A New Take on Boundaries

One of the things I love most about this work is that I never stop learning (Magda would be proud! – See cover photo!!). The gift of working with people who are seeing this world for the first time is that it gives me a glimpse into seeing the world ‘through new eyes.’ And I’ve been handed lessons from infants and toddlers many times in my life1 2 3 4 and more! (and I anticipate many more to come), but I got a little nugget through my community of RIE Associates recently.

In a recent conversation, the topic of siblings came up…a hot topic, as any parent of more than one can attest. It gave me the opportunity to plug my favorite siblings book, The Opposite of COMBAT, and I wanted to say more in the discussion about why I love the book. I wanted to point out that it echoes RIE in so many ways because it reminds us to let children do the solving as much as possible…but the conversation carried on around me…I just wasn’t able to slip a word in. So, I just listened…and I heard something I’d never considered before.

If you’ve been in a class with me or followed this newsletter for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about boundaries (130 mentions in my site at last count!). I often talk about how important it is to set boundaries around our own bodies and tolerance levels because it models, for children, how they should set boundaries and limits around their own bodies and emotions. And I talk about the consistency and predictability that elicit true cooperation as well as provide stability and safety for infants and toddlers. I talk about crafting safe spaces that let your environment say ‘no’ for you, and I’ve compared boundaries to guardrails and speed limits…how much safer we feel when those are in place. Yes, boundaries are an important part of RIE and I thought I had it covered.

But in this conversation about siblings someone talked about boundaries in a way I’d never considered. One Associate talked fondly about the closeness of her two teenage sons before remarking that it hadn’t always been like that…no, they used to (and still) joke about how the two boys couldn’t walk down the same narrow hallway in their home without jabbing or tripping one another along the way. She chuckled a little, but admitted it made her bananas at the time. Then she said something unexpected…she said that she believed that all of those tussles, physical, verbal, and emotional, that her boys went through as they grew up really allowed them to find the edges of one another’s boundaries from an early age and thus paved the way for a closer relationship as they grew.

Such a simple statement, but a profound thought. Yes, bumping up against one another’s boundaries doesn’t happen unless you are close to the other person, and then you can hardly help it. But, just like we can take away a child’s sense of drive by jumping in to solve too quickly too often, we may also take away that opportunity for deep connection when we jump in to soften and solve sibling conflicts too quickly and too often.

Of course, this isn’t license to let your children go full Lord of the Flies on you, but maybe it is an opportunity to re-frame…to remember that those conflicts and disagreements, all those bumps up against one another’s boundaries, are all leading toward a deeper understanding and appreciation for the other.

And who wants to get in the way of that?