8 Ways we Violate our Kids’ Boundaries & how it Affects them Later in Life.

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Sitting in a coffee shop, I overhear snippets of conversation between a mother and her teenage daughter sitting right next to me.

The mother is hungry for validation and keeps touching her daughter’s hair. The girl asks her to stop at least three times.

The mother whines for her daughter to pay attention to her. When the girl gets up to leave, she says no to her mother’s request for a goodbye kiss. Mom whimpers, “Can you at least run your cheek along mine and give me some affection?”

I cringed at the mom’s lack of boundaries. The daughter, though obviously annoyed at the same time, seemed relatively unfazed, as if she was used to it.

Observing this scene made me realize how hard it can be for parents to respect the boundaries of their children. When my kids were little and trying to establish their autonomy, I often found it tough to allow them to do what they wanted.

Staying up all night or eating straight sugar just wasn’t reasonable, so in those instances I would feel justified in denying their needs and wants.

There are deeper and more subtle ways, though, in which we cross lines with our kids. Most of the time we aren’t even aware that we do.

We violate their boundaries when we make our kids do certain things because we want to be accepted, to be seen as good parents, or in moments when we’re simply acting unconsciously.

As kids, we don’t have the logical capacity to distinguish between emotional manipulation, parental unconsciousness, and the truth. When our parents act in these ways, we know it makes us feel uncomfortable, but we learn to ignore our uneasiness until it feels normal. It’s up to the parents, then, to demonstrate healthy boundaries and a respect for them once established.

Boundary violations like the following can be traumatic to children:

1. Requiring children to hug and be physically affectionate with people as a way to be polite: “Give your Auntie a hug” or “Kiss Mommy!”

2. Not allowing our children to have negative emotions: “You have no reason to be angry about that” or “Stop crying and cheer up, this is ridiculous!”

3. Making adult emotions the responsibility of our children: “Mommy is so sad. If you want to make Mommy happy, you’ll put your shoes on” or “You hurt my feelings because you didn’t listen to me.”

4. Discussing the private lives of adults in great detail with young and emotionally immature children: “I hate my boss! He’s an ass and he treats me like dirt.”

5. Speaking unfavorably about the other parent (or other people the child knows and loves): “Your father never follows through on his word.”

6. Parents speaking unfavorably about themselves in front of the kids: “Oh I’m so fat and hideous” or “I’m such an idiot!”

7. Requiring older children to do things that they really don’t want to do (like play a sport or an instrument that they don’t enjoy).

8. Publicly shaming children by chastising them for their behavior in front of others.

When we put our kids in an uncomfortable situation like any of the above and make them accept it as normal, we put them at a disadvantage that can affect them all the way into adulthood.

Most of us know from personal experience that we have no idea what our personal limits are as adults because our parents didn’t allow us to have boundaries as kids.

We’ve learned to say “yes” when we would rather say no because we don’t want to risk disappointing someone, so we violate our own boundaries. Our partner asks for sex when we don’t feel like having it and we do it anyway, and then get angry at our partner. A co-worker wants to gossip about someone we respect but we don’t know how to stop it, so we stay silent and become resentful.

We’re so accustomed to the feelings of discomfort that arise when a boundary is being challenged that we don’t even notice them; all we see is our obligation to please the other person.

If you start to recognize boundary violations from your own childhood or you’ve committed them yourself as a parent, don’t despair; it’s totally possible to re-learn boundaries at any age.

If you want to know what your personal limits are now, start by using your physical body as your compass.

Boundary violations feel uncomfortable.

They make us angry, confused, defensive, or resentful.

If you’ve said “yes” to something and you feel any of the above emotions surface, check in and ask yourself whether you’ve just violated one of your own boundaries. If you realize that you have, then rescind your original answer and give a “no” instead—we’re allowed to change our minds.

One of the hardest parts about re-establishing our boundaries is that other people probably won’t appreciate our new-found limits, especially if it means that they won’t be getting something they want from us. That’s okay. We aren’t responsible for making them happy, we’re responsible for taking care of ourselves.

