Boundaries and Drowning

A thing happened to my son at school. It was a small thing, but my son’s emotional reaction to it was very large. When this sort of disproportional reaction happens, I know that it usually has very little to do with the thing itself and much to do with a dozen other things which are often invisible to everyone. Even the person having the big reaction does not know what it is about. They think it is about the thing. So it was with my son. He got quite angry with me when I did not respond as if the small thing was a dire and immediate emergency. I got angry with him because I was confused why he was suddenly so angry with me, and because some of his choices about how to handle his emotional reaction were not ideal.

Boundaries are a problem when a child struggles with a mental health issue. It is morally wrong to do nothing while someone drowns. It gets more complicated when someone is drowning in water that is only waist high. Particularly if that person won’t listen to shouts of “just stand up.” So I find myself soaking wet, not wearing my swim suit because I wasn’t planning on getting into the water today, helping my son to stand up. This has happened many times. Each time I wonder if maybe my rescues are part of the problem. Maybe I should just stand on the edge and let him flail until he figures out for himself that he can just put his feet down and stand. Except, people do drown in waist high water. People drown in bathtubs. Even adult people. It happens when something interferes with rational thought. A person who is drowning is not able to be completely rational. The drowning is real even if the water is not deep. I can’t let my child drown while I watch. Yet, a person who is always rescued learns to rely on rescue. That person can get very angry with people who try to get them to manage solo.

I don’t have any good answers. I just know that today I was dragged into the pool to perform a rescue that was not entirely of my choosing. I’m tired and wrung out. Again.