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Setting boundaries with my teens 

Recently, I’ve had to lay down some hard-to-swallow boundaries with my kids. As a recovering people-pleaser, I have a rough time setting boundaries because I want my kids (and others) to like me. 

That was a realization I needed to come to so I could become a better parent, and be better to myself.  

What are boundaries? 

Boundaries in the psychological world are defined as “limits people set in order to create a healthy sense of personal space. They can be physical or emotional in nature, and they help distinguish the desires, needs, and preferences of one person from another.” (cited from Good Therapy) 

Growing up and entering into parenthood, I knew I wanted to provide my children with the opportunities I didn’t have. I wanted them to have a better life than I did and that meant making all the sacrifices I could so they wouldn’t go without.  

Then enter divorce.  

Unknowingly, I found myself wanting to be the “favorite” parent. I wanted my kids to like and enjoy spending time with me. That’s what every parent wants, right?  

Much to my surprise, a decade later, I found myself exhibiting people-pleasing tendencies towards my kids in order to keep the peace in our home. For YEARS I was agreeable, allowing  behaviors and tones of voice that should have been corrected as soon as I saw and heard them. I bent to their every wish.  

It had to change.  

I sat in my therapist’s office and what she said FINALLY sunk in. After many sessions spent ranting about the same pain points with my kids, I heard her words so clearly that I could no longer be blind to my behavior.  

She told me: “It’s not my job to be their friend right now. It’s my job to build up the walls of boundaries and rules, and it’s their job to break them down every day.” 

After a decade of sitting in this woman’s office it finally became clear that I needed to be firm in setting my boundaries. 

I have learned that, for me, when the pain gets great enough, I will change.  

I was sick and tired of being at the whim of my teens’ raging hormone storms. After all those years of hearing my therapist’s admonition, her words made sense. 

So here I am writing about what is true for me today. 

What do boundaries look like in my household? (All of these are therapist approved and suggested). 

For one, I have been more vocal about requesting that my kids watch the way they speak to me, to change the tone, to be aware of how they ask for favors or make requests.  If they don’t and/or continue to be disrespectful, I will verbally disengage and walk away.  

I’ve also had to make a hard decision: To not attend a Sweet 16t party my kids’ father is planning for our daughter. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable with the idea. I also didn’t want my daughter to worry about the very present tension between her father and me during her birthday celebration.  

There are other boundaries I’ve had to set with my teens over the past few months, but these are two I feel comfortable sharing.  

Here’s the thing: Today, I have no problem with setting boundaries. It’s the follow through that’s tough.  

Follow through is an uncomfortable new behavior, and then I judge myself for how I feel. 

Not only that, but my kids are aware of my different reactions and they aren’t happy.  

I feel like I’m “being mean,” “out of line,” or “over-reacting.”— all those hateful criticisms teens hurl at parents when they don’t get what they want. 

All of which have been debunked by my support group and therapist. 

I want to have relationships with my kids and setting boundaries places a strain on those relationships. I project a lot of fear-based outcomes, but boundaries are important. Not only for my well-being, but for theirs.  

Raising young people to become healthy adults isn’t for the weak. I understand that the harder parts of parenthood shape everyone into healthier (and happier) adults.  

And yes, I mean everyone—parents, kids, friends of kids, family members. The process extends outward. It’s like a ripple effect. 

Parenthood has been the single most impactful learning experience of my entire life. I learn something new all the time. The most eye-opening realization is that these are important life skills that we (my kids and I) need to value in this world.  

So while this particular season of parenting is uncomfortable and I don’t enjoy it, I’m grateful for the learning experience. 

And I’m grateful for those of you along for the ride.  

Beth Montgomery
Beth Montgomery is a single mom of teens and is a Jill of all trades who lives in the Harrisburg area. While she wasn't born anywhere near here (or even in this country), she calls Central PA home (for now) and writes about her journeys through adulting... with kids. Visit her online at www.singleparentproject.com or connect with her on the socials.

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