Learning Boundaries in Parenting


Kids at the park being very silly!


I am reading a book that’s so transformative to me that I can’t even wait until I’m done to talk about what I’ve learned so far.  Last week I talked about my perfectionism and how at its roots, it was a way to avoid negative emotions.  I picked up the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud to start addressing my issues and it turns out that I do indeed have boundary issues, particularly in parenting.

In fact, Boundaries ought to be required reading for every parent leaving the hospital. Why don’t they do that by the way? Give you manuals for those littles ones. They pop out and they say HERE, HAVE FUN!  By the way, MR. DOCTOR SIR, A LOT OF THIS IS NOT FUN.


So Boundaries is all about learning when to say yes and when to say no and why it’s important, particularly when you’re raising kids. although it is applicable to anyone at any stage of life.

What I’m seeing now is most of my frustration with parenting to date is because I have not been respecting an emotional boundary with my kids. Boundaries define what is my responsibility and what is their responsibility. Their bad behavior should reap negative consequences—both emotional and practical—and paid by them, not me. I am only responsible for my own emotions and consequences of my actions.

To date, this is how I processed an infraction by one of my darlings.

Let’s just say little Suzy disobeys me. My immediate reaction is frustration/anger because once again they have disobeyed a rule we have talked about. In my head, I know they should suffer a consequence, but my emotional side takes over. If I give them this consequence, they are going to be SO MAD, I think. And I do not want them to feel so mad and sad. My poor little Suzy, I want her to be HAPPY. And so, I choose just to talk about it with Suzy. Suzy, you know we’ve talked about this before, don’t do that again. There, I have addressed the issue, I think. They understand that’s a rule they shouldn’t break. My parenting job is done.

Or so I thought.

And yet, I am still feeling angry because they didn’t own up to any consequences (because I didn’t make them) and they are happy because they haven’t and I’m even more frustrated they are not feeling remorseful for their behavior. Why would they?

What I am learning is I have violated God’s law of sowing and reaping. They have sown bad behavior but I have reaped their consequences. They are “irresponsible and happy and I am responsible and miserable”!

I thought a good conversation would be enough, but that is not what an irresponsible person needs. Dr. Cloud says it like this:

It doesn’t help just to confront the irresponsible person. A client will often say to me, “But I confront Jack. I have tried many times to let him know what I think about his behavior and that he needs to change.” In reality, my client is only nagging Jack. Jack will not feel the need to change because his behavior is not causing him any pain. Confronting an irresponsible person is not painful to him; only consequences are.

If Jack is wise, confrontation might change his behavior. But people caught in destructive patterns are usually not wise. They need to suffer consequences before they change their behavior. The Bible tell us it is worthless to confront foolish people: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Prov 9:8)

And let’s face it, our children are not wise men. They still have a lot of learning to do to be responsible adults and God’s laws say paying for your consequences (reaping) is how you learn to avoid bad behavior (sowing).

So, I’m learning that I am doing them a favor by teaching them boundaries. It is not my responsibility to shoulder their emotional response to the consequence.

I’ts amazing how frustrated I have been at parenting when really, I was the one that needed to change.

The past few days I have started to put this into practice.  I have begun seeing the consequences as a loving response (we have a behavior chart which leads to no screen time the next day).  I am teaching them boundaries which they will use the rest of their lives.  They will learn that bad behavior means bad consequences.  I can see God’s law of sowing and reaping in effect and ironically it has brought such peace knowing that things are working just as they were meant to.

An Illumination at Sunset


We dribble and pass the ball, spelling out horse as we go. The one, he’s tall and broad with dark hair. He’s the one I’ve invited. He’s brought along a shorter, thinner, not quite yet maturing freshman friend. We’re not quite old enough to be on our own yet. We wouldn’t have a clue what to do if we were. We’re in the backyard, on the court, where my family has their names in the concrete.

They keep adding letters and I keep swishing. They’re surprised and I’m just happy they’re happy. If I can impress them, then my job is complete–he’ll like me, I’m sure of it.

We don’t know what else to do so we keep dribbling and we keep passing and we keep swishing all afternoon until it’s time for them to go. I don’t know what time it is when we start our walk inside, but I can still see the light passing through the living room windows.

We stop in the foyer and decide to say our goodbye. Things get silent and awkward fast. I forget to close my eyes when he leans in.   The way it feels, this must be his first too. I spy his sidekick over his shoulder with my open eyes and he laughs at us.

We say our awkward goodbyes, trying to ignore what just happened. I’ve given him all my efforts and one of my firsts and I’m not sure I ever see him again.

Twenty two years later and I’ve invited another boy to my house. I’m trying to get to know him and so I do one of the few things I know how to do. I start dribbling and start shooting and start with the h out in the driveway-turned-court.

I’m not doing too bad and he’s surprised. I think I might have earned a little respect.

I dribble over to the edge of the court. The sun is beginning to set and his little body makes a silhouette in the setting sun as he takes another shot center court. This time I pause and I smile and enjoy the beauty of the little boy. So much pain in his past to overcome.

