I have mentioned before that I have three teenagers. My oldest is a boy and is 16. My two younger ones are both girls and are 15 and 13. In June of 2010 our family separated. My former spouse and I had a very unhealthy relationship and could never get on the same page that the way we interacted was not only harmful to our feelings for each other, but also harmful to our children, and to our family as a whole. Finally after years of trying to hold it together I had to acknowledge that nothing was going to change and that although I wanted my children to have two parents, it was less toxic for them to suffer a separated family than to continue to grow up in an environment that said this was an acceptable way to treat another person.
Understandably, both my children and I have had relational setbacks because of the breakup and consequent divorce of our family. We are all having to relearn what it means to show others they are valuable. To this end I have started reading a book called Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. These men have written several other books on Boundaries: in relationships, in dating, in marriage, in life in general. They write from a Christian perspective which I value because if my relationship with God is not what it should be then it does not matter what my other relationships are like. Only when my boundaries and my Christian walk is what it should be can I be the example to those around me, including my children. And only when my foundation is set on the rock of Christ can my other relationships have the balance they should.
The authors start out the book talking about a mom who is “helping” her teenage son by cleaning his room up for him. She is a helper and enjoys assisting others. But it was not until it was pointed out to her that her treatment of her son was not healthy in preparing him for living in the real world that she realized that at times helping is not actually helping. This introduction made me stop and question what I may be doing that is actually enabling my children. I have had to examine my attitudes, my choices, my behaviors and question whether I am modeling what is healthy for my children to take out into the world with them.
The second chapter the book talks about character building. The authors had several good points including that as parents we need to have a clear picture of what it is we are trying to build into our children. If I cannot define what characteristics I want my child to have then how do I know when they have achieved it? And even if I can name qualities that I want them to have- until I define what those words mean how do I know what specific thing I am attempting to instill? And finally, what am I modeling? Ouch. That one hit a little close to home, however it is true. As the authors stated so concisely in the final remarks of this chapter: “To develop a child of good character, we have to be parents of good character. To develop boundaries in our children, we have to have boundaries.”
I believe that my job over the course of the next months is to develop boundaries of my own that will Finally model those characteristics that are healthy for my children in life. I have stated before that in a way I feel as though I am going through my teenage years now as well. I never had the opportunity to sort through the value my family of origin handed me and decide which I truly agreed with. Then I got married virtually right out of high school and was handed a plate of my spouses values. Now at the age of 40 I am attempting to sort through and unpack values I agree with at the same time my children are attempting to do the same. The trick in all of this is to be consistent in my expectations as we unpack this as a family. Tough road ahead: but it is worth it.