a man with a giant heart must reach through it to hold his children's hands.

Boundaries and Parenting

This is a lesson I have learned along the way, and I hope to pass it on to others. I am lucky to have people like my parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents, teachers, and coaches, in my life to teach or remind me of boundaries, family, and friends.

Sharpening my saw

Therapy sessions

With my heart disease, I must continuously ‘sharpen my saw.’ So, after my diagnosis in late 2012 in South Africa, with the help of my employer at the time, I arranged a few therapy sessions. These sessions proved to be pivotal in my recovery and helped me maximize the cardiologist’s recommendation and cope well. Even after moving back to Dakar, my therapist, Judy, and I kept in touch.

Suggestions

Late 2014, when my first son was born, I revisited South Africa. I booked a follow-up check-in session with Judy. During that session, she re-emphasized the importance of boundaries again, especially with the added responsibilities of being a new husband and becoming a daddy. At the time, not only was our family expanding, we were moving countries, and I was also starting a new business, all while living with heart disease. She also suggested a few books for me to read.

Vigilant and mindful

In retrospect, Judy helped make sure that I remain even more vigilant and mindful as I took on my new jobs-to-do. We mainly focused on the importance of saying “no,” especially to myself! This teaching was critical for me as I moved forward. I practiced and learned to say “no” to myself in all areas of my lifework, sports, exercising, the super delicious foods that may not be good for me, or even avoiding company when I was not in the right state of mind.

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Teaching boundaries

Developing

Now that I am a father of three growing black boys, I am even more mindful of ‘boundaries.’ Like with our (2 years old) twins, I observed that they seem to have an intrinsic ability to “say no.” Or to push back. Perhaps they got that from their genes or their environment. Is this ability an innate tool to protect or preserve ourselves? Or is it a reflection of the time in their development process - testing the boundaries? I guess soon they will start to ask “why.”

Nurturing

In any case, for me, as a parent, I often ask myself how I can nurture the development of the innate capabilities and personalities of my boys instead of suppressing them. We must practice the exciting balance between teaching them to say no and saying no to them.

An example

Nap time

Sometimes, I even find ways to make it all a fun experience (for me 😅). For example, one early afternoon, it was nap time. Even though they were super tired, the boys refused to go down. I explained to them that it was nap time. While I would not force them to sleep, their nap time is a ‘Daddy time for self.’ They wanted to watch their favorite show on TV instead of napping. But sadly, for them, it was Daddy’s time to watch his show. I added that just like we must respect their time, they too must respect Daddy’s time as well.

Standing my ground

After that, I let them out of their room and went to watch my TV show. Of course, they did not want me to watch my show, so soon followed the resounding screams of “change the channel, change the channel.” Eventually, Twin A was too tired to protest, so he quickly fell asleep, putting his head on my shoulder. On the other hand, Twin B just laid on the carpet and slept. That evening, bedtime went smoothly, and the day after, nap time worked like clockwork. So, I gathered that standing my ground that time worked.

Responsibilities and saying no

Teaching opportunities

That moment was for me a reminder of how many teaching opportunities we parents get throughout the day-to-day grind. As much as it was fun, it was also a moment I had to appreciate as significant. I was proud of myself for how I handled the demonstration of boundaries if I may say so myself.

Respect all around

Lastly, in the good Djola tradition, we appreciate our freedom to say no, to protect ourselves and our values come easy. But, knowing my boys, they will certainly test the limits. We have responsibilities, and we have boundaries as children, as parents, as people in general. So, I hope that my kids and their peers learn and master it. I want them to know they have every right to say “no.” They deserve to be respected, and they must respect others.

Balancing act

Ultimately, it is all a balancing act, learning how to take care of ourselves while also loving and caring for others. Life is a long learning process, and the sooner we start, the better!

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