My mind triggers back to the other boy on the court.

I remember working so hard to impress. But this time it’s not a striving but a resting.  An innocence. And I expect nothing in return.

I’m doing it, the Spirit whispers. I’m redeeming all those times you tried to earn their love and came up empty. Keep pouring out my love to him so he knows about me and I’ll keep pouring back in.

I watch him throw over and over, trying to make it, trying to get my attention. He doesn’t know yet he doesn’t need to strive. “Mommy, did you see that, did you?”

I do, son, I do.

I’m beginning to see it all, now.


Thus says the LORD, “The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness– Israel,
when it went to find its rest.”
The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness

Jeremiah 31:2-3

In the Meantime


Kids at the park last weekend watching the train passing through town


The power of transparency always amazes me. I often get myself into a tizzy in my head about how something will turn out, particularly when I share words here, and then it turns out that sharing was the best thing I could have done. Satan likes things in the dark because they can stew and hide and make us miserable. Bringing things into the light, even when it scares you is what heals. Maybe you don’t share your words in writing and for the public, but I am sure you can relate to feeling better after talking with a spouse, friend or counselor.

After writing yesterday’s post, my friend shared a sermon series from Andy Stanley called In the Meantime. It is encouragement for people in hard situations that have no end in sight—for those diagnosed with an incurable but not deadly disease, those in failing marriages who don’t want to divorce, those who didn’t  get into the colleges they wanted. And for my own purposes, those that have just adopted and are in the trenches with transition.

And by the way, I feel so lame complaining about the adoption. God led us to it, we waited expectantly for years and were so excited. It makes me feel ungrateful to talk about the hard stuff. And yet, I cannot deny it is much harder than I imagined.

And so here we are, “in the meantime”. I ended up coming down with a fever last night and could barely move, achy and hot. I took the opportunity to let the sermons play through. It was just the right thing at just the right time. And that’s what I love about bringing things into the light—people can’t help you and offer you what they have if they don’t know what’s going on. I’m not suggesting that everyone write a public blog, but please tell someone if you are struggling.

In the opening sermon, Andy relayed a few thoughts I will cling to for a long time. First, God is not absent, apathetic or angry. God did not drop Jacob in our laps and then disappear. He sees and knows what is going on and if he’s not changing anything, then our everyday lives that are so hard have been given as a gift for us to continue through. He summarized the sermon with three truths to combat the lies we believe when we are going through hard times:

  • I can be happy again
  • Something good can come from this
  • There’s a purpose to this pain

I think it’s clear all these are true, particularly in our case. I mean, the transition won’t last forever and there’s already so much good that’s been done with a wonderful purpose. I guess just hearing and saying these things helped to view everything with a bigger lens again.

After listening to these, I saw Jacque Watkins had posted a new Mud Stories podcast. Are you listening to these yet? They are a balm to the soul. And of course, the latest is with Jennifer Dukes Lee all about approval and perfectionism. There was one line in the podcast that brought me to tears. Jennifer is relaying something God said to her. She shares His words, “Jennifer, you are only responsible for obedience and I am responsible for the results.” This hit home so strongly because I feel this heavy need to make everything turn out just-so for Jacob. My perfectionistic tendency is to imagine Perfect Jacob and then do everything I can to get him to that. And really, God led us to adopt in the first place, he’s opening doors as we go and that means the journey is all up to Him. My only job is to be obedient and whether or not the results look like my expectations are irrelevant to Him. He’s the one with the good plans for Jacob and my only responsibility is to lead him as a parent as God leads. I think this is true for any parent, not just adoptive ones.

This morning I was scrolling through Facebook and ran into an article that states they’ve found some old documents describing an eyewitness account of a healing miracle of Jesus. This is the first outside of the Gospels. The account states he brought a stillborn baby to life. Of course, there is debate on the authenticity, but I was just so struck once again about the power of God. Whether that particular account is true, we have many more in the Gospels to be believed. We serve a big, powerful God. He is mighty to save. All of these concerns I have are nothing to Him. Nothing. He can heal all of us instantly and if He does not, he is using it for his good. The amazing thing about Jesus is not that he prevented bad things from happening, but that he walked right in the midst of the messes and performed a miracle. I’m not sure what our miracle will look like. Perhaps our miracle is the simple fact that Jacob now has a family.

Did I tell you that Jacob found 32 feathers on Sunday? Yes, 32! That was the day that was so difficult for me this weekend. And then, yesterday Lexi found 2 more and then Scott brought home our biggest feather yet today. Even though it is hard to get through the days, and staring my junk down is not fun, what I’m sure of right now is we’re right where we’re supposed to be and our God is with us.

Getting to the Roots of Perfectionism



I want to try to describe to you what is going on in our house. I had a lovely post last Monday about love on the move in our house. It is. But also, it is hard-won.

Friday afternoon I had my first counseling session. We talked a lot about the adoption and my perfectionism. She suggested some reasoning behind it and I did not connect the dots at all with what she said. But, spending the weekend with it, I see that it’s the truth.

