13. Provides Clear Boundaries
We aren’t each other’s friends. A parent is a parent no matter how friendly they may be. Our children are not extensions of ourselves, they are individuals. Do not ‘friend’ them on Facebook unless you talk about it first and they say it’s OK and they mean it.
In functional households, there are clear boundaries, boundaries that to not capriciously fluctuate from day to day, whim to whim. Boundaries may change and evolve with time and the maturity of the children…like curfew…or they may be immutable—like treating your parents and others with respect, but they remain clear and they have consequences for violation that are proportionate to the breach.
And boundaries work both ways…children need to be able to set boundaries—within reason, of course—so that they can have a sense of control of their lives. You cannot allow them to set any boundary they like, however, because they do not have the wisdom yet to do so responsibly. That comes with time and trust…and you must allow them to be trusted until they show themselves to be untrustworthy. You can help a young child set a boundary with respect to body touching, with respect to the kind of treatment s/he will accept from others (no hitting, for example) and teach your child that boundaries apply to others as well as to himself: if he expect other people not to hit him when they are frustrated, then he must not hit others, either.
But with kids, boundaries must have limitations. Years ago a diamond ring set was stolen from my home after our teen baby sitter and her boyfriend had been there. I reported it to the police and gave a sketch of the unique setting. A year later a police officer showed up at my place of work and said “I think I have something that belongs to you,” and handed me my ring. Then he told me what happened: a teen-aged girl (not our baby sitter) came home wearing a ring her mother recognized as being much too expensive for her daughter to have legitimately received from her teen-aged boyfriend (our former baby sitter’s now ex-boyfriend). She took the ring and called the police. The girl, under pressure from her mother, told her where she got the ring and, using the ring as evidence to get a search warrant, went to the boy’s house. There they not only found my other missing ring, they found tens of thousands of dollars of stolen goods stacked up in his closed, stowed under his bed, and even hooked up and being used in his room.
When the police asked his mother how he could have all of this stolen merchandise in his room and she knew nothing about it, she indignantly told the officer that her son had a right to privacy and she respected it. She was fortunate that she was not also charged as an accessory for allowing a massive amount of stolen goods to be stored in her house.
There was a news story some years ago about a disabled low-income woman who was evicted from her apartment in a government-sponsored housing project because her teenaged son was storing drugs in the apartment and dealing from the premises without her knowledge. It violated the lease and when he was arrested, her ignorance was no excuse. She lost her home because she respected a privacy boundary her child had no right to erect and she had every right to deny him to have.
So, it is a fine line we must walk when allowing our children to set boundaries, but they must be able to erect some…and to erect more as they grow older…but not to the point that you can be held liable for a criminal act that occurred because you were more focussed on respect than guidance and monitoring. Functional families find balance and sometimes that balance involves violating someone’s “rights” for the well-being of the whole household. And as the parent, the decision to put family welfare over one child’s self-imposed boundaries is yours to make, not the child’s, just as in the larger society, your right to freedom of movement can be overridden by the authorities if something you are doing with that right somehow jeopardizes the rest of the community. Respect for boundaries is a good thing in general…but it can, of necessity be conditional—but the children are not the people to decide when such a condition exists.
14. Has Each Others’ Backs
Part of resilience – being supportive to each other no matter what, will allow your kid to call you when he thinks he’s in trouble, like needing a ride home from a party that’s gotten too wild.
This one is a true tightrope walk because, on the one hand you want your kid to call you to come get him in a circumstance like the one above…on the other hand, you don’t want your kid to take this as tacit consent to go out and get tanked every weekend and you’ll pick up and there will be no consequences.
We have to be supportive of the person, but not necessarily of the behaviour—and that can sometimes be a tough one to negotiate. My solution was to make sure the kids could get home safely, then supply some onerous chore in the morning (and I did not let them sleep in on the following morning…up at 7!) that made the effects of the hangover even worse…like weeding the garden or cleaning up dog poop or some such job that gets the blood pumping (and throbbing in the hangovered brain).
My daughter was searched by a male member of the faculty in front of 150 other students on the grounds that he thought she had marijuana on her. I came to the school, over her objections, and had a row with the Vice Principal over it. He at first defended the search, saying “If we found drugs on her, you would feel differently!” to which I replied “No, I would not. There was no reason for that man to physically search her body and to do it in front of 150 of her peers. You have a Girl’s Vice Principal, a female school nurse, and this happened in front of the Girl’s Gym, where she could have been taken and privately searched by a gym teacher.” It was not until I threatened legal action and going to the school board that he capitulated.
