Boundaries…an idea I had never put any thought to until I realized I didn’t have any. Boundaries are not only important but a necessity in one’s life. I didn’t even know what boundaries were, but boy, when I figured it out, I realized what the lack of boundaries had brought to my life.
Over-commitment, exhaustion, irritation, frustration…do any of these words ring a bell? I had set myself up for failure after failure because I never recognized boundaries to keep me within the confines of my limitations. Yes, limits. We all have them, and as much as we want to think we can do it all and with excellence and grace, we just weren’t made that way. Maybe you can relate.
It took a few good books to open my eyes to realize what boundaries I have been missing and why I couldn’t live another day without putting some much-needed ones in place. The lack of boundaries not only left me overwhelmed but with a lack of contentment in my every day. I recently read “If Mama Ain't Happy” By Rachel Norman and was reminded of how much I had let some boundaries slip. Old habits die hard or don’t die at all, I guess.
What are boundaries
Boundaries are defined as “a line that marks the limits of an area, a dividing line.” The problem with internal boundaries is there is no physical line.
Boundaries are blurry. There isn’t a physical fence around our internal boundaries; no lock you have to pick to get through the fence gate. With internal boundaries, we usually don’t realize the fence was bulldozed over until we are physically sick or just downright sick and tired. So how do we draw the line if we can’t see it?
Recognize your Triggers
Imagine this…it’s Thursday evening, you walk into the house after a long day’s work. A day that was supposed to end at 6:00, but your coworker reeeaalllly needed your help on one last little project, so you stay later because “what’s a few more minutes?” You help finalize the project only to realize the reason your coworker didn’t get it done is because she went and got her nails done earlier in the day. So now you just got home an hour late with a bag of fast food in hand because no energy is left to actually cook something. Backpacks and homework are strewn across the counter, and your husband is just taking a little cat nap while kids decide to build a giant lego tower that just tipped over as you walked in the door. The lego piercing your heel was the icing on another dragged-out, discontented day.
Your calm evening just turned into a hot, chaotic mess. Why? Because your boundary lines were broken. Whatever your scenario of broken boundaries is, I’m sure you can relate and feel that inner ughhh feeling brewing. It’s a tough awakening when you realize the chaos is really from a decision of your own making. The beauty is sometimes tough realizations are what propel us to actually make a change. In order to make that change, we have to realize our triggers in the first place.
Start With Your Feelings
These triggers fare differently for everyone. Norman says, “Our feelings are a good place to start. While our feelings can be bad masters, they are good advisors. Are we feeling bitter, resentful, angry, weary, depressed, anxious, or hopeless? Beep, beep, beep, something is buried below.”
I bet you would feel resentment towards your co-worker after your evening seemingly unraveled. I bet that resentment grew into bitterness when you realized she does this to you ALL THE TIME. And she will keep doing it if no boundary lines are drawn. How different would your night have looked if you said, “I have plans and am not able to stay later.”
There is always a “why” behind your feelings. It can take a hard look at your own habits to realize the “why” those feelings creep up. Do you have a hard time saying no? Do you always put others before your own needs? Do you feel like a pushover? Are the rules you make hard for you to enforce?
These questions may not be the feelings of irritation or resentment, but they can help you realize the why behind the feelings and what your triggers are. Once you figure out the “why,” you can figure out how to make a change and add boundary lines.
What causes our lack of boundaries?
So now we know what a boundary is and can recognize the feeling when that boundary line is broken, but what causes our lack of boundaries in the first place?
Either or Mentality
As parents, we often feel like we need to take care of our kids OR ourselves. For some reason, we let this lie creep in that we can’t do both and be good parents. What if doing both makes us even better all around?
Norman calls this a “win-win.” She says, “when parents think their choice is between caring for their children or caring for themselves, they’ll normally choose their kids. Many women will stop minding their own boundaries because they think it makes them better mothers.” Here is where Norman nails it. She says, “But that is a very black-and-white view. It’s a zero-sum game in which somebody’s win necessarily means the other person’s loss. When speaking of parents and children, it means either the parents win, or the children win.”
We can turn the black-and-white into a win-win for everyone involved. Instead of looking for just the two possibilities, maybe there are more options. Here is where some brainstorming comes into play.
