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My eldest daughter can sleep sitting up, folded in half. With her flexibility, her stretching classes for ballet offer very little challenge and her instructors are regularly encouraging to explore her limits further to find where she is challenged. And so she does with oversplits and wall stretches and more. But with flexibility comes the safety of boundaries. A couple months ago Earth Baby injured her back by not respecting her own boundaries and in search of a challenge pushed her limits a little too far. The consequence was a back worn out and unable to maintain her usual level of dance. Rest and alternating heat/ice were prescribed along with arnica oil massages, baths, and very careful stretching. It took her young body about a week to heal to a point where she could begin dancing again and in ballet a week is a very long time. Particularly in the critical fall casting season.
Like Earth Baby, I have been growing in the areas of flexibility and boundaries, suffering consequences of putting one above the other along the way. Nothing has developed these more in me than parenting. Just as wanting to develop patience means more opportunities to practice patience, flexibility and boundaries become more tangible when we are aware of our need for them. Children act as a magnifying glass on that need.
With breastfeeding we start out feeding on demand, their itty bitty tummies no bigger than a small marble or chic pea, they need food when they need food. The relationship of milk supply and the infant suckling at the breast is so tied together that flexibility in being able to respond to our baby’s needs can have a critical impact on not only their immediate growth but future milk supply as well. Recognizing normal infant behavior, we are the ones in the position to be flexible in order to meet our new baby’s needs. But as time goes by, after that first year while flexibility is still important in our relationship with our child but lest we be pushed too far and become worn out, some boundaries may need to be put in place. With supply firmly established and many successful feeding sessions under the belt, a toddler can not only handle but benefit from appropriate boundaries in the breastfeeding relationship. Waiting a few minutes for mommy to finish the task she was working on when they wanted to breastfeed (such as dinner for the rest of the family, my toddlers always want to breastfeed when I’m making dinner), not permitting certain behaviors at the breast (pinching is a no go for me, I will not be pinched), or expecting a certain level of attention while at the breast (play time is play time, feeding time is feeding time, etc.) can not only save mommy’s sanity, it can begin to introduce boundaries as a part of a healthy, loving relationship. A lesson I struggled to understand until well into my adulthood.
Western culture seems to be a little polarized regarding flexibility and boundaries in parenting, emphasizing one over the other as either good or bad parenting. In my experience the truth is we need both, flexibility and boundaries. One without the other leads to either burn out or rigidity. As a parent, flexibility helps me not only get through the hiccups that inevitably happen to my plans with having children, but enables me to enjoy the detours I discover with them. With six children ages 7 months to 14 years, we all benefit from being able to go with the flow and adapting in order to be sure everyone’s needs are meet. Boundaries are so important with our children, by modeling boundaries for myself in my relationship with my child at a developmentally appropriate stage, I’m helping her establish her own boundaries. By being open and available to her with those boundaries in place, I have seen my children develop confidence that boundaries are a part of love and they are not insecure when they experience boundaries in other situations. WIth age appropriate boundaries, it also encourages me when I feel my flexibility is becoming brittle and I’m wearing down because I know that there is a new stage coming where they will be capable of respecting new boundaries.
At 4 years old, Squiggle Bug is learning a lot about respecting other people’s boundaries in her relationship with her littlest sister. A common phrase to hear in our house right now is “respect her boundaries please, does she need space?” Increasingly I don’t even have to ask the question and after loving on her little sister, hearing a bit of a fuss, Squiggle Bug will back away saying “space, here’s some space. I’m respecting your boundaries!” Nine year old Lollie has discovered the importance of retreating to her room when she needs to clear her head and find some quiet admits the regular flow of energetic chatter that fills our home. And I know that I’m better at being flexible the rest of the day if I ensure a 45 – 60 minute quiet time happens every day. Boundaries are the fuel for my flexibility.
But perhaps most important are the boundaries and flexibility we have for ourselves. In talking about boundaries and flexibility with my friend Sue, she shared: “Honestly, it was and is the most challenging thing to be flexible with myself, to give myself grace when I don’t measure up. Other people’s expectations I can usually blow off, what do they know about me, but allowing myself the ability to fail without completely eviscerating myself in my thoughts- that’s hard.” I can relate.
After making the decision that we would cloth diaper I felt very strongly that we would never use a disposable diaper again. So when a trip that would be impossible to do with cloth came about I tried so hard to make it work. Flexibility to adjust as needed and boundaries about what I’d actually be able to do eventually won out but not without some self abuse that I wasn’t achieving my goals. When I realized that I was not behaving in a way i would want for my children I had to relax and accept this new, temporary reality by using flexibility to help me respect my own boundaries. Being flexible and adapting as the need arises is not a sign of failure or weakness, my family and I all benefit when I’m able to let myself adapt to respond to my children’s needs. Neither is having boundaries any kind of failure, respecting my needs gives my family and me opportunities to grow.
Do you find the need for flexibility and boundaries? How does this impact your parenting? What examples of flexibility and boundaries have you experienced? Do you find it more more challenging to be flexible and have boundaries in relating with others, your children, or yourself?
How would you like to grow in these areas?