Boundaries Vs Limits

I write about peaceful parenting, but I’m far from an expert at it. I’m learning every day just like you. I enjoy teasing out new knowledge from things I’ve already learned. It recently dawned on me that two words I’ve been using interchangeably, boundaries and limits, actual have separate meanings. Digging into the difference has helped me better acknowledge my own needs.

Diffsense.com explains that boundaries are a “dividing line or location between two areas” whereas limits are “a restriction.” In terms of relationships, boundaries are the points of resistance between two people as beautifully embodied in this quote by Prentis Hemphill:

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.

Prentis Hemphill

Without boundaries, we risk trampling each other’s needs. I struggle a great deal with people touching my face. The sensory experience feels smothering, so my loved ones know to avoid my face. However, my children do not understand how uncomfortable the experience is for me and they regularly breach this boundary. As a result, I find myself struggling to maintain my calm which makes me less effective as a peaceful parent and in need of greater amounts of self-care. Children simply don’t get it. That’s why it’s so important for us to recognize and honor their boundaries. There will come a time when my kids will finally understand why this particular boundary matters so much to me. And, when they figure it out, they’ll know what to do because of how I’ve treated them throughout their lives. I don’t hug them without consent, force them to eat, demand that they treat me as an unimpeachable authority, or hurt them to prove a point. These are boundaries that allow my children to trust and respect me.

Limits, on the other hand, are the lines within which children can safely move. The space between me, as their mother, and the limit out ahead of us is their “yes space.” Limits change as children grow in maturity and capacity. They are the clearly marked guides to ensure my children’s health and safety. Yes, they may play in the yard. No, they may not run into the street in front of a car. As a peaceful parent, I do my best to find ways to say yes instead of no and to minimize both demands and limits. My goal is to give my children as much access to the world as they can enjoy safely, while leaving plenty of room for risky play which children inherently need. One of the most crucial reasons I don’t fall back onto punishment is because there are so few instances where punishment would be necessary. My kids don’t cross lines because there aren’t many lines to cross.

We need as many boundaries as necessary to feel safe in our relationships. And, as few limits as necessary to keep our children healthy and safe. Once I realized that, it changed my perspective on how to relate to my children, my husband, and everyone else in my life.

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