One of the best parts of resetting boundaries is that it has an effect on the people we’re close to.

Kids model their behavior after ours, and when they see us respecting ourselves, they will emulate that. The same is true for friends and family. When they see us getting clear around our limits, we set a precedent. If they know that we speak our truth when asked for something, then they can relax knowing that our answers are trustworthy (even if they don’t initially like it). Don’t we all want to know that people are doing things for us because they want to, and not because they feel obligated?

Back to the mom and daughter in the coffee shop: the mom had quite terrible boundaries but the young woman, well, she was pretty good at saying no, even though it upset her mom.

May we all learn from her.

Boundary work is a necessary part of developing self confidence and self esteem. Relationships get much easier to navigate when you’re being honest about what you want and don’t want to do.



Author: Natha Perkins
Image: Petras Gagilas/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Leontien Reedijk; Editor: Emily Bartran
Social Editor: Taia Butler


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Natha Perkins

Natha Perkins is a mama, a writer, and an Intuitive Life Coach who’s totally addicted to black tea and tree hugging. She’s been published in elephant journalScary MommyManifestStation, and more. When she isn’t typing away, she’s helping clients from around the world figure out what the hell is really going on in their lives. On a daily basis, she finds herself fighting a deep internal battle around whether to fake being perfect or whether to expose her dirty truths to the world. The struggle is real y’all. You can find more of her on her websiteFacebook, and Instagram if you would like to learn more or to work with her personally.

Rad Slabinski Nov 19, 2018 7:52pm

Natha Campanella I think it's a matter of perception...your view and judgement of the situation can be completely wrong in other's eyes and some of course will agree with you.

Sarah Saint-Laurent Nov 19, 2018 4:03pm

Thank you Erin Boon so much for speaking up with the truth!!! Yes! The mother is a human in need of connection and love- just like everyone else. Her daughter is the all too familiar aloof, cold and Uncompassionate teenager which are now the norm. Our children these days are remote and lack a natural ability to reach out and comfort. The red flag here isn’t the mother or boundaries. The red flag is we have a generation of children who are without natural human instinct to care, support, witness, and comfort. Technology addiction has left us with a generation of bots. Thank you for your insight Erin Boon. My immediate take away was the author has unresolved baggage from her own life/ rearing and is painting with large brush strokes and probably brings this biased judgement to most things. After all she writing about 2 complete strangers and Elephant is publishing it. 😳 I’d rather see the author write about her own personal experience rather than write judgmental pieces based on perceived notions which are likely generated through her own biases and blind spots.

Alexandra Văcăroiu Nov 17, 2018 3:54pm

yeah, i m not sure this was about boundaries or teenagers just being teenagers. the girl was a typical teenager who doesn’t like/want to spend time with mum and feels embarassed by it as she s looking for her identity still. Children this age tend to be very dramatic, confused, hormonal and like to spend time with cool people, not family.

Sarah Jane Davidson Aug 31, 2018 6:16am

Thank you for this hopefully some people learn from it.

Gertrude Finkelstein Aug 5, 2018 9:12am

I'm sorry, but this is just the most judgey list. Mothers have a hard enough time as it is. Take item #3 for example - the only reason mothers have to resort to such language is because of more sensitive than thou parents who have made it unacceptable to say "knock it off!" It is hard to navigate having a child with their own preferences, and fulfilling the responsibility of shaping them to be people who can fit into society. We're not doing them any service by obsessing about allowing them full autonomy unless we're also planning for them to become loner survivalists. People live in cities, pressed up against other people who also want full autonomy. There's always going to be pressure against personal boundaries. It is a part of life and a part of growing up - and, given how common most of the things you've mentioned are, it's hardly like kids will actually be "disadvantaged." They'll be culturally normative. The mother you mentioned was probably just having a hard time adjusting to the fact that her daughter, who probably used to love hugs and kisses, all of a sudden doesn't anymore. This is a near universal period of adjustment for all mothers. Why is your empathy so one-sided? I notice too that you primarily seem to fault women. As to feeling sorry for yourself about listening to office gossip - you can always just say "Excuse me, I have to pee."

