One of the best things that happened to me in 2018 was understanding I needed to have a better relationship with boundaries. Working through common struggles with a young child at home, having the same conversations over and over about who was responsible for what tasks and chores, and the anger I felt simmering just waiting for something or someone to turn up the heat just a little bit...
I was giving and hoping and expecting of so many people, but I had failed myself, and everyone else by not making clear guidelines beforehand.
Brene Brown says it the best from her book Daring Greatly:
The most compassionate people that I've ever interviewed… happened to be the most boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.
…One of the ways that shifted for me to be more compassionate is, I kind of struggle with feeling perpetually disappointed in people a lot. Like, why aren't they living up to their expectations, why aren't they living up to my expectations, why are they making these self-destructive choices? I can think of people in my life, where it's like, oh my god it's making me crazy!
One of the things that shifted for me was this idea that maybe everyone - myself included - maybe everyone's doing the best they can. But sometimes, that means that I don't have to engage.
[...Because otherwise] who I'm really angry at is me.
...What I've learned for me, around boundaries and compassion, is that I don't know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but my life is better when I work from the assumption that they are. …But at the same time, that means that I need to have really clear boundaries. So instead of judging you, and feeling resentful, and feeling like you're sucking me dry, or you're taking advantage of me, I need to assume that you're doing the best you can. And I need to set my boundaries, and not get involved to the degree where I lose control over how I feel about myself and what's going on in that relationship.
So what does this look like as a parent? Well, it can seem like a lot of things, and it can look messy as you try out new ways to respond to typical conflicts. But for all things, there is some forethought that can help guide you.
What are your family's values?
How are you trying to teach those values?
What are some reasonable ways your whole family can support the growth of those values as family rules?
And what are some consequences the family can decide together that should take place if the family's rules are broken by any member?
And what about your personal values?
The same questions are valid for you and your personal boundaries. What do you excel at, and what do you need help to hone? What areas do you find yourself becoming quick to anger? What are your personal values and how do you want to live them?
When working through boundary setting and growing personal responsibility, using some tools from Positive Discipline Parenting Techniques can give language as you become more comfortable with kind and respectful discourse that build up compassionate boundaries.
Instead of telling kids to do something, ask: What do you need to do tonight, so you are ready for school tomorrow?
Take a time out for yourself, and model respectful behavior: I need to walk away from this conversation and calm down. We'll revisit this topic once I can be calm and respectful.
Use Hugs: This has been a hard conversation, and I could use a hug. When you are ready for one, please come find me.
And showing belief in their ability and not stepping in: I believe you will be able to find a solution to that problem that makes sense. Let me know when you are ready to talk about your decisions.
As parents, and especially mothers, we want to help, fix, and nurture. But those things can compete directly at times with our jobs to prepare, teach, and encourage curiosity.