I have so many things I want to write about parenting. About the daily struggles, milestones, trying to manage a career and being a mom, the high highs, the low lows, and everything in between. I have so much in my brain that I want to write about all of the threads that weave the universal fabric of motherhood. But for today, I write something different. Let’s talk about boundaries.
Why talk about boundaries? This topic was inspired by a conversation I recently had with another mom after school drop off. We went deep into a chat about the daily struggles to keep our sanity. And when I say deep, this conversation went deep. We shared more in common than I would have ever expected. At drop off, I see her as a kind, polite, friendly mom who always seems in a positive mood, and pleasant to be around. I would have never imagined, that like me, she has a husband that travels frequently, while she tries to manage her own career with small children. She has the same struggles with managing the battle of getting everyone out the door each morning, and oftentimes finds herself in sweary outbreaks. When you meet someone like this, and confess some of your most vulnerable parenting struggles, and share this much common ground, you know you’ve found one of your people.
We talked for over half an hour about parenting, trying to manage a career, balancing a schedule when your spouse is out of town (and we gave many a kudos to single parents – because wow – we both have a finite amount of time that we solo parent, and yet single parents are damn superheroes for doing it by themselves, all the time). But I digress. We talked about a lot of things, and then we talked about boundaries. The struggle to know our boundaries, to set them, and to enforce them. As parents, there is no time for bullshit in our lives. Period. Yet in conversation with many parents, it seems that people or situations always seem to find a way to insert themselves into our lives, and take space that they are not entitled to take. And you know what? Until you put your foot down and establish your boundaries, this will continue to happen.
The universe seems to be testing me lately on setting boundaries, and I would be remiss to think I was the only one. Over the past three years, I have been consciously trying to remove people and situations from my life that no longer serve me, in order to create the space I need in my life to be my happiest, most productive self. I’ve done a career change, eliminated toxic friendships, have rebalanced relationships, and have even moved house. With all of this transformation, I would expect to be a lot more proficient at setting boundaries than I currently am, but as it turns out, I still have a shitload to learn. I would, however, like to share what I’ve learned so far in the past three years, because these learnings have been so critical to me. So, here goes…
- Be Firm In Your Boundaries. Are you interviewing for a new job but have your non-negotiables around the salary? Do you have a friend that needs help with something and asks you for a favour that involves more than you’re capable of giving? Have you taken on an obligation that entails significantly more than you bargained for? Are you in a relationship or friendship that is not reciprocal? Is your number one priority to be present for your children, yet your boss demands your attention at all hours? If any of these situations sound familiar, listen up. You have every right to be firm with your wants, needs, and limitations. Don’t set conditions or compromises that you are not in alignment with. The right people will work with you. The people that don’t respect your boundaries, are not worthy of what you’re bringing to the table. Side-note: When being firm in your boundaries, you have to be VERY firm, and very clear. Do not waiver. People who do not respect boundaries will hear what they want to hear, and will continue with the same patterns until you assert yourself.
- You Don’t Owe Anyone An Explanation. Do you have a heavy schedule coming up in the next three weeks and cannot take on the extra volunteer hours? Do you really, really want to help that friend in need but know that you can’t commit to him/her? Do you have that meddling person in your life that constantly asks why you can’t do something? Here’s the deal. You. Don’t. Owe. Anyone. An. Explanation. You can simply say no, without owing another damn thing. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, to simply say no – because from a social psychology perspective, we know on the receiving end, that the word “no” is difficult to hear. I assure you however, that once you give it a try, saying no gets easier and easier. No explanation needed. And the word “No” works.
- Call People Out Who Consistently Overstep Your Boundaries. This one is tricky, because it involves more than a “No.” This involves possible conflict, and making people uncomfortable. It can be tiresome, and emotionally draining, because you must re-define the boundaries that you’ve already attempted to set. You have to expend your energy to fucking repeat yourself again. This is a necessary process, however, if you want to simplify your life. If people or situations continually try to cross the boundaries that you have clearly, repeatedly set, are they really worth having in your life?
- Trust Your Instincts. Does that job offer look great on paper, but your gut says something is off? Do you sense something about a new person in your life that triggers warning signals? Do you feel you’re being taken advantage of, but not sure how? Almost 100% of the time, when I have failed to trust my instincts on whether or not to allow a person or situation into my life, it has not worked out. When something is wrong for you, it’s just wrong – and deep down you will know it.
- Other People’s Feelings Are Not Priority. This can be a challenging one. If you have a person or situation in your life that is not working within your boundaries, oftentimes, a clear break is not an option. You have to work with that person or situation, as well as their perspectives, limitations, and feelings. The biggest thing I’ve learned in recent years, is that softening my approach to consider other people’s feelings or thoughts before my own, is not the best approach. This is a pattern I’m consciously trying to break. Asserting myself clearly, with integrity, and yet without apology, has been what has served me best. I’ve hurt some feelings along the way, and most definitely, there have been people who now think less of me. But you know what? None of that matters. If you want people to respect your boundaries, it can’t always be warm and fuzzy.
At the end of the day, anyone who is in the boat of navigating parenthood, career, responsibilities, relationships etc. is bound to feel overwhelmed at times. The beautiful thing that I’ve found about becoming a parent, is that it has forced me to find ways to eliminate the bullshit from my life. Setting boundaries will still be a challenge that I continue to navigate, but if I’ve learned anything in recent years, the challenge has been worth it.