Brainstorm Your Options
My girls love to go shopping. The lack of shopping options near us and rise in conveniences like having groceries delivered means we don’t go to the store much. When we do, they think they ALWAYS need to get something. We try to teach the importance between needs and wants. They tend to throw a mini tantrum when I say no, we don’t need that. So to double up and teach a lesson on needs and wants and to not throw a tantrum if we don’t get what we want, I came up with a little solution.
My girls need to bring their own money to the store to buy something they want. How do they have money to spend, well chores, of course! Now, when we get to the store, and one of the girls asks for something, my response is, “have you saved enough money for that,” or “are you sure you want to spend that much on XYZ?” It puts the ball in their wallet, so to speak.
This brainstorming helped solve multiple areas where boundary lines were crossed in our home. The girls are much more eager to do their chores since they are rewarded. They are learning the importance of saving and the difference between wants and needs. Suddenly that $80 toy doesn’t look so appealing when the money comes from their own pockets. That’s a lot of dishwasher unloading and vacuuming for ONE thing.
They are learning the value of hard work and that nothing comes for free. I get to reap the benefits of a cleaner house, fewer toys to contend with because they don’t always choose to make a purchase, eagerness to complete chores to earn their allowance, and no more tantrums at the store because, ultimately, they chose to say no on their own terms. I would call that so much more than a win-win! It all stemmed from a little brainstorming to fix a boundary line.
So instead of feeling like you need to pick your needs or theirs, think about more possibilities. Maybe there are more options that can create a win-win for everyone involved!
Feeling our needs are not as important as someone else’s
Most moms would agree we would do anything for our kids. That does not have to come at the expense of your own sanity and needs. Our needs being met makes us better parents and brings contentment to all in our spheres. Rachel is right, “if mama ain't happy,” everyone in the home feels it.
We need to recognize our needs and make boundaries accordingly. If we have that feeling of our lives spiraling out of control, clearly, both our boundaries are broken, and needs are not being met. Could any of us say we really want to live this way? Is everyone in our home happy if we are not?
Our kids and spouses don’t want to deal with the brunt of our resentment when we let the boundary lines slip. Here are a few areas where boundaries are essential:
Our needs matter. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, can we really be the best mom or wife or boss & so on?
Lack of boundaries affects more than just ourselves. If we let go of our limitations, is that teaching our kids a positive example?
When our health and wellness suffer, we need to reevaluate what is more important. What are you prioritizing before your health, and why?
As moms, our needs matter, just like with my kids; I had to take a long hard look at what my needs were versus my wants. In a perfect world, my house would always be spotless, and I would come home after work, and everyone would be eager to pitch in around the house. No one would be arguing about homework or leaving their dirty socks on the floor. I would be able to make a nice dinner, and we would all gather around the table and tell stories of our day, and then we would go for a nice stroll as the sun sets and read books until their little eyes (or mine) were too heavy to take in another word.
We can’t wait to be content until all our dreams of discussion-filled dinners and bed time story reading come true. It’s okay to let go of expectations and understand we also may need to prioritize our needs and let go or set aside our wants.
Recognize Your Limits
We need to recognize our limits and realize that it’s not just okay to live in those limits, but we can actually flourish and be more content when we do. Norman says, “I live within the limits of my own energy and budget.” She continues, “And I don’t set myself up to emotionally fail by adopting a bunch of random ideas that seem like good ideas but that I’ll never end up keeping.”
Be realistic with your time and energy. Some days need tighter boundaries than others. As we grow in our awareness and need for our boundaries, it becomes much easier to recognize our limits and our own needs.
Boundaries are not just a list we come up with that are written in ink. Boundaries can be shaped and molded and change over time with your needs and those of the people around you. Don’t beat yourself up when your boundary lines slip. Tomorrow is a new day and another opportunity to learn from what we have experienced.
Who knew learning lessons and setting limits could make your life more content?! For more great practical lessons and applications, check out the book, If Mama Ain’t Happy by Rachel Norman. You will never be so happy to hear the word limits when you realize what freedom these boundaries really bring!
Order your copy of If Mama Ain't Happy today!