Jennifer Davies Aug 5, 2018 2:17am

I can understand the reasoning for many of the suggested oversteps of a parent in the article but cannot find it accurate as it is too concrete. I tend to not speak to my children and cause them embarrassment in front of others... they noticed and then started pushing boundaries and behaving rudely when others where around as they noticed I would not cause them embarrassment in front of others. Also, I find it essential for parents to discuss their feelings with their children. I want my children to know if I am feeling sad or hurt by something as well as knowing if I am feeling joyful. This is how children learn that everyone experiences emotions and realize that parents are not mindless robots that are there to cook and clean and play taxi driver. I want a real relationship with my children and therefore they must see me as real person. Overall I find these suggestions to be wonderful goals but as parents we must also practice a bit of self love and not beat ourselves up too much for making mistakes...

Pam Johnson Apr 6, 2018 7:36pm

I'm with the girl. You don't give people -- ANY PEOPLE -- physical affection because they whine and try to guilt you. We have no idea what this child has gone through, or why she doesn't want to touch her mother, but there is a reason for it, and she deserves to have her physical boundaries respected.

Mark LaPorta Apr 4, 2018 12:09am

The more immediate and precise -- in means and dose -- the correction, the more likely it will benefit. BUT it hs to be in context.

Mark LaPorta Apr 4, 2018 12:05am

Some are true, some are fairly true, and some are the author's projections. And it's fairly well-written, but remember to place anecdotes in perspective. You know what's worse? A lack of discipline so that the kid doesn't know who he is or what is expected by age 4. Nature and society will let him know what's missing -- in harsh and draconian fasion -- a few years later. To the bedazzlement and bewilderment of all. BUT I would not blame the changes in body and cerebrum; that's a cop-out.

Zoe LaVelle Apr 3, 2018 1:46pm

Food for thought; “You must love in such a way that the other person feels free.” -Thich Nhat Hanh And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky. -Rumi

Zoe LaVelle Apr 3, 2018 12:48pm

Don't get me wrong, I have compassion for the mother in this story as well. A mother who displays this type of neediness and lack of boundaries likely has her own voids and wounds from her own childhood. These issues are generational, and continue to be unless we can choose to be open to awareness, face our suffering, and set an intention for positive change. Perfection is impossible, but so much can come from simply setting the intention to try.

Zoe LaVelle Apr 3, 2018 11:54am

Yes there is a need. A big one. Because awareness is everything. There's a good chance that a child, such as the one depicted in this article, has major needs that aren't being met. That's when we can tend to see "disrespectful", rebellious, or withdrawn behavior - it's actually emotional honesty. The child's behavior is telling a story that something is not right in their world, most likely at home. For a parental figure, or any adult, to be able to recognize that for what it truly is, to look within ourselves as parents and admit our shortcomings - what a courageous and beautiful thing to do for ourselves, our families, and society as a whole. What a way to be a model for true empathy and compassion, and let the ripple effect of that be seen in the way our children treat others as well.

Tracie Van Tomme Crews Apr 2, 2018 5:38pm

publicly shaming your child is one of the worst mistakes you can make. It kills their self esteem, publicly shames them and the lesson is lost in translation. They can't hear a word you're saying..their little, growing minds are too busy racing.. "Who's watching me" "omg, this is embarrassing" , "I hate my mom for doing this to me" A teachable and bonding moment out of love and respect is gone..and you are now the oppressor and have created a rift. Discipline is the strongest form of love. It's also the strongest model of hate. If not used correctly, it will forever change your child's self image and self worth as well as decision making and problem solving skills! A quick removal from the public area is absolutely warranted, especially if it involves another. You have to be confident in what you've taught them at home as far as respect and manners. When they forget those basic lessons, you carefully, lovingly but firmly remind them in private. That allows them to move forth in the situation, making amends and resolving the issue by themselves. If you take that from them, you are removing what you've taught them by example... Which is worse because that's where they learn the most. They're going to mess up. Just like we do. They're just smaller humans. Allow them to mess up, pull them aside to remind them when they do, and they will move forward in an appropriate Direction. Problem resolution is a huge confidence Builder. Doing it for them as well as publicly shaming them... that is asking for trouble. You're raising a child to go out into the world on their own one day. The younger you teach them to handle problems that arise and mistakes that they make in an appropriate way, the better off they will have it as adults.

