Balancing Boundaries and Freedom

This most often shows up in our attempts to set healthy boundaries while also supporting our kids’ independence and allowing them to have freedom.  We speak to this throughout the Intentional Parenting book in our conversations about the importance of allowing kids to struggle.  Tim Kimmel calls them “designed dilemmas,” and the folks at Love and Logic call them "SLO’s" (Significant Learning Opportunities).  They are simply moments where we avoid jumping in and rescuing, and allowing our kids to learn through their decisions (good and bad).  These moments are always about developing character, and strengthening resilience.  

As I write this, my own sons are in a lazy season of responsibility.  I commented to them yesterday that it confuses me how two guys who are so skilled in hitting free throws can’t seem to hit the laundry basket.  I find their dirty clothes and wet towels scattered throughout our house, sometimes in their rooms, sometimes beside the shower and sometimes laying in the laundry room floor, inches away from the dirty clothes basket.  Really?

I find their backpacks and soccer cleats lying in front of the lockers of our house, not in the lockers.  I find their empty plates beside the dishwasher, not in it, and it’s not uncommon to find they’ve relieved themselves in the toilet and for some reason missed that step of flushing the evidence.  Almost there, but not quite.  

Yesterday they packed their soccer shorts, jersey, balls, cleats and equipment and sat it by the front door to take to school for an after school practice.  As I left for work, I noticed it still by the door (they’d been gone for over an hour).  This is the equivalent of remembering to do your homework and forgetting to turn it in.  I looked down at my phone to find a text from one of my son’s asking if I could drop it off at school in route to work.  

I paused to consider my options.  Technically, I could have pulled it off.  I had just enough time to make the drop and still make it to my first appointment, but I opted not to.  Instead, I contacted my wife and we corporately agreed to use this opportunity to strengthen the responsibility muscle that has been underworked lately.  I shot an email to their coach to let him know that my boys would show up at practice today in their school uniforms, with no equipment, and that we would require them to extend an apology for showing up unprepared, which is disrespectful to the time their coach gives to the team.  We also wanted to free him up to handle them however he chose to handle players who came unprepared to practice.  We are hoping this involves some sort of running laps, acting as water boys, or giving back to the team.  

It seems important to note that the conversation with my wife included discussion about what we’d likely encounter on the other side of this parenting decision.  We aren’t operating under the illusion that our sons will enter the house with a sense of gratitude for the learning experience they were handed.  In the face of failure or disappointment, boys more often blame others rather than taking personal responsibility.  Girls tend to blame themselves, boys blame others.  

That’s exactly what stepped into the sliding door of the van – sweaty, angry, blaming boys.  They are mad at themselves, but would prefer to blame my wife.  She first responded with empathy, and tried to acknowledge how hard it must have been to show up at practice unprepared and not knowing how it would be handled.  One of my sons spewed his venom on her and accused the two of us of being uncaring for not bringing the equipment to school.  She calmly reminded them that she didn’t pack the equipment, nor did she leave it sitting by the door.  She responded with empathy again and then turned on some music to drown out the drama.  

There’s nothing else that needs to be said, though we often do in these moments.  We take away from the rich learning that takes place when our kids learning through experience, with boundaries and consequences.  We dilute the learning with a lecture (more on this later).  

Identify an area where you’d like to support independence through allowing freedom, and letting your son/daughter learn through a decision.  

(Excerpt from Intentional Parenting by Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan)