You spent the night at your Dad’s last night, and I miss you. I missed sleeping with you and waking up to your sweet morning breath in my face and then snuggling with you on the couch before we start our day. Those things are precious to me. And honestly, that morning snuggle is pretty much the highlight of my day. Always.
That is why I get so excited when you wake up, and I know it annoys you, a little bit, because sometimes, not always, I wake up before you and when I hear you begin to stir I bound in there like a puppy, whereby you usually say, “No Mommy. Too much!!” Ha. But I love it anyway.
But that is not why I am writing you today, I am writing you because something strange when down at school on Friday and I know you are not old enough to understand it now, but someday you will. It is all about BOUNDARIES. Yours and other people’s. You may wonder, what is a boundary?
a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.
“the eastern boundary of the wilderness
a limit of a subject or sphere of activity.
“a community without class or political boundaries.”
As you see, there are different types of boundaries, some are really clear, like where this space and that space ends, like the boundary of our property- how Gregory and Emily have a yard that reaches just up to ours, but there is a boundary between them, a fence, in our case, that marks, physically, that boundary.
People also have physical body boundaries, like this is my body, and that is your body. Both of those are boundaries, where you end, and I begin. We are not merged, so we occupy different space.
Emotional boundaries are a little trickier, it can look like, someone telling me something I don’t think is true about me, not my stuff, and I can create a boundary, and say, No Thanks. That’s not mine; that is yours.
Lastly, there are spiritual boundaries, ways we keep our karma and life in check by having clear boundaries of protection when working with highly traumatized people.
This idea of boundaries is SO IMPORTANT, and I am just beginning to learn that, in fact, what happened at school has illuminated it to such a degree, that I can not ignore any longer, how the lack of boundaries in my life has been detrimental to me.
My goal is that I can impart to you, the wisdom I have learned in this area, so you don’t have to suffer the way I have.
So let’s begin.
What happened? You may be wondering.
You play “hit” your BFF Maisy in the stomach, and she asked you not to do that, and you did it anyway. You have also play “hit” Mommy before, and I have asked you not to do it, and you have done it anyway. But in this case, Maisy told her Mom that you did that, and her Mom got VERY upset. The four of us talked about it at the pool that day, about how you can not “hit” anyone, ever, and you cried, and apologized to Maisy and promised not to do it again. I then watched you being very careful of how you touched Maisy in any way for the rest of the day. I was proud of you for making such a concerted effort not to upset her anymore, and it also broke my heart a little, because I could see that you did not fully understand what a regular “touch” or a “hit” was. Even if you accidently bumped her arm playing, you yelled,”I am sorry Maisy!” and then looked at me repeating the same thing.
I emailed the director of your school and said maybe we should all sit-down and talk about this because I hoped she had some insight into Childhood Development and could talk about bodies and boundaries in a way that made sense to both of you and was empowering with knowledge.
That is not what happened, in my opinion.
This woman sat the four of us down, you, me, Maisy’s Mom, and Maisy, and spent the next forty minutes belaboring a fact that felt inappropriate and confusing to the children, or maybe I was just confused, but I am a 43-year-old woman with extensive knowledge about humanity, and I could not understand the logic.
The woman praised Maisy extensively for coming forward with this information. Then, when she asked you why you “hit” Maisy, and you said, “I was playing” she bypassed that and told you that in her meditation that morning, she got that it was you trying to get attention from Maisy and that you used your hands because you didn’t feel seen at home, by me, your Mother. So you were acting out some pathology of not getting your needs met at home.
This is where the wheels came off the cart, in my opinion, because you, being sweet little you, nodded awkwardly, even though, I knew, you had no idea what NOT BEING SEEN meant. But I knew what that meant because that has been my story forever. Of feeling invisible growing up. And man, can I tell you how sick of that story I am??? Especially after this, I am dropping that story and writing a new one, because obviously it is in the ether and needs to be eradicated. This story, IS NOT YOURS. Your Daddy and I make a concerted effort to be extra present for you. I rarely even answer my phone and talk to people when we are together. Because I have always wanted to make sure that you felt seen and heard.
So here we come to BOUNDARIES.
