I was talking to some frustrated parents this week. They were frustrated by their children’s behavior and were asking help on how to respond. Their inclination was to lay down the law. When children mess up and make wrong choices we parents must be diligent to bring correction and instruction. The discussion got me thinking about the difference between legalism and boundaries which I discussed with them as they considered their response. Here are my thoughts for you to consider.

Legalism produces rebellion but boundaries produce security. Legalism is the rigid enforcement of laws or values in a way that connects individual performance to the law with acceptance. Legalism says if you do everything I tell you to I will be pleased and you will be accepted and benefited. If you fail to do what I say I will be displeased and you will pay a price including rejection until your performance comes into line with the law. Legalism keeps score only in terms of perfection. No one can measure up to legalism that is why it produces rebellion.

Boundaries establish territories that are clearly defined giving parameters within which activity can take place so that things and people can be enjoyed. The process of establishing and enforcing boundaries for our children is one of the major responsibilities of parenting. It is hard and often frustrating. It takes patience along with diligent and consistent training and it transfers best when it is modeled for children to see. In other words parents must have boundaries and live within them for their children to best understand the whole concept of boundaries for their lives.

Would you like some help establishing boundaries for your children? Here are some qualities reflected by boundaries. Check these out and see if they are the foundation you are using for the training and correction of your children.

1) Boundaries reflect something that is clearly defined. That is easily understood when we talk about the boundary of our yard. We say don’t go outside the yard and that means the boundary of the property we own. We must also clearly define things that are less tangible like the values we hold. When we clearly define a value for our children’s behavior like telling the truth, the clarity of the definition establishes a boundary for them to respect and uphold. Honesty, faithfulness, timeliness, diligence, kindness, obedience, submission to authority, and many other values establish parameters for them to live by and the clarity of their definition creates boundaries that establish a secure path for our children to way through life.

2) Boundaries define something to protect and defend. When someone comes on to my property I make a determination of the intent of their presence. If they are on my property to damage it, steel something, or harm my family I have a right to do what is necessary to protect them. When we correct our children for violating a boundary we are actually acting to protect or defend something that is for their benefit. We must carefully and strategically take action against the thought and behavior that has violated the boundary. The motive for our action is not because our children embarrassed us in public, or to prove to them who is boss, our motive is to protect and defend a boundary that produces life and guarantees benefits for them.

3) Boundaries have legal definition. If you want to know the legal description of my address you have to go to the county court house and look up the deed to my property. On the deed there will be a description in legal terms of my address, in the state of, in the county of, in the subdivision of, lot so-in-so of block so-in-so, etc. My point is boundaries are not arbitrary in a way that changes with circumstances or situations. If or when a boundary is changed it requires a diligent process. The less tangible values we want to establish as boundaries for our children must be anchored in something stable and unchanging like God’s law and the principles of the bible. The reason we don’t lie is because God said not to, the reason we don’t steal is because God said not to, as opposed to because the situation doesn’t warrant it this time. Think how insecure you would feel if you were never sure if you were trespassing or not on someone’s property. Think how even more insecure you would feel if your trespassing was determined by what or how they felt that day and not on something solid and unchanging like property law.

When establishing values for our children they must be anchored in something solid and unchanging. They must be consistently honored and enforced regardless of the emotions of the day, or whether or not they have had a nap, or it wasn’t really their fault someone else made them do it….etc. The bible is a solid and unchanging source of truth and principles for living life. It is the best source for the values we hold and transfer to our children. It is to be more trusted than our life experience, our family experience, or previous training regardless of how good or respected it is by society.


Published in: on September 4, 2007 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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