Tracie Van Tomme Crews Apr 2, 2018 5:25pm

I respectfully disagree with your statement in regards to "feeling" bad for The mom. The author said it all when she mentioned the child's inability to decipher between manipulation, parent guilting, etc. Teens are cold. Period. Their frontal lobe is developing, their bodies changing, hormones a mess and the challenges they face daily in daily life these days...ugh! The point is setting boundaries. If you do it right and model behaviors you wish to see, you're going to get a better result. Sometimes, however, you can do all the RIGHT things and they will still choose a different path. Wanking at your child to show you PDA is weird. I'm sorry. If you're that neglected and needy, it would be a good idea to seek filling your love tank from another adult who actually understands what adult needs are. Let's remember we are created to be individuals..unique..beautiful in our own ways. Imposing your needs for affection or attention on to your kids is unhealthy and teaches them unhealthy habits. Embrace who they are becoming at each age and stage, while modeling the person you hope they become. That's honestly the best you can do. Teaching boundaries should be part of daily life and even incorporated into education at school. All this guilting we do by judging ourselves and others, along with the constant need to be heard because we are RIGHT has caused a society that thrives on disrespect, division and lack of respect for others and their boundaries. What works best for one will not work best for all. While i appreciate differing perceptions, i don't agree with faulting anyone for How they parent. We are all in this together. Less judgment, more appreciation for diversity. Less feeling, more thinking logically. Less division thru close mindedness, more unity via acceptance and open minded learning. ❤

Misha Ramsaran Apr 2, 2018 1:16pm

I agree with everything except the requiring them to join a sport or activity they don’t like. I had my daughter in Tae Kwon Do because she had asked to be in it at a young age, but when she entered junior high she wanted to quit that as well as other activities. Her focus became her friends which is natural. If I hadn’t given into her demand she would have a skill that taught her perseverance, commitment and dedication. It’s never too late to commit yourself to a new endeavor, but those years of training are lost. She’s still taking piano lessons and every day before practice she asks to stop going, but i know that one day she’ll appreciate the skill.

Martyn Farr Mar 12, 2018 9:49am

Circumcision, nationalism, history, religion, uninformed vaccination, piercing, diet, fear......to dear child with love

Linda Anne Jan 24, 2018 12:56am

Zoe LaVelle your post? Is there really a need to throw this poor mother under the bus to make your point? It is unprofessional and short sighted. Use your own mistakes, if you have the fortitude to reconcile them. You appear to soft sell them and tear down the other person. Insinuating I must have issues with my family, really? I suggest you work through your own transference issues (like a well trained professional must) before you take on other people’s problems. So you know, transference and trigger reactions are not intuition. Raising disrespectful teens does not do them or society any favours.

