Parenting Smart Boundaries without Lies or Insults

Smart Boundaries: Keeping Children out of the Middle

They say good fences make good neighbors. The truth is, good fences make good human relationships. But this can be a hard rule to enforce when parenting post-divorce, when new people—stepparents, step-siblings, extended family and friends—take on new or changing roles in the family.

It’s no surprise that boundaries are a key component to good parenting. They help provide security, whether that’s a predictable bedtime, securing safe transportation or outlining rules for staying safe on the internet. These boundaries allow children to feel secure enough to explore their freedom safely, within those boundaries. The practice also helps children understand their place in the universe—namely, that they’re not at the center of it. Lack of boundaries can lead to narcissism and entitlement, which in turn lead to greater distress and depression.

On the other hand, secrecy and lack of communication can cause its own problems. Not being open with your children creates an aura of secrecy in the home that can undermine the good relationship you’ve been building with your child.

Secrets in families can actually cause problems and undermine trust. These can be much farther-reaching than the day you move out or your court date. Psych Central took a deeper look:

  1. Keeping secrets can destroy relationships: the breakdown in communication can irreparably harm parent-child relationships.
  2. It can have long-term effects on children’s lives: they may feel anxious or paranoid that something is happening that they don’t know about.
  3. Keeping secrets can cause suspicion and resentment: children can turn their anxiety, frustration and anger toward the adults who are letting the bad situation happen, ie, you, if you aren’t up-front and honest with them.
  4. Keeping secrets can create false sense of reality: once this reality is changed, their confidence in what to trust is shattered.
  5. Keeping secrets can cause illness: anxiety, headaches, backaches and digestive problems can result from pent-up anxiety.

So what are sensible boundaries?

This week I sat down with Julie Ross, founder and Executive Director of Parenting Horizons, an organization devoted to enriching children’s lives through parent and teacher education. She is a psychologist and author of a number of books including Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex.

She advocates an evolving, sensible approach to letting the kids in on what’s going on. She points out the example of when to tell children you’re dating. Ross advocates waiting to tell the children to that they don’t experience abandonment from someone who’s only around for a few months. On the other hand, as the relationship progresses, she says, it’s important to let the children in on what’s happening. “Waiting and not telling the child until you’re getting married the next week,” isn’t the way to go.  And as for disclosing the bad behavior of the other parent? She puts it plainly, “children deserve to have a relationship with each parent.”

It may be challenging to find the balance between sharing too much and too little. But keeping in mind the child’s point of view—and what they may discover in the future—can be a good guide.

Download our Guide: Holiday Survival Guide for Divorcing Parents.

Or read more from our Series with Julie Ross: Stepping Back Before Re-engaging in Divorce

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