This is a real quickie about boundaries and how having clear boundaries in any context leads to a bountiful existence on planet Earth.
We in the wonderful and sometimes bullshit-ridden world of positive psychology and NLP are fond of saying things like ‘there are no limits’. We spout about self-limiting beliefs as though these are inherently a ‘bad thing’.
The truth, however, is that a life without appropriate boundaries is a disaster. For some of the kids I have met so far on my developing journey as a foster carer, it is a real, living hell. Boundaries keep us safe and that is exactly what ‘looked after children’ (fostered children) have not experienced: a sense of safety and security.
But we all need boundaries, not just the neglected, abandoned and abused. The real trick is in establishing the boundaries that are truly liberating. It is an exquisite paradox on a par with the related one which says that the more we accept responsibility the more we are truly free.
What is often challenging for parents, managers, politicians and leaders is that for boundaries to have value, meaning and potency, they have to be dynamic; that means they have to grow as the individual or group grows. This is most evident with babies. No-one sends a baby out to work on day one. Well it would be good to believe this is true. It isn’t, but most of us would expose infants to such risks.
Yet by the time the baby reaches the age of 18 we expect him or her to make decisions about who leads the country, whether to go and fight and kill people in wars and to accept responsibility for how much debt they take on, potentially for the rest of their lives.
Interestingly the UK austerity-obsessed government just made two highly positive decisions based on an understanding of the importance of having dynamic boundaries. Positive, dynamic boundaries grow and shrink with the individual’s constantly changing and hopefully growing capacity to cope with increased responsibility.
The first decision is that looked after children will be funded if they wish to stay with foster carers until they are 21 rather than 18. This is a positive recognition that looked after children need longer because they have to re-do some or all of their early development due to the neglect or abuse. Actually millions of kids need much longer. Don’t get me started about military recruitment fairs in schools or enticing 18 year-olds into £60K of debt for academic qualifications of diminishing credibility and worth.
But this extension of support for looked after children is a great step forwards from a government I personally loathe.
The other surprising great leap forwards is the doubling of pupil premium for looked after children. Again this is a recognition of the importance of dynamic boundaries. Some people, not just some kids, need more leeway, more emphasis on support (and some benefit from more challenge and less support, and some from more or even much less direction too).
Getting the boundaries right at each moment for each child and adult in any context is what actually gives the individual the confidence and sense of freedom that leads to an increasing capacity to take on more responsibility.
Personally I have more responsibilities now than at any time in my life and at the same time I feel more free than at any time in my life. For me, being comfortable with responsibility is the most liberating experience of my life by a trillion miles.
We owe it to all our children, not just the ones who suffer abuse and neglect, to get this right. This includes not just more support, but sometimes LESS support and MORE challenge. Sometimes it means much LESS discipline and not more, Michael Gove.
The fact is everyone is different and they are different every second of every day and the challenge for those of us who are approaching an age where we will need looking after by the young generation is to become better at handing over these responsibilities with greater skill and understanding.
We have so screwed this up in the recent past (the century of apocalyptic wars that started in 1914, the misery of totalitarianism of left and right and the devastating anarchy of unconstrained, boundary-less financial ‘capitalism’) that I have to be honest and say I am delighted that the UK government is showing some sense of how important this issue really is.
It is literally a matter of our survival as a species, of the difference between heaven on Earth and hell.
Governments need to do so much more now. We all do.