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Saying ‘no’ and finding life

One small step at a time.

I cannot run to save myself. I would still be coming out of the blocks as Usain Bolt crosses the finish line. My life long nick name of ‘chicken legs’ was not earned because of massive calves or a cut torso. But one time when I did appear “faster than a speeding bullet” was when, against my mother’s clearly expressed house rules I had run through our family home and in doing so knocked one of Mum’s favourite vases off a sideboard and watched as it shattered into a thousand pieces, with water, flowers and ever present vase occupant – small green flog – going everywhere. I ran, faster than I have ever done, into the surrounding sugar cane fields to hide. Several hours later, as darkness began to fall and my tummy rumbled with childhood starvation I made my way up the back stairs desperately hoping no one would notice. My father Frank was never a violent man but after dinner the ‘razor strap’ came out and my thin backside received a well deserved whack or two.

We all need boundaries. Boundaries on behaviour are essential for human growth to maturity. The child and the adolescent need boundaries to bounce off so they can acquire an ego strength, a sense of identity and a sense of responsibility. The child who reaches for the stove hot plate needs a firm “No” as does the child playing with a ball beside a busy road and goes to run out on to the road in pursuit of a misplaced kick. These and a thousand examples like them need to be met by a clear boundary, a clear unambiguous ‘no’ and clear consequences. This is how we grow. This is how we learn to be responsible.

Recently a friend of mine returned from working at a school in the country. Sadly she recalled the number of students in her primary class who were falling asleep in class as they have been up to the small hours of the morning ‘gaming’. No boundary! Another friend recently recalled the “this is the end of the world” reaction when they told their 15 year old that they could not spend several days at a holiday destination partying to the small hours of the morning with no adult supervision. Boundary! A colleague of mine has four children aged from 8 to 18, each has their own mobile phone. My colleague supervises what apps they have on their phones and has developed a practice whereby there is a phone charging station at the foot of the inside stair case up to the bedrooms and each phone is plugged in there and getting charged as the children go to bed. There are four different time slots to reflect age and maturity but no phone is allowed up into bedrooms. Boundary! A former student of mine recently shared with me how his teenager had alerted him to the disturbing on-line behaviour of the child of a mutual friend of ours whose teenager has their own computer in their room and surfs the web to their hearts content behind closed doors, “because we trust them!” No boundary!

The beautiful thing about a boundary is that it morphs into self-discipline once it has done its job, it is no longer imposed but willingly embraced.

Boundary setting applies to adults just as much as children and teenagers. Boundary setting is never easy. Before we develop an interior self-discipline, we hate the word, “No!” It is an affront on our freedom. The mantras of “I want” “I need” “Everyone does it” and “You’re unfair” and worse still “You’re cruel!” are not easy to hear, especially when they are repeated endlessly. But the war does end. The sun does come up the following morning – perspective and balance do come into play. You fight battles, you never enjoy them, but you do so because you know that boundary setting and its resultant inner self discipline is a war worth fighting.

Boundaries take a thousand forms. I can recall very clearly my father teaching Simon, Tony and I about what we could and could not say to a woman. We were taught to give respect whether it was earned or not. We were taught to give up a seat on a bus or stand when the teacher entered the room or to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and more. All of these planted in our childhood minds and hearts seeds of respect, appreciation and dignity that bore fruit long after dad died when I was only 17.

When we spoil a child and think it is kindness to give them everything, keep them happy no matter what, be manipulated by crocodile tears and think they will one day thank us when we are only a boundary less brat disguised as an adult – we will create for the child a future of heartache and pain. Would you allow an eight year old behind the wheel of a car on a busy highway? If not, then why would some allow the same child unfettered access to the internet behind closed doors? As a society we have more and more children accessing pornography at a younger and younger age, sexting and the objectification of both women and men through sexual lenses common place and we naively seem to believe that “someone else” will fix it or “it really isn’t that bad” or worst still “my child would never do it!” When boundaries are absent people get hurt, harmed is caused and sometimes that hurt and that harm last a lifetime.

Boundaries help us grow. Boundaries give us a self-discipline that will last a life time and gift us with a wonderful life. Boundaries give us the key to a deeper and more satisfying future. Boundaries help us appreciate what is right there under our noses. Boundary teach respect – respect teaches appreciation and appreciation gifts us with both true friends and a meaningful life.

Boundaries all begin with a simple ‘no’. It is a no born from love and not ego. it is a no linked to delayed gratification. it is a no that helps you appreciate, allows you to achieve more and to find meaning. Boundaries like all good journeys are walked one small step at a time. Enjoy the journey!

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