There is a big difference between neglecting children to do as they please because the parent is emotionally and/or physically absent and being a present parent who partners with children as they are allowed to make the choices that feel good to them.
Some parents may lean towards a more restrictive way of being with their children because as children they themselves were neglected and not cared for. So they want to set limits and boundaries with their own children because they didn’t have any growing up. They want to set those limits and boundaries as a way to express their love and care for their children.
For example, if as a child, someone had to fend for themselves around food and they have memories of eating dry cereal out of the box for dinner because no one made food for them, they may want to be extra diligent about making their child eat the nutritious meals that they weren’t provided as a child.
Or if, as a child, the parent was left on their own to watch TV while no one cared for them and then they had to put themselves to bed while a parent worked late or was otherwise absent, they may want to enforce strict rules around TV watching and scheduled bedtimes. Leaning towards the opposite of what they experienced as a child, they attempt to create a sense of safety and fulfill the duties of a caregiver that weren’t available to them when they were small.
While these boundaries and limits imposed in a parent-child relationship are often touted as the best way to care for children (“Children need boundaries to feel safe” is a phrase I often hear in order to justify maintaining the painful power-struggles common in so many parent-child relationships), there is actually an alternative choice.
Parents that are emotionally and physically present with their children and partner with them to navigate life’s choices are able to find the sweet spot of offering their children (and themselves) freedom, connection, and joy.
The boundaries in the relationship that give the child a true sense of safety are not based on arbitrary bedtimes, narrowing food choices, or dictating the amount of minutes a child can spend watching a favorite TV show. Rather, the boundaries that offer the child a true sense of safety are based on creating and maintaining an environment and relationship of respect, connection, communication, and mutual problem-solving.
A parent that experienced abandonment in their own childhood may longingly wish that someone had been there to make them practice the facets of self-care they are learning in adulthood like healthy eating, exercise, journaling, and spiritual connection.
Many of us can go into that mind-set of blame/victimhood thinking, if only someone else had showed me these things sooner, then I wouldn’t have suffered for so long!
But rather than imposing structure from the outside that we believe would benefit our child the most, we can partner with our child as they make choices to create their own (ever-shifting) structure that springs from the well of their own Being. This is possible when we cultivate a deep trust in the child’s organic learning process and focus on modeling in our own lives what works for us without manipulating our child into mimicking our revelations.
In this way, a deep healing can occur for the parent. As they are able to give their child the connection they longed for in childhood, they can extend that same care to their inner child and themselves. The same can be said for the parent who experienced the pain of restrictive boundaries in childhood: they too can find healing for themselves and their inner child as they create a new way of mutually-respectful relating with their child.
It is a beautiful journey! To move beyond parenting in blind reaction to our own wounds and discover there is a way of being together that offers the best of safety, care, and freedom. Where the true boundary is one of boundless love, holding space for the child to flourish in their own unique blossoming with the presence of an emotionally-healthy caregiver who is attuned to the child’s experience of the world.