by ARIEL ANDERTON, MT, MA, LPC, LMF
Christmas is in honor of Jesus: the greatest gift given to us, so we give gifts to each other to celebrate. When giving gifts, you probably focus most on the kids in your life—whether your own kids or extended family. Parents, I expect your gift list for your child does not have things like “say ‘no’ to them,” “limit their time with their electronics,” or “highlight how their opinion is different from yours.” Though you likely already have some version of these things in your parenting, you might think of these as just a necessity. But these boundaries are an essential gift, because your kids will need them in order to hold on to the love you give them.
Remember when your kids were little babies and you would put a toy out in front of them and they would reach for it? Then you would put the toy behind your back and your baby would forget it existed, because they did not understand object permanence yet. Something similar happens around feeling loved. At first, your kids feel loved only when you’re right there loving on them, but when you leave they start to feel insecure and cry for you to come back. As they develop and gain experience of your leaving and coming back to love on them again and again, they start to be able to hold that love feeling even when you’re not right there in front of them being loving.
Including boundaries is another key to growing this ability inside your kids. Their experience of boundaries becomes like a holding container inside of them, a vessel to pour love into. Without an adequate loveholding tank inside, your children can be loved and adored, but it will leak out as soon as there is a pause—or something less than ideal happens. You want them to be able to hold on to all the love you’re giving them when they are gone for a school day, a camping weekend, or a mission trip. Increasing their experiences of boundaries with you will increase the size of their love tank. And like a bank account, the more they can hold in the account, the more interest will accumulate, so they will start being able to give love and care to themselves too.
So what are boundaries again? Boundaries are defined as where you end and someone else begins. You are made up of thoughts, emotions, physical parts, relationships, experiences, etc. So whether you’re saying “no”, affirming how their opinion differs, or how they feel that way, you’re showing your kids how they are separate people from you and building the tank for love inside. You may be thinking “my teenager is doing the separate-from-us thing pretty well,” but they need regular feedback that you see their differences and still value them.
Though your kids probably won’t say “thank you for the gift” when you include boundaries year round, be confident that you’re building the ability for them to feel loved in your absence or in the midst of difficulty. You are growing their ability to feel loved always. Merry Christmas!
Ariel Anderton, MT, MA, LPC, LMFT, is the child & adolescent therapist for Summit Counseling. She and her family have lived in the area since 2006.