Boundaries with Our Kids as Self-Care with Dr. Siggie Cohen

Boundaries with Our Kids as Self-Care with Dr. Siggie Cohen

As single parents, raising our kids on our own is so difficult. There are limited resources and even limited time. We could go crazy trying to meet the needs of our kids not to mention keeping them happy and healthy. And oftentimes, we can fall into the trap of overcompensating. Because our kids have been through difficult things, we try to make their happiness our top priority. But when we do this, we create a bottomless well that we can never fill up . . . leaving us feeling depleted. Not to mention, it’s not healthy for our kids. So how do we draw appropriate boundaries with our kids that aren’t only a form of caring for ourselves, but also serve in their development?

Dr. Siggie Cohen joined us on this week’s podcast to talk about boundaries as self-care. She’s a parent of three boys (now men) and a counselor that has been working with kids for over thirty years. Her mission is to provide parents with tools and solutions that make their parenting life even easier. 

Boundaries with Kids as Self-Care

When you are a single parent, you definitely feel alone. Not only that, but you also think that all the other parents out there who are married or in relationships never feel that same loneliness. But that’s not true. Dr. Siggie reminds us that every parent actually feels alone much of the time because the task of parenting is daunting. 

With that being said, having boundaries is a form of self-care. You have to know where your emotions end, how to contain them and not project them (or even use them to parent your child). “Having these boundaries is a way for you to pay attention to yourself, notice yourself, and to recognize and be mindful of how you’re feeling—even when your child is triggering you,” said Dr. Siggie. “It’s as simple as ‘I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m feeling helpless, alone, frustrated, or scared.’ Just recognizing those things allows you to take a moment to go ‘Okay, that’s my problem and what do I do about it?’”

The Danger of Not Establishing Boundaries

When you think about it, a lack of boundaries and structure is more like anarchy. It’s chaos. Chaos is very scary to all of us but for children, it’s even more scary because they’re already looking to us to lead them out of their chaos. The chaos is usually their emotional chaos and confusion. There are many questions they don’t always know how to formulate. They complain and defy, but behind those actions are questions about life in general that they don’t know how to ask like, “What is going on? Why am I feeling this way?” Behind their question of “Why do I have to do it”, they’re really saying, “I’m confused and scared.” Kids are in that emotional chaos and they look up to us. Boundaries are really structure, safety, guidance, and leadership. 

Robert shared his perspective of what it was like to not have healthy boundaries, “A counselor once told me, if we don’t establish healthy boundaries with our kids, we can become so enmeshed with them that we create almost entitled young people. In my case, I would overcompensate with my daughters by trying to keep them happy all the time. I feel like it stunted them from being able to process through things. I feel like it was important for me to establish boundaries so I could care for myself so I could then better care for my kids.”

Dr. Siggie reminded us that happy is not the only emotion we are supposed to feel. We have so many different emotions and they each have a reason—and a good one. “Discomfort sometimes as a motivator and challenger is a way to rethink something or look at it from another angle. Happiness is not the goal for sure. It’s not the only emotion and we’re not always supposed to feel happy. If I’m scared, I shouldn’t feel happy. If something is going on that I need to recognize or think about, I’m not supposed to feel happy. The reason why single parents want their kids to feel happy is because oftentimes, they feel guilty about the circumstance they put their children in. That guilt creates pity and we feel sorry for them.”

When you’re feeling the need to compensate for what you perceive to be a lack in your child, you’re not going to take the best care of yourself. “The idea is that when I leave you to go take care of myself (to do whatever it is) even with a babysitter, I’m not taking anything away from you. Actually, I’m giving you something,” said Dr. Siggie. 

You’re not always taking away from your children just because you’re not with them 24/7. They need some independence, resilience, and coping skills. They need you to model that there’s a bigger concept beyond them that they have to fit into. They need to know “It’s not all about me” . . . which is a good thing. 

Setting Appropriate Relational Boundaries with Our Kids

Sometimes, as single parents, we can fall into the trap of treating our kids like our best friends. But Dr. Siggie shared that creating healthy relational boundaries with our kids is very important—especially because we are their parents. 

“I don’t know that we should consider our kids as our friends or best friends. We need to be their mentors, their leaders, their guides. We can be friendly. We can joke and laugh and enjoy the same things that friends do together. Maybe we have the same hobby. But friendship for kids is something that’s very different with children their own age. You can make friends but you only have one parent—and that’s not replaceable. You can absolutely be friends with your kids but you need to remember that you’re the mentor, the guide, and the one they need to look up to.”

Establishing Boundaries with Your Kids

When it comes to establishing boundaries, it has to start with you deciding what is important to you. Is it routine? Is it the things that pertain to them like life, school, friends, extracurricular activities, bedtime, hygiene, or food? Start with the basics and create a routine first and foremost as a structure. “I think nowadays, we see those things as a given and go straight to the other stuff. It’s so much about functionality. Boundaries are helpful guidelines for your children to be functional so not every day starts with chaos.”

Having boundaries with our kids (in a way) is not reacting to every little thing. Instead of reacting, it’s important to stop and assess what’s really going on with your child. And you can more easily do those things if you have routine built in.

When we don’t have structure like in the morning or at night, then we are just going through the day, bouncing around and reacting to everything. So, having those boundaries with our kids starts with creating boundaries at home—establishing a consistent routine. 

Owning Your Emotions and Being Authentically Present

As a single parent, it’s easy to get into the habit of sharing too much information with your kids. Maybe you’re dumping your grief or heartache onto them. Maybe you’re letting them know how hard of a time you’re having with your circumstances. But is that really the best thing for them? 

Dr. Siggie reminds us that it’s not always about how much you share but the way in which you share. “There’s a difference between sharing and dumping. Sharing is taking a step back and owning your emotions even in the way that you let them out. Then, you make sure that when you’re sharing your emotions with your child, you’re not just letting it be as if they’re supposed to do something about it. I am the one sharing but I’m also the one doing something about how I feel. It’s as simple as: ‘Yeah, I’m having a hard time and I’m going to figure that out.’” 

It’s giving your children the confidence in your ability to handle your own emotions well. Doing that will give them reason to look up to you and trust you. 

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