A Fish with No Boundaries
Tolerance is the most exalted virtue of our culture. The most serious charge someone can make about another person is that they are intolerant or close minded. To have strong convictions that something is absolutely right you’re absolutely wrong is to be labeled a bigot, often treated as one who violates people’s civil liberties.
This has certainly translated into parenting. parents who set firm boundaries for their children often feel pressure from their children, from the parents of their child’s friends, from media and other sources of popular opinion to lighten up, for all their children’s ideas rather than each and enforce a standard absolute right and absolute wrong. Loving parenting is defined by how permissive and open minded and tolerant the parents are, and conversely parents are bad, if not destructive or criminal, fa teach anything that seems close minded and intolerant and strict.
The result is that many good parents have stopped enforcing rules and setting boundaries for their child.
Is this good parenting? Let’s look at this from a fish point of view. Suppose I had a gold fish in a fishbowl. The fish is quite restricted by the fishbowl. Is a small environment, and I might think it is unfair to limit or restrict the fishbowl with such rigid boundaries. So, out of the goodness of my heart, I might just set that goldfish free from its strict boundaries by removing him from the fishbowl and placing him on the floor of a wide open living room. Now, he has practically no limits and no boundaries. I have set him free, proving myself to be a good pet owner.
How would you respond? Assuming that you love animals and care about this fish is well being, you would spring into action and get the fish back into the bowl as quickly as possible. To this, I might unleash upon you a tirade of accusations about you being close minded and intolerant and uncaring for restricting the goldfish to such a small environment inhibited by strict boundaries.
In reality, who is the good pet owner? is it me, who puts the goldfish on the floor in an attempt to set them free from boundaries, or you, who doggedly enforces that the fish stay within its boundaries? Obviously, it would be you since you are doing what is truly best for the fish. My intentions may seem noble, but they are not best because my permissiveness put the fish in danger.
Children, like goldfish, need boundaries. there are environments that are safe for children and environments that are not safe for them, places and situations that are dangerous and unhealthy for them. Boundaries lovingly keep them in areas that are healthy where they can thrive safely. Time and again, we see that children who grow up with parents who refuse to define and forest clear boundaries end up self destructing in some way because they have wandered into territories not fitting for them.
And yet, these parents are treated as the loving ones because they are permissive an unrestrictive and tolerant of all views and behavior. Like the person who is scolded for putting the gold fish back in the bowl, parents who maintain boundaries for their children are often scolded and treated as unloving.
So the question is, as a parent, do you want to be known as cool and tolerant and permissive and open minded and praised for these qualities, or do you want to truly protect and nurture healthy children, accepting that this will come with ridicule and resistance?
Looking back at my own childhood, one thing I am surprised to be grateful for is that my parents were always willing to be the bad guys. When they set boundaries and established standards of behavior and we forced them with discipline, they put up with our resistance and with ridicule from our friends and their own peers and repeatedly failed to measure up to what the media and other sources were purporting as good parenting. They seemed to anticipate this and were prepared to accept it. Their goal was not to win a popularity contest with us or with society; their goal was to protect their children and raised us to be healthy and wise adults.
Perhaps we need some intolerance. maybe we need to be close minded in some areas. maybe wide open freedom is not the highest virtue.
From one goldfish to another, let me encourage you to appreciate boundaries and to value the safety they provide.