Are My Kids on Track: Girls and Boundaries Part One


Stumbling Blocks for Girls

Stumbling Block #1: “Not Enough-ness”

I was an only child until I was 16 years-old, when my parents said, “Surprise!” and delightedly rocked my world with a baby sister. Until that time, my parents did a great job of trying to help me learn awareness and reciprocity through friendships. They scheduled lots of playdates and sleepovers, always with my elated approval. My mom still laughs, however, about my pattern whenever someone would come over to play. I’d get really excited for them to arrive. We’d have snacks, play for a while, and then I would slip off to find my mom. “It’s been fun playing with Amber, but when is she going home?” I did it every time. I honestly think, looking back, it was because I didn’t know how to have boundaries.

When friends came over, I tried to entertain them. I tried to play games they’d like, make conversation, laugh a lot, seem funny and kind. I couldn’t say what I wanted to do because they might think I was bossy. I couldn’t say if my feelings got hurt because they might think I was mean. I couldn’t be quiet or let conversation lapse because they might think I was boring. I had to keep it all going—mostly because, if I was simply myself, they might decide they didn’t want to be my friend. But, then, after a certain period of time, I was done. I’d spent long enough trying to cover up my “not enough-ness,” and I was tired. I was ready for them to go home so I could go back to being myself.

For the “not enough” girl, the underlying beliefs are:

• I’m not funny enough.

• I’m not fun enough.

• I’m not pretty enough.

• I’m not pretty much anything enough.

You can fill in the blank. All girls have some degree of “not enough-ness,” but for some girls the “not enoughs” are strong enough to silence them.

The danger for these girls is that they can’t imagine having boundaries because they really don’t even know how to have a voice. They don’t confront others. They don’t say what they think or feel. They spend so much energy being nice that they don’t know how to be a person. Their desire to please gets in the way of their ability to set boundaries, and they end up losing themselves in the process.

I recently talked with a group of high school girls about their ability to use the word no. Most of the girls, particularly the ones others would perceive as good girls, struggled significantly with their ability to use the word. It didn’t matter if it was saying no to a friend who invited them over when they were too tired, someone who wanted to borrow their notes to study for a test, or someone in class who said something rude. They didn’t know how to say, “This is the line between you and me, and I’m not allowing you to cross it.” No might mean they were unkind. Or mean. Or that they didn’t care about the other person. They’d look bad. They might not be enough. They were afraid. And, as one girl said, “When I feel anxious, I always say yes.” We have to teach girls to say no—for their own sakes and the sakes of those who will potentially try to hurt them.

Years ago, a mom brought her nine-year-old daughter in to see me for counseling. Her eleven-year-old son was seeing David. When she came in, she sat down and said, “Honestly, my daughter doesn’t really need counseling. She’s only here because of her brother. He has no boundaries. He tells her what to do and tries to control her constantly. He even goes so far as to come in her room each morning and choose her outfit for school. The reason I want her to talk to you is that she goes along with it. She lets him control her. I want her to learn to say no to her brother. And, if he doesn’t respect her, I want you to teach her to hit him in the nose.” She then said, “I want her to know that she can hit her brother in the nose when he doesn’t respect her, because that’s what I want her to do in the back seat of a car with a boy when she’s a teenager. If she says no, and a boy doesn’t respect her, I absolutely want her to have the confidence that she can hit him in the nose.”

I have to say, this is the first and only time I’ve had a parent say these words. But I respected immensely the intent behind them. She wanted her daughter to learn boundaries. She wanted her to learn to have a voice and to stand up for herself. She wanted her to learn that she was enough . . . for herself, for her brother, and for anyone else who might try to tell her she wasn’t.

Nice girls can have boundaries. They can be themselves. They can be quiet. They don’t have to please people. They can say no without fear of being mean. These girls need boundaries that keep them safe and help them feel strong. They can be kind in the midst of those boundaries—an idea we’ll come back to later. We want girls to believe they’re enough, to have a voice, and to share the strength that truly is inside of them. Your daughter is enough, whether she believes it or not. She needs you to speak this truth to her—loud and often, and she needs you to model it in your own life.

Pick up a copy of Are My Kids on Track for more information on how to help girls and boys learn boundaries.