The Boundary Hunter
This has been one of my most popular topics among moms. Healthy boundaries are necessary to declare to others at what point we feel manipulated, taken advantage of, or extended beyond reason. They act as a set of limits; they safeguard those aspects of our lives that create an optimal degree of emotional, physical, psychological, social, mental, and spiritual well being. So, here I discuss what needs protecting (i.e., core values), how to create a boundary, how to recognize when a boundary is violated, and how to act in ways that protect your sense of self from the things that intentionally/
unintentionally, innocently, or indirectly sabotage your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Listen to intro
Just the other day while food shopping, I saw a mother standing approximately four feet from her shopping cart. Her toddler son was climbing vigorously about the car that was attached to the cart. She was standing still with her hands covering her mouth, looking haggard and miserable. Not sure if I should intervene, I timidly asked if she was all right. She looked at me with glassy eyes and said, “I feel like throwing up.” Within seconds she continued, “He’s in rare form today.” In an instant, I realized she was not physically ill, just wound up beyond her comfort level. She spoke again, “He’s wearing me down. I really feel like I can throw up.” She may as well have said that he was wearing her away because that is exactly how she looked to me, like a shell of a woman. My heart went out to her, having been there myself many times. I offered to help, but she assured me that she would be fine. I continued on my way, knowing she had lied to me in an uncomfortable and self-conscious moment. Throughout the day, I thought about this woman. I figured this incident was not the first or only stressful occasion in her life as a mother, and I knew that it wouldn’t be her last.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this book, motherhood demands that women produce, provide, and satisfy on a daily basis. They must discipline, sacrifice, and tolerate a tremendous amount every day. This call to action can stress a woman’s sense of self. However, in the pages that follow, I suggest ways for mothers to reclaim and/or secure their sense of self. In reclaiming and maintaining a sense of self, mothers are better able to live their lives from a position of strength and engage others in ways that promote long-term mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, sexual, and intellectual good health. These suggestions along with grief work (chapter 7) are the things that helped me find solace, strength, and the familiar aspects of myself that had long since vanished in the chaos of my life. Before all other suggestions, though, I urge mothers to establish and embrace some basic “rights.”
The following mothers took on this exercise and expressed rights I thought were very compelling.
I have a right to end conversations with people who make me feel bad about myself or my parenting.
I have a right not to be responsible for every behavior my children exhibit.
I have a right to be “good enough.”
I have a right to relax and be frivolous.
I have a right to evolve in my role as a mother, wife, and woman.
I have a right to make decisions that seem selfish.
I have a right to make a phone call in quiet and pee with the door closed.
I have a right to say “no” to anything that violates my boundaries or my dignity.
I have a right to respect simply because I am me.
I have a right to feel unsure, frightened, and confused.
In an effort to reclaim your sense of self, I suggest you compose your list of rights. Take your time and think through how to protect your sanity and your sense of self. Don’t worry about the words you use or how others might interpret them. Allow for at least five rights. Anything short of five rights implies that you are not as important as the other members of your family, which is absurd. Of course it may be difficult to formulate your rights if you don’t know what you want, need, desire, and prefer. I was amazed to learn the number of mothers who seldom even think about themselves in this context; the mothers I interviewed took minutes to answer the questions I asked, and in fact couldn’t answer some of them at all. Listed below are questions I designed to fuel the search for self. Try to think outside the box you call home; that is, answer the questions so that they reflect you and not the role you play as mother.
OMG, I LOVED this chapter!!! I should be your poster child for this chapter! I just wanted you to know that I made my list and have been following your advice on setting boundaries. I think my husband is not so happy about my boundaries....the kids aren't either but I love the voice coming out of me these days! Thanks so much for being in this space.
Thank you so much for writing! It means a lot that it's been helping you stay well. Boundaries, baby! Keep doing it. It will become habit.