Fearless Parent: Setting Boundaries for Family Peace

Not long ago I attended a homeschooling conference geared toward the parochial perspective. While we are not a homeschool family, several of my friends are, especially for their children with special needs. I was there to help a friend who had a vendor booth at the conference.

What was interesting about this particular group was how often the parents spoke about being judged by peers and relatives; even called names like crazy, ignorant and backwards. I empathized with them to a degree; however, where we differed was how we interpreted the victimization inspired by the judgements from outside family members and friends.

Based on how often my family had to set firm boundaries with extended family members and friends, I had to wonder at what point these parents would do the same. Or were they just resigned to be the victims of judgment and name calling? At what point would they decide that their immediate family’s priorities took precedence over the opinions of others?

“Victimhood” is not adult behavior

Over the years of mentoring parents who have children with special needs, I was often struck by the characteristic of “victimhood” in some who seemed to be in perpetual defense mode to justify their decision making to outside relatives and friends. It was the tone in their voice and necessity to explain their choices that demonstrated they were reliving childhood patterns.

It was not enough to point out that they were the parents and therefore needed to make decisions in spite of outside opinions. They often had to be coached to be bold in their actions and not be intimidated by anyone, including doctors, therapists and educators. They also had to be persuaded to not be intimidated by the opinions of relatives or friends.

Boundaries are necessary

Getting back to where all this fits in with the homeschool parents, I believe the same “victimhood” dynamic plays out in virtually all families to some degree. The difference lies in how each family chooses their own identity that is separate from the needs and priorities of the extended family members.

Knowing what I do about the need for setting boundaries with family members and friends, I have already given my children the explanation to set the boundaries with me, and others, one day too. In fact, I expect it. There probably needs to be some sort of a course in college called Boundary Making 101, but for now we will just remind each other.

you teach people how to treat you

Do what is right for your family

In my book Victory over Autism: Practical Steps and Wisdom Toward Recovery for the Whole Family I wrote a chapter on how parents need to recognize they are the savvy experts on all things to do with their children, and their family choices. I remind parents not to ignore their parental instincts when surrounded by other experts.

While all of that may seem like a given mindset, the reality is many parents believe they are supposed to defer to any and all other authority figures or the opinions of others, including well-meaning friends and relatives. When parents realize how crucial it is to change that mindset, they will begin to have control over their own family identity and well-being.

Setting boundaries leads to greater peace for the family

When I have mentored others in one form or another, the topic of boundary making comes up often. It is truly what grounds us as human beings, to be firm with what we will allow or expect. Without proper boundaries you see marital discord, children who are disrespected and are disrespectful. You also see a family that is not at peace. By establishing boundaries you are not as much putting up a barrier to others, as you are setting the starting line toward greater harmony.

In a conversation with a friend, she asked me how she was to find peace when all she felt was anxiety around her and her family. I asked her when was the last time she said no to others, established firm boundaries, and in all other ways looked at herself and her family as the only priority. She had to admit it had been a very long time, if at all, that she regarded her life in this way. Instead she looked to others for validation on her decisions and coped by ignoring what she really needed to change… her perspective.

So if peace is what you desire for your family—or yourself—then begin by setting boundaries. Peace will be a byproduct.

Setting Boundaries

Celebrating those who help our children

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There needs to be a universal holiday to honor those who are therapists to children and those in need. Seriously, we need Hallmark cards that say “Happy BCBA Day” or “Happy Speech Therapists Day”. The movement for this would probably be huge. For us, we would honor many, many tremendous professionals who have graced our path over the years.

One of those is this happy, smiling, beautiful woman named Charlotte who was Daniel’s first therapist of any kind. He was 7 months old when the pediatrician became concerned at his lack of muscle development so asked to have a pediatric physical therapist come to our home to evaluate and provide services. Little did we know that our lives would be intertwined over the next few years as Charlotte helped Daniel to achieve milestones, only to watch him lose them all starting around the age of 13 months.

By the age of 16 months Charlotte made the tenuous decision to approach me with her concerns that Daniel was falling somewhere on the autism spectrum. She carefully laid out what she observed with his sensory issues, his language delays, his meltdowns and repetitive behaviors. As naïve as I was to all of this I was willing to listen because Charlotte truly cared for Daniel, and was professional to the core. Daniel was officially diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, and in spite of the difficulty of hearing the word “autism” we were relieved to have found out when we did in order to begin therapies.

As time went on, Charlotte observed our challenges and celebrated our victories. She attended our first IEP meeting and later would watch as Daniel’s milestones came back, surpassing the expectations of everyone.

I have not spoken to Charlotte since we moved but I did send her a copy of the book, especially since she is mentioned in the Acknowledgement section. It was the least I could offer for all she did for us. And if there was a holiday to honor the therapists in our lives, I would send her a card too