Bonding or Boundaries?

Parenting is hard!

I study and write about youth culture and parenting almost every day. It seems so nice and simple when I’m reading articles and typing words on the screen… then my 16-year-old gets home from school!

Huge difference between theory and practice.

I have never… emphasis on never… met the perfect parent. And I’m still learning lessons daily with my own kids, age 16, 18 and 20. But people still always ask me:

“What’s the secret to being a good parent today?”

I always laugh and think, “Ha… do you want theory or practice?

Allow me to let you in on a little bit of my thinking where, imperfect parent that I am, theory is slowly becoming practice in my own home. It’s nothing more than a balance of bonding andboundaries.

Bonding includes nurturing, hugging, wrestling on the floor, connecting over coffee andengaging in meaningful dialogue with our kids. Boundaries include teaching values, setting fair and helpful guidelines, and enforcing discipline when necessary. These two practices are equally vital and important, and at times they seem to be at odds with each other. That’s why most parents seem to gravitate toward one or the other.

In my speaking to parents over the last decade I’ve witnessed this polarization time and time again. If parents sway to one side or the other, they become either the over-protective parent(aka, the “helicopter” parent), or the overly-permissive parent (aka, the “peerant”).

If a parent is strong in bonding and weak in boundaries, these kids don’t learn values or discipline. Their overly-permissive parents are so busy being their “friend,” they don’t ever take time to be the parent and say, “No, that’s not good for you.” These kids learn more values from friends and entertainment media than from their parents. These parents often look back in regret.

But if parents sway to the other extreme they can become mere drill sergeants or disciplinarians. These over-protective parents often never give their kids a chance to learn to make good choices on their own… every choice is made for them.

It’s hard to find this balance.

If I were being completely honest, I’d have to confess that I was too strict with my oldest. I focused on rules and discipline so much that I didn’t give him the chance to learn to make choices on his own… and it hurt our relationship.

I really changed with my second child, giving her the chance to make more and more choices, especially during her last two years of high school. I even went to the extreme of instituting ‘no rules –when 17 ½.

Now, with two kids in college and one at home, I find myself focusing on our relationship (bonding), but constantly looking for any opportunity to teach values and decision-making skills (boundaries). Sometimes these two can intersect, like our Wednesday time after school where we meet at our favorite Mexican restaurant, talk a lot about life and go through some scripture together (currently we’re in Ephesians).

I’m constantly searching for a balance between the two.