Bonding or Boundaries
The following article is an excerpt from Jonathan’s brand new book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over
“My seventeen-year-old daughter won’t even talk with me.”
The middle-aged mom had wandered into my Get Your Teenager Talking workshop looking for answers. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, being careful not to smear her mascara. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Tell me about your conversations,” I asked.
After a little digging, I listened as she recalled her last few conversations with her daughter. I use the word conversation loosely. More like interrogation.
- “Did you finish your homework?”
- “Did you clean your bathroom?”
- “What time did you get home last night?”
- “Were you with that boy Chris? I knew I shouldn’t have let you hang out with that boy!”
As she unveiled what dialogue looked like in her home, the answer quickly became clear. Her daughter didn’t want to talk with her mom because in her mind, her mom was acting like a parole officer searching for malfeasance.
Think about it. Would you want to answer this mom’s questions? Probably not. You’d be scared your answers would get you in trouble.
That’s why most of the dialogue in this home would be more accurately described as monologue. Mom talked. Daughter didn’t.
As this woman shared her story, I immediately recognized her dilemma because I had made the same mistake with my oldest. My focus on boundaries had hindered bonding.
Bonding and Boundaries
At times these two important parenting practices seem almost at odds with each other.
- Bonding is playing with your kid, going out for french fries, getting slaughtered by your son in the newest Madden game, laughing and talking together on a comfy couch in the corner of your daughter’s favorite coffeehouse.
- Boundaries is when we tell our kids it’s time for bed, charge their phones on the kitchen counter while they’re asleep, or tell them, “No, sorry, you can’t stay out that late on Friday. . .especially with that boy Chris!”
Both are essential, and most parents tend to gravitate toward one or the other.
Ask yourself: Which do I lean toward? Which would my kids say I lean toward?
Now ask yourself another question: Which of these two parenting practices do I think most parents look back at later and wish they had done more?
In my research for my book If I Had a Parenting Do Over, the number one parenting practice moms and dads shared with me where they experienced the most regret was in the area of bonding.
“I wish I would have spent more time with my kids.”
It’s the prominent area where parents wish they could have a do-over. They wish they had connected with their kids more and just “hung out.” In contrast, only a small handful of parents (less than 2 percent polled) said they wished they had applied more boundaries.
Let that sink in for a moment. Most parents enter into this parenting thing favoring either bonding or boundaries. Rarely is someone perfectly balanced. And after most parents finish raising their kids, the vast majority of them wish they would have tipped the scales toward bonding.
I know I wish I would have.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way trying to convince you to let your kids do whatever they want. Not even close. Reread what I’ve written above if you must. Both bonding and boundaries are equally important. What I’m trying to communicate is simply this: Don’t skimp on bonding! Most parents look back and feel like they missed out on opportunities to bond and connect with their kids.
As I look back at how I parented my oldest, I definitely put too much weight on boundaries. When I walked into the room, I almost felt it my duty to be a drill sergeant, barking orders.
“Alec, shoes off the couch!”
“Put your glass on a coaster!”
Then I’d use the opportunity to question him, checking up on him.
“Did you finish your homework? Room clean? Trash taken out?”
As my kids grew into their teen years, I noticed something. When I’d walk in the room, they’d get nervous. They’d immediately start thinking, What am I doing wrong? I’m always doing something wrong.
Why did they think this?
Because that had become my job. To correct my kids.
My motives were pure. I wanted to teach my kids discipline and responsibility. Sadly, I believe my laser focus on boundaries hurt our relationship.
If our kids see us as drill sergeants, bonding will be hindered. Who wants to hang out with the parent who is making their life miserable?
Take this a step further. Who are they going to go to when they mess up or are facing a moral dilemma? Surely they won’t go to the person who seems ready to pounce on them every time they do wrong.
If I share with Dad, I know he’ll freak out!
If I ask Mom about this, she won’t help me—she’ll just bust me!
Here’s where the parenting strategy becomes a little counterintuitive. We think strict boundaries will help teach our kids values. But if we put too much weight on boundaries and neglect bonding, then our kids won’t feel safe to open up to us and we’ll miss key opportunities to walk through life with them and teach them discernment.
In other words, when Mom or Dad doesn’t have a relationship with their kids, their kids tend to glean values and behaviors from other sources.
The parent who bonds with their kids has more opportunities to dialogue about real life. The closer the bond, the more they’ll absorb.
Bonding opens the doorway to applying boundaries.
So do parents still need to provide boundaries?
Absolutely. Just not like a tyrant. Parents don’t need to jump into “inspection mode” every time they see their kids. Break that habit. Make “conversation mode” your go-to practice.
Are you looking for bonding moments?
What are some of the ways you can tip the scales toward bonding today, tomorrow, this week?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.