When I had toddlers, I was encouraged to read the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I remember thinking: how in the world am I going to find the time to sit and read a book!? I am thankful for audio books, which allowed me to complete it. If you have not yet read it, the authors do an amazing job relating stories to real life circumstances and allow the reader to see how setting boundaries in life is not a selfish act, but rather necessity.
I was talking with a friend recently who mentioned the concept that being a Christian meant you always had to sacrifice for others. I disagree. No matter what your faith situation is, if you’re constantly giving of yourself, whether that be money, time, emotional energy, or other effort, eventually you will run yourself ragged. Setting personal limits and sticking with them will help you give within your means. (Think about the example of flying on an airliner when the flight attendant says to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.)
When my children were little, I had a Pack-N-Play set up in my living room. I’ve read several books about raising children, one of which discussed the importance of teaching them boundaries at a young age. One book suggested providing the child with a safe space where they could entertain themselves independently for a short time, allowing the parent the ability to cook a meal without a kid pulling on a leg near a hot stove. This sounded like a good idea to me, so I implemented this concept. By doing this, I began to teach the children that having “me time” was important and they could play by themselves with toys or look at books, allowing me time to get dinner cooked or take a shower without interruption or fear of an unsafe situation happening. As our family increased from one to three children, I came to appreciate the boundaries I implemented early on. It has now been over a decade since the early days of child rearing and the “me time” has greatly benefited our family. It has taught the children the ability to be ok being by themselves for a short time, as well as play and be creative independently throughout the day. As the children have grown, we also use “me time” nearly every evening before bed as a time to be quiet in their bunks as they wind down from the day.
As I implemented boundaries with my children, I began to learn there were other areas of my life where I needed to set boundaries as well. My husband’s work schedule was always fluid, which provided me plenty of single-mom moments. It was not physically possible for me to be in three rooms at once, let alone be woken up repeatedly throughout the night and still be chipper the next day. I began to realize that in order for some of my children to take morning naps well, I would have to skip library time with my older children or deal with a cranky baby. I was not sleeping well at night and decided that less cranky kids were the better choice for me, so I began to make scheduling decisions that allowed opportunities for rest and selfcare. I began having friends over for a play date at my house to allow myself a social outlet, while the baby would nap inside and we played outside with a baby monitor on. As the children grew and I could get out a little more, I joined a mom’s group at a local church, which allowed me to drop the kiddo’s off in the nursery and enjoy fellowship with other mothers. I began to build a schedule to allow consistency for the children, as well as give myself a little break. I began to find that by building a schedule (or creating boundaries within my schedule) around my needs as well as those of the children, provided us the feeling of freedom and relaxation, versus feeling stressed that I couldn’t do everything. I picked a few things we could do and worked well for the children and myself. I learned to say no to some things so I could say yes to the things that worked best for us, without leaving myself exhausted. This allowed me to have a less chaotic day, feel more relaxed, and provided the social outlets I needed to recharge myself.
I will be the first to admit that I’m constantly learning to take better care of myself. As the children grew and my husband’s job changed to one week on, one week off, I would be solo with three young children every other week. It was almost Thanksgiving and I was invited to my sister’s house for the family holiday meal. I felt the pressure to spend the holiday with my family and drive over an hour there for the day, then drive home, getting the children to bed late all by myself. To some, this may seem like no big deal. For me, this would put me in a minimum of a two-day recovery from the trip. My health was not ideal at this time and I was not in any condition to push myself past exhaustion to go to a family meal. I remember calling my sister and informing her that I would not make it to the meal at her home. She was sad, but didn’t hassle me too much. It felt good to say no, because I knew I was saying yes to my selfcare needs.
As I began implementing the techniques from the book, I began to see other areas in my life where I needed to implement boundaries. Having boundaries doesn’t mean I say no to everything, but merely encourages me to ask myself if the topic at hand is something that will build me or break me. Many years later, I think about boundaries as not only a safety net, but also something that brings people closer together. For example, you might let your child go outside to play in the yard and make sure the gate to your fence is closed so the child doesn’t accidentally wander off into the street. Likewise, boundaries allow us the safety needed to live and operate within a place. Once I started seeing how boundaries benefited me, I began to make boundary-setting a healthy habit and part of my regular selfcare toolbox.
I was talking with a friend the other day about a situation that had happened in their life. They explained the scenario and I mentioned it was “not your cheese” (nacho cheese) to deal with the reaction of the other person in the situation. This is something I picked up over the last several years of setting boundaries and dealing with the repercussions and reactions of others to my boundaries. It is not my job to make the other person ok with my boundary, nor is it my responsibility to agree with the other person. Boundaries allow us to understand where we are, how we feel, and what we are comfortable with.
Another friend shared a story with me once about how they were told some life-altering information. This friend looked at me and said, “What do you do with that? You have to learn how to be a duck, let the water hit your feathers and roll off your back. You cannot change the situation, but you can decide how you will react and move forward with the knowledge you have now.” I think about this conversation a lot in relation to boundaries. I do not have to let things that happen in my life take control of my future. I can decide how I feel about those things and move forward.
Situations will happen and other people will react, but their reaction is not my responsibility. That’s “nah-cho-cheese”, that’s their cheese.
Have you read the book Boundaries?
What things have you implemented in your life that have helped provide you the emotional, physical, or mental freedom to be the best version of yourself?