize their child’s problems for many reasons. Some do it to avoid guilty feelings. Some don’t want their own perfectionism challenged. Some feel as if their child... Continue Reading »

How to Determine the Right Consequences When Setting Boundaries

Not long ago I (Dr. Townsend) took my kids and some of their friends to a major league baseball game for an outing. While we were watching the game, a young boy sitting behind us was making everyone miserable. He was out of control, loud, and rude. His parents did try to manage him, but their efforts were ineffective. They shushed him, praised him when he was quiet, bribed him with food, and threatened to take him out of the game. Nothing worked. Finally, one of my son’s friends turned to me and said, “That guy needs some serious consequences.” I made a note to myself to call his parents when I got home and congratulate them. I don’t often hear that kind of thing from adolescents. If you are like many of the people I talk with, you may often have difficulty identifying and following through with appropriate consequences. Let’s take a look at a five simple principles that can guide you in determining the right consequences when setting boundaries. 1. Remove the Desirable, Add the Undesirable A consequence is either removing the desirable or adding the undesirable to someone else’s life as the result of a rule violation.... Continue Reading »

How to Overcome a Victim Mentality

A woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault. “Why do you talk to her?” I asked. “What do you mean?” she replied. “When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?” “Well, I have to. She is standing there talking.” “Why don’t you just tell her that you have work to do, or close your door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign?” The woman looked at me with a blank stare. To have choices and to have control of her own behavior was a concept that hadn’t occurred to her. She felt that if something happened “to her,” then that was the way it had to be. There was nothing she could do to change it. When I suggested that she had many choices, she quizzed me about them. I gave her five or six suggestions, from talking to the woman about the problem, to talking to a supervisor, to asking to be moved to another area. This was a... Continue Reading »

Single Parent: 3 Tips to Save Your Sanity

If you are a single parent, you may need to know something: you have the hardest job in the world. You have to meet all the needs of your kid, over many years, without the help of a spouse. Some of my (Dr. Townsend) closest friends are single parents, and my heart breaks with theirs when they encounter the rough years of parenting. Single parenting can sometimes be brutal and overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to discuss boundaries for single parents. Many of my friends have also found the balance and resources they need, and they are experiencing success as parents. Their children and teens are doing well and are maturing at the right rate. So there is hope for you as well. Let’s look at three of the biggest struggles single parents face and explore what you can do to meet those challenges: Single Parent Challenge #1 – Not Enough of You Single parents have to do the work of two parents, yet they have more limited resources than two-parent families, both in quantity and in ability. This limitation becomes more of a challenge when your kids are teenagers. They push against your authority and limits and assert their... Continue Reading »

God’s Design for Parenting: Standing Together

Are you and your spouse united or divided in your parenting? Consider the following dialogue: Dad: “You’re letting our daughter do anything she wants.” Mom: “You’re too strict with her.” Dad: “She needs more discipline and structure.” Mom: “She needs more love and encouragement.” Dad: “She’s becoming irresponsible and out of control.” Mom: “She’s becoming insecure and afraid.” And you thought kid and teenagers had conflicts! This conversation illustrates a primary problem that results when parents can’t agree on how to parent. Rather than doing what they need to do for their kids — put her together — divided parents pull their kids apart. Of course, no parents agree on everything. But in the best situations, they agree on the most important things and disagree only on styles, preferences, and smaller matters. This is what God intended, but often parents get in the way of God’s design. When parents are far apart in their values and perceptions of their children, the kids lose out. They have no one to contain and integrate their internal divisions. Their unifying environment is split up, so their inner conflicts remain stuck, and can get worse. If one parent is loving but has poor boundaries, and the other has... Continue Reading »

7 Tips for Setting Summer Boundaries with Your Kids

It is scary how our kids can sense when we are weak and ready to give in to them. This can be especially true during the summer when kids are home all day and away from the structured environment of school. Without boundaries, kids learn how to beg, plead, argue, and rationalize to get out of their responsibilities. The later you start to enforce boundaries, the more energetically your children will resist. Here are seven tips to help you set important boundaries with your kids this summer: 1. Create summer structure Develop boundaries that you need for your family and present them to your child, such as taking time each day to play on their own, reading a book, cleaning their room, going to bed on time, etc. You and your child both need to be a part of this process. The more you involve her in it, the more likely she is to take ownership of it and cooperate in her own growth. Invite her to partner with you, even though the plan is still going to be executed if she refuses. 2. Introduce new boundaries at a peaceful time. Pick a good time and place when you and... Continue Reading »

The Best Boundaries Words for Kids

I (Dr. Cloud) can still remember what happened that day when I was eight years old. I made a big mistake, but I didn’t know it at the moment. I thought I was getting back at my sister, who was sixteen at the time. Opportunities for revenge were few and far between, and I was not about to let this one slip by. Sharon and her friend were goofing around in the den when one of them threw a pillow and broke the overhead light. They quickly figured out a way to arrange the light in such a way that you could not tell it was broken. They thought that they were off the hook. Little did my sister know that she had a sociopathic little brother with a plan. When my father came home, I could not wait to tell him what they had done. I told him that they had broken the light, and he asked me to show him. I led him into the den, not knowing that Sharon and her friend were still in there. I was caught. Here he was, asking me about the broken light, and there they were, watching me seal my fate... Continue Reading »