Friday, January 31, 2014

Boundaries with Kids: A Book Review

It was nearly four years ago that I first read Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

I can honestly say that it was one of the most practical and useful books I have ever read about relationships.  I found that what I read impacted the way I encouraged leaders in ministry, communicated with my family, and saw the way I engaged in conflict with Jason. 

For a long time afterwards, I could be found running about town saying over and over again in different situations, “I have boundary issues” or “That sounds like a boundary issue to me.”  I’m like this when it comes to things I have enjoyed, find stretching, and want to put into practice—moving information from my head to my heart. 

So when my Little Love arrived late last spring, one of the books I knew I wanted to read was Boundaries with Kids.*  I borrowed it from the library and finished it this week.  It is a book I plan to order and keep on my shelf so I am able to return to it again and again and again.

The guiding principles of this book are 10 Biblical boundaries that help us live healthy lives in relationship with others.  These are the same boundaries as in the Boundaries book; however, the focus in this book is how parents help their children to develop boundaries as they grow.  In this way, they begin to take control of their lives in ways that are appropriate for their stage of development—from infancy all the way through adolescence and beyond.

As I read, I found myself thinking about my boundary issues once again.  It was a good reminder that I still have boundary issues and I still need to work on them.  I thought about how some of my boundary issues developed as I considered my parents and their own boundary issues, alongside their parenting challenges with me and my siblings.  It was fascinating and left me feeling compassionate toward them as I realized that many of their own boundary issues have much to do with their own upbringing as well.  In the midst of this, I thought a lot about the many years ahead of me with my Little Love and parenting with boundaries.  I can’t recommend a book more highly.

There were many concepts that I found interesting, but there are two that I want to take hold of and begin to put into practice as I parent my baby right now.  

First, it is a child’s job to test boundaries.  It is my job, as the parent, to keep them in place.  This may seem very obvious, but I can already tell that this will be difficult to practice.  In reflecting, I realize that I have lived and still often live trying to have others like me.  That mode of operation does not really work here all of the time.  I will have to deal with disappointment.  I will have to deal with anger and frustration.  I will have to remind myself that this is okay, because sometimes doing the right thing will not be what my Little Love wants. In the midst of this, I will be helping her to learn to deal with the emotions that we all feel sometimes.

Still being an infant, most of my parenting up to this point has involved creating a safe and loving home and redirecting my baby, not dealing with boundary issues.  However, I have seen this principle at play with nap time over the last three months.  It has taken time to train her, but now my Little Love goes down awake for most of her naps.  The journey to get to this point was painfully hard, trying to decide if her fussing was crying and if she was crying because she wanted me to come back into the room or because she really needed something.  Persevering has been worth it.  Now she fusses and sometimes cries a little when it takes her a little while to fall asleep, but then she sleeps well and wakes up happy.  

I want to remember this small success when we have moved on to more difficult types of boundary issues! 

The second thing I want to hang onto is the need to be surrounded with community.  Sometimes putting boundaries into action is hard.  Sticking to boundaries can be hard.  It can be really hard and still be the right thing to do.  Community is there to encourage me when I need to vent, to cry, to be frustrated with and still love my child. 

I have some wonderful friends who have done life with me.  They have been a source of much needed wisdom and encouragement when I have needed it.  However, I am reminded I need to be intentional in this season of life where our paths do not cross as often anymore to seek out support so that my parenting is not done in a vacuum.  I need to be surrounded by other moms who want to seek Christ as they parent and lift one another and our children up before Him and give thanks and plead for mercy as we walk through the trials of the moment.


I thought of all this when I heard two young girls pushing their mama’s buttons at Kroger yesterday in the checkout lane next to mine, I listened as she tried to juggle their energy and a conveyor of groceries.  I watched them leave the store knocking one another about, one falling in front of my cart, and I saw this mama get frustrated.  My heart went out to her as I remembered being that child to my own mother. 

I also may have just begun talking about this book on boundaries and how it is the kids job to test them with the person was walking nearby as I wheeled my own Little Love to the car.  She told me that she was so glad her kids were grown and I hoped as I was putting groceries into the back seat that at the end of this season with my baby girl that I will be glad I embraced the challenge of raising her with boundaries.


Grace and peace be yours in abundance as you pursue healthy relationships.  May God guide you in the midst of frustration to a place of health in the midst of the loving encouragement of community.

Jessica :)

*I discovered that there is an updated version of the book as I was writing this post.  It was put out three years after the version I read.  

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