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Loved, Spoiled, and Boundaries

August 11, 2017

My apologies to readers for my schedule these past few weeks, a bit haphazard in posting Another Way columns because of vacations and busy summer gardening projects. I usually post them a week after publication in newspapers. We’ll get back on schedule!

Another Way for week of July 28, 2017: Loved, Spoiled, and Boundaries

I was standing in line at the dollar store where I buy most of my greeting cards. In front of me was a man wearing a big pouch attached to a belt.

Another customer came in the store and immediately reached into this man’s pouch and petted something. My curiosity rising, I peeked around to find the man in line had a small dog in his pouch. The cute pooch looked like she was enjoying the attention.

The other customer headed on into the store so as the man with the dog finished checking out, I said something I’d heard before: “She’s not at all spoiled, is she?” I exclaimed.

The man responded firmly, “Loved, not spoiled.”

I was a bit startled at his response and responded softly, “Good answer!” I was glad he hadn’t simply agreed with me. It’s what I will try to remember to say in the future when a stranger tells me my grandchildren are surely spoiled rotten.

Some children wear T-shirts proclaiming their spoiled status. Usually it is a joke, but I always wonder if children begin to absorb some of the comments they hear, and begin to think of themselves as spoiled as they begin understanding language and its meaning. So I do hate hearing such lines especially said by a proud parent or grandparent: you sometimes act the part after hearing it so often.

On a recent night at our church clothes closet, one child, maybe five years old, was behaving like a dreadful brat. He ran up and down the aisles, pulling clothing off the hangars and whipping each piece to the floor. When asked, he would not pick them up, or stop. His mother was not calling him out, so those of us supervising tried to rein him in. He would have none of it. As we discussed the situation later, one elementary school teacher said the child needed boundaries. I couldn’t have agreed more. Sad are the children whose parents and caretakers set no boundaries or behavior standards.

That said, I too was guilty of trying to ignore the behavior of my young children at times. I am chagrined to recall the time when two of my daughters decided to turn a bar separating check out lines at K-Mart into a “monkey bar.” I was just trying to get through the check out line without the children begging for snacks or other goodies, and was trying to ignore their misbehavior. In this case, the clerk asked them not to swing on the bar. My face turned red I’m sure as I realized that even good mothers (which I tried to be) are sometimes too tired to cope, or just wanting to get out of the store after a long hard day. We sometimes fail to stick to limits on a child’s behavior.

Here are a few boundaries that are good for children and parents:

  • When a parent counts to ten, or counts down from five for a child to stop a behavior, there WILL be consequences, such as an age-appropriate time out.
  • Have regular times for naps and bedtime: so many behavior problems arise when children do not get proper rest. Parents can be flexible according to different activities, but have a game plan in mind.
  • Follow through on promised punishments: nothing bends boundaries any faster than sensing a parent’s “no” is only a “maybe.”
  • As children grow, expect them not to interrupt adult conversations unless it is an emergency; they can learn to wait if you’re on the phone or talking to someone.

Debbie Pincus, an author and licensed mental health counselor says at the Empowering Parents website, “Let’s face it, kids push the boundaries every day, all the time. They are wired to test us and see how far they can go; it’s in their nature.” She gives these additional markers for knowing when your children have become head of your household:

  • Doing for your child what he can (or should) do for himself.
  • Constantly asking questions; interrogating your child over everything.
  • Letting your child invade your boundaries as a couple—making your kids the center focus at all times.
  • Over-sharing with your child about your life; treating them like a friend rather than your child.
  • Giving up your parental authority and allowing your child to take control of the household.
  • Living through your child vicariously; feeling as if their achievements are yours, and their failures are yours as well.
  • Your child is upset, and you fall apart.

Now, I may have crossed some personal boundary line when I gave my offhand comment about the man’s little dog, just for conversation. But I’m grateful for the gracious reminder he gave me, regarding the difference between “spoiled” and “loved.” We want children who know and feel respected and loved—and that starts by supplying love AND boundaries.

Our three daughters circa 1989, setting their own boundaries in a backyard tent they put up themselves.

For my free book on parenting, Working, Mothering, and other “Minor” Dilemmas (published 1984), send $3 for postage to Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850. Or send comments to

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  






  1. singinglady37 permalink

    I enjoyed this message very much and although i am well past child-rearing ages i now am looking on at my three granddaughters that are now rain 8 active little boys (our great grandson) and see how they struggle to be the best parents but have moments when they get overwhelmed . Good advice here to share with them too xo

    • You have some lovely little great grandsons and special family. It is always dangerous to give “guidelines” because people can point fingers and say “that doesn’t work for us” or whatever, so I write such things with some humility and honest confession. It is hard to be a parent, we all know! Thanks for checking in here, Caro-Claire.