Zoe LaVelle Jan 22, 2018 2:10pm

My post was meant to be encouraging and informative to parents, not shaming. Whereas I feel yours is shaming of the children out there who are mistaken as spoiled or ungrateful when in reality perhaps they have been placed in unfair positions within their family dynamics, creating very harmful lasting effects. I'm not sure why you even read this article or posted in the first place, perhaps to defend yourself as a mother because maybe you can relate to this hypothetical situation - being confused about why after years of "sacrifice", children rebel. Isn't sacrifice inevitably part of parenting? Should we then hang it over our children's heads and make them feel indebted to us, obligated to kiss us or hug us in public even if they don't want to? A great lesson in life is learning how to let go of trying to control outcomes, that includes letting go of the false idea that our children owe it to us to behave a certain way because of the "sacrifices" we've made. You're implying that it's ok for a mother who buys her daughter lunch to have strings attached to it. She bought the lunch and then feels that her daughter owes her a hug goodbye in return out of "respect". I would venture to guess then, that this teenage girl would prefer to buy her own lunch next time, if it comes with a side of boundary-crossing obligation when purchased by the mom. The thing is, reproducing is not mandatory. So the message here is to remember that paying for stuff, and making sacrifices are what you sign up for when you choose to create new life. In a situation where children feel respected, they will naturally become reciprocal, compassionate, caring, grateful individuals. But it's not fair to expect and demand it when the parenting has been sub-par at best. It's also not ok to excuse mediocre parenting because, as you said, there are CPS cases out there in which children would be happy to have any parents at all. This may sound extreme, but depending on the extent of a lack of boundaries in a family, it is now being understood as abuse, because the emotional damage to the child can be profound. You told me to get over myself, but the reality is I'm fighting here for more parental awareness and better lives for children, this has nothing to do with me, other than the fact that I lived this type of childhood and it has been painful. I've also worked with children in trauma settings. So I want to see us come to an understanding and do better as a whole. What used to be defined as childhood trauma has been expanded to include more. As time goes on we learn more about what affects children, which is a great thing. The idea is not to shame older generations for what they didn't know. The idea is to evolve and grow with the information we do have now, and not resist change. https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/2015/03/21/parentification-a-closer-look-at-the-harmful-effects/

Linda Anne Jan 21, 2018 10:48pm

Zoe LaVelle = millennials. We are a collective and so much focus on the individual will ruin our society. This is just another onerous burden placed on young mothers to intuit each and every thought that pops in a child’s head. Motherhood is hard with no brass ring at the end. Life can also be hard. Relationships are reciprocal when they work. Being a professional and having worked in CPS I’ve seen a lot of parents just give up on their children. Those kids would have loved to have this imperfect, affectionate mother. In CPS they only want good enough parents not the best parents. But what this article and your responses smack of is more mother shaming. No one should have to hug their creepy uncle but if hugging your mother, who drove you there, fed you and bought all your stuff. is a dastardly crime we will have a gratitude problem. Emotional care taking? Please get over yourself. Facepalm!

Zoe LaVelle Jan 21, 2018 5:58pm

And perhaps narcissism is misunderstood by the masses, because a parent who requires emotional caretaking from a child is actually the one displaying the narcissist characteristics.

Zoe LaVelle Jan 21, 2018 5:53pm

I'm so interested to see the responses in defense of the mother in this scenario. I'm worried for our culture, in which parents feel entitled to respect from their children without first laying the foundation for healthy, mutual respect to grow. Healthy mutual respect grows between parents and children when the parents respect the child as an individual, and model and teach healthy boundaries. Children need to feel that they are individuals, separate from their parents, and empowered to make choices that feel right to them. It is never the responsibility of the child to take care of a parent emotionally. Empathy and compassion do not become instilled by forcing children to obey a parental need in spite of the child's best emotions interest. My hope is that we all learn to start parenting from a more heart-centered, mindful place in which children have freedom to make their own choices that feel emotionally appropriate to them, and where parents respect that, and perhaps set their own feelings aside. Parenting as a form of control has nothing but detrimental side effects. And remember we are all in this together, raising the next generations and doing the best we can. We must be the change we wish to see. I believe that means we need to do our best to clear our own emotional baggage or else it is guaranteed to seep out into our parenting. Then we will see many more respectful, grateful children....bc they will have been respected themselves!!

Brenda Leitzel Firestone Dec 29, 2017 2:34am


Ashlee Ray Sep 6, 2017 10:50pm

I like your words mama! Thank you for sharing. :)

Pam Baxter Sep 4, 2017 2:09pm

I'm with you I cent terrible for the mom. That girl was cold

Rosanny Crumpton Sep 3, 2017 6:32pm

So thought provoking! Great read! Thank you for writing this <3