My perfectionism is not so much a need for approval, although I do think that’s a resulting addiction of perfectionism. The perfectionism, at its roots, is a way to avoid negative emotions, both in myself and in others. I will go through hell and high water so you don’t get mad at me or be disappointed in me. I would not know what to do with such emotions.

I  do not like feeling angry, out of control, disappointed, or sad. These are not ok emotions, I tell myself. I am a good girl. I will forgive quickly and have patience and move on. So I did the perfect thing, the right thing, instead of the true thing so no one felt anything bad.

This worked out nicely for everyone up until now because when I tried to be perfect, I got good grades, and put others first, and volunteered, and worked extra, and said nice things, and went the extra mile. They were happy, I was happy and we were all good. Except I wasn’t being true to myself. I was doing things I didn’t really want to do. I was angry inside and stuffed it all in because I didn’t know what else to do.

God forbid I would actually say no to a request or confront someone when they did something wrong. That might make them mad and that is not ok at all!

So here comes Jacob. He actually doesn’t care if I’m happy or sad. He has zero filter and enough issues that whatever he is feeling is coming out. There was no more room for me to manage his feelings. I’ve been trying to be a perfect mom with the perfect meal he likes and the perfect clothes and the perfect toys and I’ll be patient and kind and guess what? He still gets mad and frustrated and doesn’t do what I say. This makes me so entirely angry and I’ve been trying to stuff it down, really, but there was no more room for stuffing.

I feel like I’m imploding. My joy is gone. I can’t feel any good because I’m so busy stuffing the bad.

Sunday morning after the 3rd time telling him to do something and him ignoring him, I yelled a guttural yell I have never yelled in my entire life. Frankly, it surprised and scared me.

I’m not exactly proud of yelling, but I am proud for once in my life that the emotions on the inside matched the actions on the outside. At the very least, it was my truth in the moment.

And the big surprise to me was no one hated me the rest of the day. No one turned on me. In fact, everyone got their stuff together for the rest of the day.

I went to bed Sunday night in tears. I was trying to tell Scott all I was seeing—that Jacob is showing me who I really am. How he exhausts me and I’m not really sure I can do it. He tells me of course that I’m being hard on myself, but I feel like I have to be right now because I’m starting to wonder who I really am. And I don’t mean that in a way to say I’m lost and should I really be in this family and am I really Christian? I’m just truly wondering what life would look like if I wasn’t hiding from all the emotions.

I have to learn how to bring my true self to the table, not just with Jacob, but with everyone. I need to learn how to handle all the negative emotions in a healthy manner. I need to learn to feel the emotions first, actually.

I think the Lord has been trying to teach me this over the years through Brene Brown and Emily Freeman and Momastery. But I think it’s going to take parenting a little boy for me to learn it.

I thought when we adopted that we’d be saving a little boy, but as it turns out, I think he’s saving me.

Singing with the Psalmist: For Days that Feel Downcast


I’m never sure when I stop writing if it’s because I’m overwhelmed or because I get overwhelmed because I stop writing, but I always know that after not writing for several days, I am overwhelmed.

I’m not stressed and I’m not crying and I’m functioning ok, but I want to say with the Psalmist, Why, oh my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Somewhere down deep, I feel like God is writing a bigger story in me.  It begins somewhere with a little girl who was desperate for approval and attention.  Even though I had a wonderful, Christ-loving, stable family, I came into teenagehood craving approval.

I didn’t get it through promiscuity or being loud or rebellion.  I tried through perfection.

Grades were everything to me, trying to have the right clothes like the popular girls, getting the boy I liked’s attention or the teacher’s attention or really, anyone’s attention.  I wanted to be accepted. I wanted everyone to be proud of me.

This need for perfection led to an addiction of approval from people.  We all know that spiraled for years until someone finally took me up on it, giving me as much attention as I wanted.  He craved the power of seduction and I craved being seduced.  I’m not proud of it.  It doesn’t feel good to be desperate, particularly when there was no reason to feel that way.  I had parents, family, a husband, and children that all adored me.  But it was never enough.

God saved me from myself that season and taught me that he alone was enough.  He loved me until my heart was overflowing.  Oh, how he loves us, I would sing with tears rolling down my face.  And I believed it. Full and content and overflowing until I was ready to pour it out on a little boy who needed to learn the same kind of love.

Even though He is shouting through feathers that He loves me and is with me, some days I still feel that emptiness. I’m pouring out and it feels like I’m not getting filled back up fast enough. I don’t think I  have learned yet about the manna–about the every day pouring in.  I’m trying.  I open my Bible and I journal and I listen and it seems like it should all be working.  But these past days, I still feel down. I feel like I can’t hear God quite as loudly.  Oh my soul, why are you downcast?

God is not a geanie or a formula. Have I not yet learned that I can’t do all the right things and have it come out just so?

I don’t have a positive conclusion for you today, just an honest reflection.

Some days I burst with his love, and then other days I sing with the Psalmist.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5