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Say What You Mean– Mean What You Say– and Don’t Say It Mean

By: Cindy Durkee

I remember gathering with families after a basketball game, discussing the joys and difficulties of parenting, a common topic of conversation. I specifically recall announcing, “I now have the answer: Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean!” While my intentions were pure and the philosophy sensible, following it was not as simple as it sounded. It took several failed attempts and years of practice to apply this principle in my parenting consistently. To do this, I had to learn how to communicate clear and consistent boundaries.

One afternoon, I was picking up my son from high school. He jumped in the car enthusiastically and proudly showed me the flyer he designed and passed around the school. It was an invitation to a Super Bowl Party he was hosting at our home that weekend. I have to give him credit for effective marketing skills, however, there was one problem-he never asked our permission to do this! Now the flyers were spread throughout the freshman class. To say I was furious is an understatement. I yelled, “This is 100% not happening because you did this without asking. The fact that you now have to tell everyone is your own fault!” I wish I could say I stuck to my word and he learned an important lesson. He begged and pleaded, laying a heavy guilt trip on me over the next few days and I caved. I went against what I swore I wouldn’t do and let him have the party. I didn’t say what I meant, I didn’t mean what I said and I DID say it mean.

Over the years, when my “yes” turned to “no” or my “no” turned to “yes” it created confusion, and my expectations and boundaries became blurred. My children quickly learned to push for another answer, knowing I had changed my mind in the past. Kids' naturally test boundaries. They are wired to discover where that line will actually be drawn. As parents, it can be challenging to let our children experience disappointment and consequences, and we often cross boundaries to fix things for them, as I did with the Superbowl party. Allowing our children to learn from their mistakes is actually respecting and observing their boundaries and also our own.

Self-awareness also plays a significant role in creating healthy boundaries as parents and individuals. It is important to know what we value and to stand up for it. Think about what you can and cannot live with; what matters most to you. For me, one thing is communication. For this reason, no phones were allowed at mealtimes. By standing firm on our values, we are not controlling our kids' but taking charge of ourselves as their parents. When kids' see us respecting ourselves by saying what we mean, meaning what we say and not saying it mean, they feel safe. They know what to expect, can trust in it, and gain respect for us as their parents. Our own self-awareness and healthy boundaries can lead our kids' in finding their own.

Sometimes parents struggle holding their boundaries even when they know it is in the best interest of our children. I have experienced this firsthand and still do at times. It is important to admit when we have crossed someone else’s boundary and apologize for it, whether it is a child, parent, friend, or co-worker. And when our kids' cross one, let them know and hold them accountable.

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