This morning I read this lovely post from Alicia on Milagro Girl. When I first read it I thought it was a valuable sentiment and gave myself a little mental pat on the back because, lately – finally! – I’ve been making a real effort to establish and voice my own boundaries. Later the girls and I went to the park and met up with friends of ours from church. The two big girls played, our two babies nursed and slept, and the mommies got a good long visit. It was grand.
I always feel like my parenting is really put to the test when other children are around. Sure, taking Peanut out on an errand to the store can be a challenge and certainly puts my parenting on display – particularly if it should happen that she should become a screeching, noodle-legged version of her normally-delightful self while we walk down Bank St. – but when other children are around, and when Peanut is playing with them, I really feel tested. It’s a good kind of tested, though: I find myself thinking a little more ‘big picture’ in such a circumstance, considering not only what is happening in the moment but also about what lesson or example I’m setting for the other children around.
I want to be Nice Mommy, not Mean Mommy and, some day, it wouldn’t be so bad to be Cool Mommy (I’ve already got Hippie, Dreadlocked Mommy locked up*). But, that said, I don’t want to accidentally turn into Doormat Mommy. So today, as Peanut was playing with and near other children, I was thinking about how I was interacting with her and what message it was sending the other children there. Was I showing my daughter respect and in turn demonstrating to those other children that children deserve respect? Was I showing my daughter kindness and consideration and in turn allowing the other children there that adults ought to be kind and considerate?
Was I demonstrating healthy, respectful boundaries for my daughter and in turn demonstrating those boundaries for the other children there?
As I was watching her play, occasionally calling out to her when necessary to remind her of what the boundaries of kind, respectful and safe behaviour are, it struck me that Alicia’s words relate to parenting:
And in it I learned what a boundary was. I’d always thought that it meant a rule, and in my mind rules are meant to be broken. But it’s not a rule, it’s a circle around yourself that brings peace to your heart and world. It’s the knowing what your spirit is capable of.
Traditionally, parenting has been presented as a series of rules. Lots of focus on what children can not do, what they must do. The goal, when it is rarely mentioned, is generally expressed as a desire for children to obey, to follow the rules.
I think that’s a lousy goal.
My goal isn’t for my children to obey me, but to do what is right. My goal isn’t to raise rule-followers, it is to raise kind and gracious souls.
My goal isn’t to teach them right and wrong but to teach them to discern that themselves.
So I help Peanut learn boundaries. Because it isn’t that throwing sand is an inherently evil pastime, it’s that the consequence – sand in an eye or mouth – is unkind and disrespectful to her playmate. And so: “Peanut, we don’t throw sand…and here’s why:…”
And hopefully, as she learns how to respect her playmates, as she learns the intricacies of friendship, she will also grow to understand where her own boundaries are. Hopefully she will demand respect, now and when she is grown. Hopefully she will grow to understand and know with surety that being a grace-filled and forgiving person does not mean she must simply suffer at the hands of those are not, whether it’s from nasty words on the playground when she’s 10 years old or nasty words from a partner when she’s 30.
Hopefully she will learn to keep her heart and soul healthy at an earlier age than her mother, willing and able to say, “Here is the space that I need.”
*totally unintentional pun, but once I realized what a pun it was I had to keep it. Parent humour, you know.