Later in the year she was searched again but, the VP was quick to inform me that is was done by the school nurse with the Girl’s VP as a witness. And they found a couple of roaches in her purse. She was punished both by the school and by me. Her right to the dignity of her body was supported by me and all but forced on the school, but when she was found to be guilty of wrong doing, she was disciplined for it. I had her back when they searched her in such an inappropriate and humiliating manner, and whether they found drugs or not, I was not going to allow that kind of indignity to be perpetrated upon her: if they had found drugs, she would have been disciplined for it but I would still have pursued changing the policy that allowed fully grown adult men to run their hands over the bodies of nubile teen girls under the thin guise of looking for drugs. I supported her as a person being treated without respect but I did not support the stupidity of bringing drugs to school.
In a functional household (which mine was definitely not, but we had our moments of functionality) parents and siblings support the people without necessarily supporting a behaviour. You can understand that your child is angry or fearful without going along with his expressions of those feelings. Part of being a parent is recognizing when your child is not taking the appropriate steps to deal with a situation and helping…giving them options they did not have before. Hormones are high in teens and they may be thinking revenge scenarios, and their prefrontal cortex is not as well developed as yours and mine, so long-term consequences may not act as a restraining consideration. You have the obligation to notice when your teen is becoming emotionally unwound and to open the dialog and offer acceptable ways he might handle his issues. If you suspect something dangerous might be in the offing, you have the obligation to protect the rest of your family as well as the community so seeking counselling for your child or even involving the authorities are choices you might make. Functional families are concerned for the well-being of their members over their public image so they take those kinds of steps. Imagine that boy who had my ring and a bedroom stuffed full of stolen electronics that his mother knew nothing about…just imagine if those had been firearms?
15. Get Each Other’s Sense of Humor
Functional families laugh a lot. They have ‘inside’ jokes and favorite stories, anecdotes of memories shared that delight and re-enforces a healthy bond.
I have to take exception to this one because you can’t always “get” someone else’s sense of humour. My NM used to tell me I needed to get a sense of humour because I didn’t think laughing at the expense of someone else was funny. I didn’t “get” pratfall humour because my first thought went to whether or not the victim was hurt and I didn’t get cruel teasing for the same reason. My own sense of humour was much drier and more dependent on wit than on banana peels, and she didn’t get that, either.
I think a sense of humour is rather individual and can also depend on the age of the person as well. There is a time when scatological humour is hilarious, but most of us outgrow that by puberty…are Bevis and Butthead really funny after you are old enough to buy booze legally? If it is, maybe the legal age is too low…
All that said, I do agree that shared family stories—with the caveat that the humour is not at the expense of the feelings of one of the family members—are a good thing and re-enforces a healthy bond. But when those stories humiliate a family member, too often those who find it funny feel obliged to further victimize that family member by telling him or her to “get a sense of humour,” rather than acknowledging that they are hurting that person yet again and ceasing their behaviour.
16. Eat Meals Together
So hard to do in today’s society but research does show that communication within a family is enhanced if we take more meals together, even if it’s in front of the TV.
This is another one of those agree/disagree issues. It is not hard to schedule family meal time nor is it hard to enforce it. In a functional family, people care about their fellow family members and they respect them, and that includes respecting the efforts of the family member who had taken time to prepare a meal for them all. It may be the only time in a day that the whole family has the opportunity to be together.
Children in a household are not miniature adults who can decide what to do with their time. They can have blocks of free time granted to them by their parents, but it is up to the parents to see to it that a schedule, however informal, is established so that kids have rules…kids need rules for security. One of those rules can be dinner time. You set a time and everyone is expected to be there. There are consequences for not being there; there are consequences for being late; there are consequences for filling up with junk food at a friend’s house and having no appetite for dinner. And the first consequence is the shortening of the free time period so that if dinner is served at 7, the offending child must be home by 6, or something like that. You are the adult, you set the rules. No eating dinner at a friend’s house without prior permission, no making plans that occur during dinner time without prior permission, and no eating in front of the TV except on very rare occasions (and if you have a way to record it, not even then).
