Boundary: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.
Unbeknownst to my husband, I have been fretting over the practice of setting boundaries with my kids while simultaneously trying to teach them how to navigate the world around them and express themselves in it. So, I was shocked to see my thoughts reflected back to me on the wall of the bathroom last night. I came home late from a meeting to find a picture taped to our bathroom wall. It was cut out from an advertisement. In it, there is a person with a white circle drawn completely around him. It says, “Draw a Circle Around Everything You Can Control.”
I laughed, wondering if my husband was reading my mind.
Is there a difference in controlling your kids versus guiding them through new experiences and teaching boundaries? I climbed into bed with my husband that night laughing, “I saw the message you left for me.” He smiled. “Oh, I just thought it was funny. We try so hard to manage the kids’ behavior constantly. It is always, “Eat this but not that,” “Turn off the screens,” “Get exercise,” blah blah. Truthfully, we are just making ourselves crazy.”
Recently, I ended up in a chain texting situation.
There were twenty-seven people on it and the pings would not stop coming in. My dear friend’s mother-in-law was in the hospital with a serious disease. I had never met the mother-in-law, but I called earlier in the week to check on my friend. I guess she thought it would be okay to add me to the list of people she was corresponding with regularly about the illness and hospital information.
At first, I did nothing. I let my phone clog with eighty-three messages, covering everything from condolences to her recent bowel movement reports. I was annoyed. I didn’t want these updates from their family. I felt like a peeping Tom. I wanted to send my regards and love, but I didn’t need a blow by blow of her prognosis. Yet, I didn’t want to be unkind or crass by saying something that could be hurtful at such a delicate time, so I kept quiet for another thirty-one texts.
The next morning, I woke up and decided to practice what I preach.
I was going to set a clear boundary instead of being angry with my friend. She didn’t mean to upset me, and she couldn’t guess what I was feeling.
I texted: Hi Michelle. Could you please take me off the text chain for your mother in law? I will check in with you in a few days. Thank you. Sending love.
She removed me from the list and texted a quick apology: Sorry about all the texts!
We have since talked and there were no hard feelings. Had I not said something, I am confident that I would still be harboring all kinds of annoyance.
A boundary was created. A relationship perhaps saved.
I worry about my kids making some of the same stupid mistakes I did in my early relationships due to ignorance, not just a lack of life experience. By saying no or being honest, you aren’t being rude. You aren’t being unkind. Instead, you are creating a stronger, healthier relationship. You should be able to find a space that can work for both parties, that enhances the relationship, not breaks it down. By making boundaries, you are respecting yourself and the other person.
The advertisement posted on my wall keeps taunting me.
Does it feel to my kids like I have stepped inside their personal white circles? Am I teaching them to speak kindly, but also teaching them that is also okay to speak up for themselves? Am I teaching them to know themselves well enough to say this is okay with me, but that is not? The answer is complicated.
Boundaries are an abstract concept to understand, a concept even many adults were never taught.
When the kids were little and my main goal was to keep them alive, then I had to assert complete control. As they grow toward adulthood, though, they should push back against us and our control. They must find their independence. Hopefully, during this push back stage, we, the caregivers, are still able to see how to support them and provide guidance, so they can create new boundaries.
I had a stranger tell me when I first became a mom, “You have thirteen years. Thirteen years to cram all the things that are important in life into them, then you spend thirteen years slowly backing off to let them figure it out for themselves.” At the time, I thought the woman was crazy.
I don’t dance with crazy, so I just smiled and kissed the top of my tiny baby’s head. Now, I get it. If I could, I would thank her for her knowledge and give her a huge hug, if her boundaries permitted it, and tell her that I was the crazy one.