1. I believe the “hitting” thing with Maisy, is about you not fully understanding physical boundaries. And that is okay. You are almost five years old. That is totally normal and nothing to feel bad about or shamed about. We merely need to teach you that when you touch another person’s body, you have to be aware, that it is their body, and they can have a boundary around it, and you have to respect that. Like when Maisy said to stop, you MUST stop. Same goes for you, if someone, ANYONE, is doing something to your body that you don’t like, you can tell them to STOP, and they have to listen. Even if it is Daddy or me. This is why I worked so hard never to force you to kiss or hug relatives or god-forbid strangers because I wanted you always to know that your body, was yours. So we will continue to work on that together. I promise.
2. Now this is the trickier one. I felt my stomach turn when the woman didn’t hear you, about playing, and told you, that you “didn’t feel seen.” At that moment, I felt her cross my emotional boundary, and yours, by telling you what you felt instead of hearing what you said. This is way more subtle and harder to detect, but just as important as a physical boundary. That was not okay. And she is not a bad person for doing it, but I did not set an emotional boundary in that moment, and I felt sick about it for days afterward. And even worse, I think she planted in your head a concept that is not accurate. I asked you later, in the car, if you did not feel seen by me, and you said yes, and I asked when, and you said when I am talking to other people. Which makes perfect sense to a five-year-old, because when I speak to other people, you are correct, honey, I am not LOOKING at you directly, so yes, you are not being SEEN by my EYEBALLS in that moment. I get that.
Oddly enough, the day before this happened, I was with a colleague talking about the workshop we were co-creating and guess what the theme was? You guessed it, BOUNDARIES. So I did some research and here are some of the tools I have found.
The first step in learning to set boundaries is self-awareness. For example, pay close attention to the situations when you lose energy, feel a knot in your stomach, or want to cry. Identifying where you need more space, self-respect, energy or personal power is the first step.
Another way to identify your boundaries is by completing these three sentences with at least 10 examples.
- People may not ___________.
- I have a right to ask for ____________.
- To protect my time and energy, it’s OK to _________________.
Strengthen Your Internal Boundaries
One of the reasons that people take things personally is because they have weak “internal boundaries.” An internal boundary is like an invisible shield that prevents you from taking in a comment without checking it out first. For example, when someone accuses you of being arrogant, stop and consider the statement before taking it in.
When you use this internal shield, especially with difficult people like an ex-spouse or critical parent, it gives you time to ask yourself the following three questions:
How much of this is true about me?
How much of this is about the other person?
What do I need to do (if anything) to regain my personal power or stand up for myself?
This last question is very important. Too often we neglect to stand up for ourselves by avoiding confrontation and end up weakening our internal shield, making it harder to set boundaries at all. So, if someone offends you, it may be necessary to let them know to protect and strengthen your internal boundaries.
There is way more in this one article, but I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I began with the two that are most pertinent to us, right now. The external (physical) boundaries, and the internal (emotional/spiritual) boundaries.
I have frail internal boundaries, for many reasons, so it is hard for me, in the moment, to know that they have been crossed. More likely, the case is that I never had any in place, to begin with. I have so feared rejection and abandonment that having internal boundaries seemed counterintuitive to getting my needs met. So I threw them away. But I don’t want you to see that modeled, and I am in the boundary gym, as of today, strengthening my external and internal boundaries so you can see what that looks like.
For starters, what the woman said about you, in that meeting, did not feel true to me, about you. I think it had to do more with her, since it was from her meditation, then about me. I needed to stand up for myself in that moment, and as kindly as possible, let her know that I thought she was projecting something onto us that did not feel right.
That is all. No big whoop.
Instead, I felt crappy and left upset and have carried it for days. That is no way to live. And I don’t want that for you, my sweet love.
So we are now in Boundaries Bootcamp 101 and will do many games and writing exercises and other fun stuff to illuminate, in so many different ways, how we can create and maintain all types of boundaries in our lives in a loving way.
I dig so much how Brene Brown talks about it- and I’ll end with her take.
Brene says NOTHING, no COMPASSION, EMPATHY, or VULNERABILITY, can exist without clear boundaries. Boundaries are what allow everything else to exist.
A boundary is simply, “What is okay and what is not okay.”
Setting and maintaining clear boundaries for Brene made her not as “sweet” to people, but way more “loving.”
Boundaries are B.I.G. and the KEY to self-love and loving kindness.
And like I always say sweetheart, let’s go BIG or go home.
I see you. I hear you. I love you.