Dinner time is family time and it should be sacrosanct. Families bond during this time, it is your opportunity to observe your family and see how they are doing. Does your teen daughter seem depressed? Is your preteen son preoccupied with something? Is your toddler whiney? Does your husband seem distant and detached? Observe…discuss in private…and make the kids help with clean up so that they understand that a family meal is, in all ways, a family event.
17. Follow The Golden Rule
It’s golden for a reason. “Treat each other as we wish to be treated in turn.” It was true way back when and it’s still true now.
mmmm…not necessarily. In a fully functional family, yes. In a family with dysfunctional people at the head…not so much.
They way we, the children of Narcissists, want to be treated is not necessarily healthy. If we grew up in a household that caused us to be hypervigilant and hypersensitive, then what we want is to not have the hypervigilance and hypersensitivity triggered…which others may perceive as having to walk on eggshells. And, if we give that same treatment to our kids, we may tiptoe tentatively around issues and situations when, if fact, such issues need to addressed head on.
The bottom line is, they are not you. The way you wish to be treated may not be at all they way they need or wish to be treated. You and your feelings and your desires are not the benchmark for your significant other, your kids, or anyone else on the planet: they are yours and yours alone. You are not a universal standard from which to measure the emotional needs of those around you. No matter what level of recovery you have achieved, you were still damaged in your early years and some of your emotional needs come from that damage. Your needs cannot even be used as a standard for measuring the needs of other damaged people, as we are all unique and respond to our tribulations and traumas in our own unique ways.
Better, I think is to adopt a policy of treating everyone with respect and expect that in return…and if you don’t get it, remember that is not a reflection on you, it is a reflection on the person who treats you disrespectfully. If that person is your child, then you have some work to do, some teaching and guidance. If that person is not your child, then you might want to reconsider keeping that person in your life.
But to treat everyone the way you want to be treated seems to be a little narcissistically centred, as if everybody on the planet wants to be treated the same way you do…and there are just too many of us for that to be true.
And I will add my own:
18. Trust and trustworthiness
It is important to be able to trust those in your family and for them to be able to trust you.
You create trust by following through on your promises, but being consistent and even predictable. That may sound awful, but if you have children, they need to be able to predict you to feel secure. If you are all smiles and praise over a “B” on a math paper this week, but thunderously displeased over a “B” paper next week, you are going to confuse your child and he is not going to know what to do to please you. Children feel secure if they feel their parents are happy with them.
Be very wary of making promises and when you make them, let nothing short of sudden death make you break them. I learned long ago to tell my children something less committal: “I’ll see what I can do,” “I will try,” “It’s not in the budget for this month but let me see what I can work out down the line”… They knew this could end up becoming a “yes” or a “no,” but they didn’t get their hearts set on something that would ultimately be a disappointment.
I rarely made promises then, and I rarely make promises now. But when I do make them, you can take them to the bank. People who know me know that if I promise something, it will happen…they can trust.
Was I always so trustworthy? Of course not. I didn’t understand the value of it. I didn’t trust anybody anyway…promises seemed just empty words to me. But time has brought me to the realization that if I am going to expect others to be worthy of my trust, I have to be worthy of theirs as well. I am always forgiving of unforeseeable circumstances, but many others are not, so I promise very infrequently and only when I know that I can deliver. Everything else gets either turned down or with a commitment to see what I can do, but no promises of the outcome.
People in functional families can trust each other because they come through for each other. Sophistry such as I employ…promising only when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can deliver and “I’ll see what I can do” for everything else is not really necessary because functional people in functional families understand and forgive those unforeseeable circumstances. People in functional families are not blindsided by the unexpected. To those of us raised with high drama and low blows, functional families may actually feel boring because they are pretty predictable. Your parents will still love you if you are unmarried and pregnant, gay or transgender, get an abortion, marry a person of a different faith or colour, commit a crime. They may not approve of the actions you undertake, but you know in the depths of your heart, that they will not stop loving you, no matter what acts you have committed. You trust that love…and they trust yours.
And that is what we, the adult children of narcissist parents, were most deprived of…the ability to trust. Because when you cannot trust your parents, when your entire life you live in fear of a rejection even deeper than that you endure as a scapegoat, trust simply does not exist. And that is the furthest from “normal” that you can get.