Gentle Boundaries – What They Are and Why They’re Important

Boundaries are talked about a lot in the self awareness and addiction recovery world. But did you know boundaries are an important part of how you can connect with your children?

Boundaries allow us to take care of ourselves and our own needs, while giving our children security and building their trust in us.

Why Boundaries Are Confusing

Many of us grew up without understanding healthy boundaries.  Instead, enmeshment and lack of boundaries were typically used. 

Typically, in enmeshed families, an individuals need for boundaries would be referred to as "selfish".  And with little or no boundaries, we can not get our needs met, causing resentment and emotional chaos.

If your boundaries weren’t honored in your family, you knew it.  You may have been afraid to leave anything personal at home for fear of your mom going through your room.  Maybe you couldn't trust family members to keep your secrets without telling the rest of the family.  Or when you expressed how uncomfortable you were hugging your uncle, your feelings were ignored and you were told to “deal with it”. 

The truth is, boundaries are one of the main ways we have to take care of ourselves.  They are a way to be in touch with, express, and get our needs met so we can be gracious and kind to others.
- Stephanie Aberlich

If you grew up without boundaries, you probably felt confused and nervous during much of your childhood.  You never knew when you would be in trouble and why.

And if you grew up with arbitrary rules disguised as boundaries, or boundaries made in anger and power, you probably didn't feel safe doing much of anything, much less expressing yourself or feeling understood. 

If your boundaries weren’t honored as a child, it’s highly likely you don't trust certain family members or yourself.  And you probably did one of two things - you either gave up trying to set boundaries because they were ignored, or you did the opposite and dug in your heels, making boundaries around anything and everything.

Chances are, if you grew up with unhealthy boundaries, it’s hard to use healthy boundaries as a parent.

What Gentle Boundaries Are

Since I have seen the term "boundaries" used to restrict, deny freedom, and even abuse children in various literature and parenting "techniques", I wanted to distance my definition from anything resembling that.  I specifically used the word “gentle”, because that is the way boundaries work the best.  My definition is as follows:

Gentle Boundaries - A limit made from a connected, empathetic, and self aware place, to allow needs to be met or to keep people safe. 

Over the years, I’ve tried many different forms of boundary setting with children, and many of my efforts were completely misguided and possibly even damaging.

Gentle boundaries are not strict rules.  They are not arbitrary ways to keep your children “in check”.  They are not ways to deny your children their needs while getting yours met.  And they most definitely are not a way to gain power and control over others.
- Stephanie Aberlich

I realized that when I was setting a “boundary” from a place of power or anger, it likely resulted in a power struggle and sometimes even negatively affected the relationship I had with that child.

This was because I had an unhealthy view of what a true boundary really was.

Gentle boundaries are not strict rules.  They are not arbitrary ways to keep your children “in check”.  They are not ways to deny your children their needs while getting yours met.  And they most definitely are not a way to gain power and control over others.

The truth is, boundaries are one of the main ways we have to take care of ourselves.  They are a way to be in touch with, express, and get our needs met so we can be gracious and kind to others.

Healthy boundaries are a way to empathetically say “This is ok with me, and this isn’t ok with me.”

For parents, boundaries with their children often say “This is ok in our family, and this is not ok in our family.”

Why Gentle Boundaries Are Important

One word… TRUST.

As Brene Brown has said: "I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them. There is no trust without boundaries".

Her Super Soul Sunday talk about The Anatomy of Trust goes into this deeper, and is a fantastic explanation of what we need to trust others (watch HERE). 

To our children, boundaries say “I’ve got your back.  I’m here to keep you safe and give you guidance so you don’t feel like you are all alone in figuring out this world.”
- Stephanie Aberlich

To our children, boundaries say “I’ve got your back.  I’m here to keep you safe and give you guidance so you don’t feel like you are all alone in figuring out this world.”

Without gentle boundaries, there is a lack of security and consistency.  I've seen many children who grew up in families with little or no boundaries struggle with anxiety because they didn't understand what was expected of them.  A home with no boundaries, especially to those who are Highly Sensitive, can feel chaotic and very overwhelming.

Similarly, a home with too many boundaries, or ones which are strict and inflexible, causes stress and feelings of not being seen, heard or understood.  Or worst of all, a lack of creativity, self expression and fun.

Gentle boundaries are the bridge between those opposing extremes.  They combine the need for stability and security with freedom and respect, so deep trust can form between parents and children.

Gentle Boundaries vs. Rules

It’s important to note that boundaries are not rules.  The difference is, boundaries are fluid, usually changing and evolving with the child’s age and the growth of a family, and they do not mean “you have to do this” or “you can’t do that”.  They do mark a divide or limit, but that doesn’t mean it is a strict line or one that can’t be moved.

A rule would be “No standing on tables”.  And this would be held no matter the circumstances.

A boundary could be “We don’t stand on the dining room table because it’s not safe and not particularly clean.  But you can stand on the small table in the den to give your concert.”

How To Use Gentle Boundaries

Check out these posts to get an idea of what boundaries are important and how to make gentle boundaries that work for your family.

Want to learn more about gentle boundaries?
Check out these posts.

Awareness Over Perfection

Boundary setting is an area that is constantly changing and evolving throughout parenthood.  It can feel very overwhelming and confusing at first, but you will get the hang of it.  When you have no idea what to do, always go back to that inner voice.

Tell Your Story

What has your experience been with boundaries?  Were your boundaries honored as a child?  How have you given gentle boundaries to your children?  What has worked and what hasn't?  What do you put gentle boundaries around?  Tell me in the comments.

With Harmony,

Stevie