I recently noticed that my pre-teen children seem to require a LOT of maintenance and reminders. I’m talking about the constant need for me to remind them to complete very basic tasks such as brushing their teeth, taking a bath, or working on their homework. This is the kind of absent-minded behavior that you come to expect from a toddler, but what about from a 10 and 11 year old? Heck-to-the-no. One day last week I decided I had enough of it. Finally, we got to the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and I had an epiphany about boundaries. 

“Finally, we got to the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and I had an epiphany about boundaries.” 

It all began one perfectly boring Tuesday night when I asked my daughter Aubrey to put on her pajamas. I ended up asking her to put on those pajamas no less than 4 times within a 30-minute time span. She eventually ran away from me in a huff, slammed her bedroom door, and then proceeded to slide a paper “message” very casually underneath the door towards me on the other side of the door. As I walked over to pick up the message, I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be good. The paper had 3 “I hate you” sentences written on it along with a drawing of an angry emoji face…followed by another 3 “I hate you” sentences (all scribbled angrily of course). My heart shattered in that moment. It was the first time Aubrey had ever really said the words “I hate you” to me. Not only did she SAY them, but she actually WROTE them down in black and white and the image was burning into my oh-so-tired-and-disappointed mommy brain. 

This is when I kind of lost it. I could feel the outrage boiling up in me and I decided her behavior was ridiculous and I wasn’t taking it for one.more.minute. I was one of the nicest and flexible mommies that I knew—but all of that wasn’t “good enough” for my daughter. I knew for her to have crossed this line and write a hateful message to me, I had gone wrong somewhere. What made her think that it was ok to talk to any adult (and especially her mother) so disrespectfully? I marched myself into the kitchen and grabbed the entire box of trash bags. I then proceeded to start bagging up all of Aubrey and Brady’s toys (sorry buddy, you got caught in the crosshairs!), stuffed animals, and other belongings. After I had gotten it all bagged up, I had both of them come and sit down at the dining room table and have a serious “Come-to-Jesus” talk with me.

I told them that lately I’d noticed they had a lack of boundaries when talking to me. I pride myself on trying to be fair and see things from the kids’ perspective…but they clearly weren’t returning the favor. They would now need to “earn” their belongings back one by one each day…by simply by:

  1. Being respectful
  2. Getting along with each other

I explained that they were using my flexibility and kindness to ignore the requests I give them each day and I was tired of repeating myself 10 times just to get teeth brushed. We needed boundaries—for them and myself—so that this family could operate in the best way possible. And since I really do believe we “teach” people how to treat us, I was unintentionally teaching them that it was ok to ignore me by being so flexible.

“I was unintentionally teaching them that it was ok to ignore me by being so flexible.”

As we sat there together at the table, they both admitted that they realize they had been acting like a bunch of fools the past few weeks. We ended the night holding hands and watching TV together. As the week progressed, I reiterated lots of “family rules” and told them that these are all going to be strictly enforced going forward. Bedtimes, chores, and the works will all be getting done promptly and with positive attitudes. 

So, just remember not to be afraid to set (or re-set) those boundaries with your kids. It may be just the thing you both needed the most!