  2. Looking out my window, I see husband Cliff walking with grandson # 2 inspecting his mowing our lawn. This boy/man has parents who have always insisted on boundaries, so if his grandpa suggests do-overs, I think he won’t complain. Well, maybe mentally.

    Those darling daughters from circa 1989 manage to look over-the-moon sweet, not spoiled. Do you spoil your grand-children, Melodie? (Answer not required.) 🙂

  3. I like your description of the scene from your yard. Did your grandson keep up with the lawn while you were gone??

    Some cousins might argue that we spoiled our “baby” for awhile, but, that’s normal. After I wrote this column, the motto hanging in my kitchen (given to me by my childless sister) grabbed my attention. It says “Grandma’s Kitchen:Where Memories are Made and Grandchildren are Spoiled.”

    I may have to take it down when the boys get old enough to read, or they’ll call me on it. Or will they learn that I think it is okay to spoil them?? Grandma guilt. But I don’t think we’re too guilty of that yet. Our daughters don’t let us. Maybe indulged a bit.

    Glad to see you checking in here. 🙂

  4. Athanasia permalink

    When I drive to work, I see a lady out “walking” her dogs almost everyday when the weather is nice.
    She has one little one in a baby front pack and 2 more little ones in a stroller with a mesh screen over them. She gets plenty of exercise and they get fresh air. I spoke with her once as we both came upon our church driveway at the same time. She got the 2nd dog after her husband passed away as a way to fill in the emptiness and then the 3rd as she realized their first dog was aging too. I suppose some people might think the dogs are spoiled but she said they just can’t go on as long and as fast paced a walk as she was able too. They are all little bitty “57” dogs from the humane society.

    • Thanks for adding the thought that little tiny dogs can’t keep up with their owners walking! I never quite thought of that. And I wasn’t saying the dog was literally spoiled, just kind of joking with him. How neat you could speak with the dog walker to find out her issues! But I’m not sure what you mean by “57” dogs. Explain?? Thanks for commenting though, as always I appreciate it.

  5. Athanasia permalink

    Isn’t that what they call dogs with uncertain breed background? 57?? I know I have heard that term more than once. Like 57 ingredients?

    • Well, I learned something! Yes indeed I see it elsewhere on line so that settles it! I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before; we always just called them mutts. Thanks!

  6. The way we rear our children matters to the next generation of our country. I attended a funeral of a great man yesterday. He was noted for being progressive and inclusive in his life and his leadership of organizations. Yet his second highest value was accountability. I think that’s the combination you are describing above. Freedom, love, and boundaries. A great combination, Melodie. No wonder your children and grandchildren bring you so much joy.

  7. This is a great phase of life (grandchildren) and we can’t always share the heartaches. I wish I was free to go be a nanny to one or both of our young families. I do hope to be freer in a year or two, at least to help out in times of illness, etc..

    Thanks for pointing to the importance of accountability, an interesting trait to emphasize at a memorial service. I value each and every comment here.

  8. Athanasia permalink

    I am interested, though, in how you (the church ladies collective) handled the incident with the mis-behaving child. It sounds like nothing was done at the time, just discussed after the fact. I would think this would fall under the umbrella of “when you are in my/our house/church etc you follow my/our rules”. We have a lot of children in our church, not all of them children of members as our youth groups are open to the public and we get many outside children who then often also end up attending church and or Sunday school, almost always without a parent. Everyone that works with children, which is just about every adult as it covers nursery to high school age, has to take a course on child behavior management and protection. Then when something like that happens you have a guideline to follow.

  9. Interesting follow up, Athanasia, and it sounds like you have good guidelines for a church when dealing with children when parents aren’t present. I didn’t want to go into too much detail above or online. Not sure how it works in a ministry setting where parents are present, such as at a soup kitchen or clothes closet like ours, if the parents aren’t bringing them in line. Culturally, too, expectations for behavior are so different. We have people of numerous cultures mixing together. We remind them of our guidelines each time they come, read aloud to the group of clients in three languages: English, Spanish and Arabic, including the note to “Please watch after your own children” but “watching” means different things to different people. I was blessed with the response of the elementary teacher who said something like “a fierce scowl frequently works wonders” for her. Everyone understands a scowl if they are knowingly misbehaving.

  10. Athanasia permalink

    Out of control children have a good chance of growing into out of control adults. How does that help the world? If someone doesn’t say something how does that help the family?

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