In a recent column a wife complained that she and her husband had virtually no intimacy because they had young children who would burst in on weekend mornings and spoil any chance of couple time. As parents, they were just too busy with the kids. I thought that the line about children bursting in said a great deal.
Lately, I have been mulling over the issue of children and boundaries with parents in the home. My line of thought began because of a muffin. I had shared half of the large blueberry muffin with my daughter as I had my morning coffee. She looked at me when finished and eyed up my half still sitting uneaten in front of me. In the sweet way she has, she asked for my half as well. Having already shared half, I told her, no, that it was my half of the muffin. She looked sadly at me and said, “But you’re supposed to share!”
“I already did share, and this is my half. I really like blueberry muffins, but I wanted you to enjoy some as well, so I gave you half of mine.”
Emmy accepted the verdict, but it made me think about the mistake we make when we don’t establish boundaries in the minds of our children. Failing to do so just gives them an unhealthy sense of entitlement
The problem with the couple complaining about lack of intimacy was obvious. They didn’t put a lock on their door and teach their children that they may not “burst in” even if there is no lock. While parents of the past are sometimes criticized for not being attentive enough to their children, we’ve swung too far the other way, I think. If not taught about boundaries, children will take everything you have in energy, time and priorities and learn nothing about empathy, respect for others (including Mom and Dad) and how to do things on their own. Teaching children that “this is yours and this is mine, and those two things are not the same” is a crucial life lesson.
In homes that are too child-centered and where marriages are not given proper attention, the empty nest phase can be even emptier when children leave, because there is no relationship left between husband and wife. I love my children as deeply as a mother could, but they are not the only part of my world. I happen to love my husband, and time with him is prized above all. Our kids will grow up and leave us, and we’ll be left with what we have in our relationship. Children are a priceless stewardship, but they are never supposed to take the place of your primary relationship with your spouse.
When we had 5 children under 13 at home, Tom and I would take sanity breaks and go out somewhere just to talk. It wasn’t always dinner (too expensive), just a soda and a parking lot sometimes to discuss whatever was on our minds. We laughed at ourselves, as sometimes we would get home and pull in the garage, shut the engine off and keep right on talking. Small heads would poke through the breezeway door into the garage. “When are you coming in?” We would wave them away and finish our conversation. It was our joke that “garage dates” were a low cost way of staying close. Kids not welcome! The kids knew we’d be back in due time.
Even young children are fully capable of learning boundaries, but we often expect too little of them. Marriages pay the price, I think. Part of loving our children is modeling healthy boundaries and teaching them, in love, that they are not the center of the universe. Marriage is center of the family universe. So buy a lock for your door, carve out time away and eat your half of the muffin. Someday your children will thank-you for the example.