| Boundaries as questions
For many years I have been inspired with the Aware Parenting approach to discipline. But I’ve always struggled with the concept of Loving Limits. Loving Limits IS a term created by Aware Parenting Instructor, Marion Rose, which she defines as ‘the pairing of gentle empathy with a clear limit, in a loving and connected manner. In both our behaviour and language, we communicate a combination of a deep sense of unconditional love and acceptance with a limit to a behaviour’. It is a lot easier to say it than to do it.
When I immersed myself in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I understood that in order to stop the perpetuation of violence in the world, I needed to learn to make requests rather than demands, even of my children. That aligns with Aware Parenting and resonated with me, also, but I have struggled for a while with dilemmas of this sort: I have a need for support and a need for order/harmony; how do I reconcile those needs with the kid’s regular struggle and occasional downright refusal to tidy up after themselves?
Two insights have emerged for me after a very intense and painful inquiry phase: the first one is that my needs for support and order can be met in a million different ways. I knew that, but it takes a while sometimes for concepts to move from the intellectual realm to actually landing in our system. I tend to get fixated in the particular strategy I have devised to meet any need; the strategy in this case is having the kids tidy up after themselves. But I know there are many other potential strategies, even if I can’t think of them right now. And the only way of finding them is by staying open and trusting, in my heart as well as my mind. Getting to that place of trust was a big piece of work already, but there was more work needed to get to the point of balance I was yearning for, and that’s where the second insight comes into place.
The second insight is my sense that the overlap between Marion’s concept of Loving Limits (which I think applies better to children between 1 and 7, with a flexible transition of several years into a different way of dealing with limits), and the NVC idea of requesting rather than demanding (which I sense applies better to older children and adults), is the understanding of boundaries as a question.
Let me explain: I am very clear of how important it is for me to have order around me, and I would love the kids to help me with it. But I am also clear that I want them to help because they see the value in it, not because they feel pushed into. The tricky part is for them to get in touch with their desire to support and honour me, because up until now I have not managed to apply Loving Limits very well. The result of the overpowering parenting they have experienced so far is that their need of autonomy and choice has not been met accurately, they have wounding about being overpowered, and that gets in the way of their desire to support and honour me.
Our way out of this vicious circle requires me to remember several things:
- That, somewhere deep down, the kids really want to help, because I believe that nothing brings more joy to humans than to contribute to making life more wonderful for others, as Marshall Rosenberg (father of NVC) puts it, and children are no exception to this rule.
- That their resistance to help is a very important voice to hear, because I don’t want to push them. Resistance speaks, at times, of other needs of theirs that I might not be seeing to start with, like they are feeling really tired or they have had a difficult day at school. Sometimes, especially when I am being a little too pushy, it speaks of a need for autonomy and choice. Whatever resistance is saying, I want to hear it.
- That in order to listen to their resistance accurately, I need to be very quiet inside and have a curios and inquisitive attitude (meaning, I can’t be grumping about how they don’t five a shit and they never help and that’s unfair). Both the children and my body are constantly giving cues about what resistance is trying to say, and it’s useful to look out for them. I also need to remember that what is being said is often distracting and I want to listen to what is being meant instead.
- That my role here as a mother is to use Loving Limits as a question: ‘do you really, REALLY prefer to keep on watching YouTube now or do you actually want to put your school bag away?’ This is almost a dialogue with their soul, their higher self or whatever you want to call it. Their initial answer is often to choose the screen, and I have tended to give up on my need till it was too much and then imposed my will, and in both those options everyone lost all along. A third option is to gently probe a little deeper: ‘I hear you don’t feel like it now, yet this is important to me. I would really love you to do it this moment, how does that feel?’ The language is not half as important as the intention behind it; ultimately, what I want to convey is ‘I know your needs are as important as mine, I’d love to hear what they are and negotiate how we might find a win-win solution’. If I had managed to set Loving Limits from the start it would be a lot easier, their own pain would not get in the way of understanding their needs, voicing them and offering creative strategies. As it is, I have to take both roles here, guessing their needs and mine, voicing all of them as requests and offering strategies that might work for all of us.
- That my probing is likely to bring up pain for all of us, and that is an opportunity for healing. But that healing can only happen when I am in a very centred space and can stay connected to myself and them all along.
Fascinating work. Big work. World work.
Empoweror (“the person who empowers”)