I was asked a while back to write on boundaries and my first response was, I don’t have any boundaries, I would have nothing to say. So I read a few articles and listened to a couple podcasts and realized, I have set boundaries in life I just wasn’t using the right words, and some could really use some strengthening. That being said, it is all fairly recent that I set any at all so let’s look at why.
In my work world I wanted so desperately to be accepted by my peers, by my up line, and by other leaders within the organization. I would work longer hours, finish more projects, make only passing comments about my children when specifically asked, and had no personal life. My intent was to out work every person there so there would be no excuse to say that I wasn’t good enough in some way and it still wasn’t working. I was told I was immature and that people didn’t like me by the person I was trying to impress the most. At home I was doing all of the cooking and cleaning, caring for an infant among others, and would be devastated when I’d hear a snide remark about a cluttered counter or how dinner wasn’t right up everyone’s alley. I had no hobbies or fun because trying to prove I was a hard working woman with mom and wife as very time consuming footnotes meant there was no time. The ‘immature and people didn’t like me’ comment was likely more appropriately applied to me at home but I couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it because I thought the focus needed to be work so I just kept piling on. What if I’m also a Sunday School teacher? What if I donate more money to school and daycare fundraisers? What if I go to every school board meeting? What if I crack the code on healthy snacks and lunches that kids love but have zero sugar and fillers? Then with my husband, I don’t know, what if I say yes to every trip he wants to go on and toy he wants to buy? What if I never say no to anything? That should work right? Then I’ll be in a good spot. I mean some of these are silver bullets right? If I can’t do all of them (which I promise you I did in fact do all of them that’s why I’m able to think to list them each out) I can do the ones that get me ‘points’ on more than one side. If I go to a school board meeting I’m benefiting my kids by helping make informed decisions, sounding more informed on topics at gatherings, and learning about how they are run for future roles I might play. If I’m a Sunday School teacher I get points for being a good and present mom and volunteering at church. It was exhausting, I wasn’t any happier and neither was anyone around me. I checked all the boxes and was not happy about it. At this point in life I would say I really did have no boundaries.
Looking back at my story, I don’t think it is terribly different from many other people’s. Reading it I’m sure you could find at least a couple things that resonate with how you’re living life too. There isn’t a single person I’ve met who doesn’t need to strengthen at least a couple of their own boundaries. That typically comes from a lack of confidence and lack of prioritization in any one or a multitude of areas. For example, you don’t know your true worth as a mom so you assign it to all of the ‘mom stuff’ you can do making it feel like more stuff means higher value. Same is true at work causing you to say yes to every project, overtime request, and shift in priorities. You need to first understand your worth, to be confident there, and then you’ll be better equipped to draw the line. Once you build your confidence you have to remember you’re not special (yes those two things do go hand in hand you need the balance). You think there aren’t 1000 balls in the air for everyone? You think some people have more hours in the day? The difference is that people with healthy boundaries know when to pass a ball off or let it fall to the ground. This isn’t an us vs them topic where some people have it and other’s don’t. Confidence and prioritizing are learned skills, if you don’t have them now, that’s ok. Let’s work on it!
Start by reminding yourself that you are good enough just as you are. You are a rock star that can do all of those things you listed in your head you just don’t have to if you don’t want to. You are out to please no person on Earth be they at work, in a house down the street, sleeping in a crib down the fall, or lying right next to you because you are not responsible for their happiness. I want you to come up with your own version of that and remind yourself of it before you fall asleep at night. Mine was a simple 5 words, I don’t work for you and I repeated it to myself at every corner stone of my day. It will take time and you will argue with yourself in the beginning but I’m telling you it will change how you think.
Then, I want you to take a calendar (one that is built out by the hour) and write out your ideal week, or maybe two weeks. This will allow you to understand where your time could be going if you were confident in your priorities. Include everything you do and want to do. That might mean morning routine, work (including commute if you have one), workouts, dinner time (including cooking if that’s your responsibility), playing with kids and/or running them to events and practices. You might notice that you either need to get more help or there is more time than you were realizing and it just wasn’t being utilized the way you wanted. For example, when I first did this I realized two things I did not understand how long making and eating dinner was actually taking, probably 90 minutes overall, and there was a lot more margin than I realized and I spent too much time on social. Will writing out how you want the calendar to work magically make it work? No, but it will make you more aware of where the time is going to allow you to prioritize. It will allow you to make decisions eyes wide open about where you want your boundaries to be. That late night school board meeting, might need to go because silver bullet or not, it doesn’t fit. Or maybe you decide on Friday’s you’re not cooking so you can use the cooking part of that 90 minutes to do something else.