Limits and boundaries have always been an important part of our parenting at home, but they are front and center as we adjust to the school closures due to coronavirus. Now, we are building a whole new routine, processing related change and grieving the inevitable loss of social connection that comes with social distancing.
What does this mean for me as a parent? It means the concept of feeling balanced between my career, my family and my social life has never been more unattainable. What does this mean for my children? The need for feeling grounded between their established routine at home and at school has never been more uprooted. And together, we are abruptly hit with this unprecedented challenge to blend these needs together and become a united front in order to cope, to grow, to conquer.
Enforcing a week-day routine that is distinguishable from our weekend routine is essential, but I’ve realized that sticking to a new routine is only successful if I can identify the limits and boundaries that will bring consistency to our routine. More importantly, limits and boundaries are not just for the logistical benefit of enforcing routine, they help us advocate for our emotional needs. And when we are all stuck under one roof for an extended period, prioritizing our emotional needs is everything.
These are the limits and boundaries that are proving vital to my family’s new routine – and to our emotional needs:
1. My body belongs to me, and your body belongs to you.
Some of us may feel restored and nurtured from physical touch, while others may feel depleted. While it is easier for my husband and I to respectfully communicate when we’re feeling off here, as parents, sometimes it is easier to suppress our need for space in a well-meaning effort to give everything we can to nurture our children. However, the best way to teach boundaries with physical touch is to model it by advocating for it ourselves.
Often, my 2.5-year-old wants to climb in my lap when I am eating. This is not okay for me, so instead of bending my boundary, I enforce my boundary with honesty. “I am still eating, and it’s really uncomfortable for me to try to eat with you on my body. I’m going to eat first, and then when I am done, we can sit together.”
It is more than okay for us as parents to ask our young children to respect our space, and it is a learning opportunity when we slow down to calmly explain it. It equips them with the same language to be able to advocate for their space.
2. This is my work.
Just as we take interest in what our children are doing, they are rightfully interested in what we are doing! They are capable to respect our work so long as we define the limits for how they may join our work. My work-from-home space is clearly defined in a room next to their play space. They are invited to work with me in the same room, but they may not climb my chair; they may not use my keyboard; and they may not take my office supplies. They are welcome to observe me, as I observe them – but just as I do not take over their chosen work, they may not take over my chosen work.
This is not a limit to promote exclusion of our worlds; it’s a limit to promote respectful inclusion. When I can include them, it makes limits easier to grasp because Mommy’s work is no longer an abstract thing. They are more likely to be quiet during a conference call, for example, if I’ve explained to them who I’m calling and what we need to talk about.
3. This is what comes next.
Routines are not finite; they evolve with the changing needs of our growing children, and sometimes, they are abruptly halted when life throws us curveballs. The routine we are trying to enforce during our work weeks at home, is, inevitably new even if it’s rooted in familiarity.
These cracks of unfamiliarity, even when all else is familiar, create tension, worry, and testing. My children do not want to nap after lunch even though that is modeled after their days at school, and I know they still need the extra hour to meet their overall sleep needs. In this scenario, their testing is innocently coming from confusion because being home is usually associated with a relaxed weekend rhythm. So, why is Mom all of a sudden insisting this new structured flow? Is this really how it’s going to go, or do I have some wiggle room?
Reaffirming this routine with a limit on sticking to what comes next is about clarity, not blind obedience. “I know this feels new, but just like your work days at school, this is what comes after lunch on our work days at home.”
“No” is a perfectly useful boundary in the context of preserving our time and energy because it allows us to better say “yes” to our needs.
Lately, my 4-year-old really wants on-demand attention to watch his silly faces. I like to engage in this because it means a lot to me that we’ve established a relationship where we are comfortable being silly together. But, it’s also okay for there to be a limit even in the context of a perfectly positive interaction.
“I love when we make silly faces with each other, but that’s not something I can do right now.”
It goes both ways. While I wish my son would sing “Memories” by Maroon 5 whenever I ask him to, because it is single-handedly the cutest thing he does these days, I have no right to expect him to perform for me when he does not want to.
When we define our family’s limits, it shifts the entire energy from volatile to predictable. It embeds respect in everything we do. And these days, it better equips us for managing so many unknowns. Have you defined your limits?