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Boundary Setting: Empower your life

Boundaries. Do you have them? Many parents struggle with boundaries–both setting them and holding to them. Where exactly do we draw the lines around us to indicate where we end and our kid begins? This isn’t always easy to decide. And let’s face it; kids push our buttons and boundaries daily.

To be fair, developmentally, that is what they are meant to do. They need to push to see where those lines sit and which ones are soft verses are a hard no. And as parents, it’s our job to love them, teach them, and keep ourselves separate from them. Because we know families our entire lives, it’s common to get to a point where family members are too engaged in each other’s lives. So how can we do this lovingly? We do this by clearly defining our values, acting as a parent as opposed to a best friend, and sticking to our rules.

I’m not that great with boundaries. I have never been; I want to do anything anyone asks of me or seems like they need. I want to be there for everyone. I remember getting on the phone when my kids were little and practically running from room to room and even out on our decks to have one quick phone call without them. It was not to be! I’m guessing if you are a parent, you know what I’m talking about, but boundaries are not simply for kids and parents. Maybe you feel overwhelmed because a sibling or older parent is meddling too much, or you have a family member you can’t bear to stay in a room with if the topic of conversation turns to politics, for example.

Boundaries are the guidelines we set about our expectations, availability, and energy.

Because they communicate how we feel, boundaries can prevent us from overcommitting or feeling resentful. Assuming we stick to them. We also need to remember to follow others’ boundaries. And that can be our kids’ as well.

For instance, if they are trying to do something and we see that they are struggling, our instinct is to help or even do it for them. That’s a boundary we may not want to cross. We need to let them fight their battles sometimes, not fight them for them. When we jump in they learn that they aren’t capable, or they're doing it wrong or too slowly. It’s better to let them work through things.

You can set loving boundaries where family members can feel comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

Types of boundaries:

  1. Physical boundaries. What are your boundaries around personal space? You know, things like having a conversation without your kids listening or even going to the bathroom alone. Maybe you need a certain amount of physical time to decompress after a long work day.

  2. Time boundaries. How much time do you have to spend with your family? Do you have other commitments such as school, work, or community involvement? Time boundaries prevent you from overcommitting and ensure that you bring positive energy to the events you do show up for. This is when saying no is a good thing, rather than feeling resentful because you said yes when you didn’t want to or have time for it.

  3. Emotional boundaries. D We all want to be helpful and listen to our kids or partners or parents. On the other hand, you may have a family member who comes to vent to you all the time, and it’s too much. For some people, we have a hard time separating our emotions from theirs–so we take on their stress in addition to ours. That’s not healthy. Or maybe you want to set an emotional boundary to someone who responds critically when you share your feelings.

  4. Intellectual boundaries. With the holidays coming up, these could come in very handy! You can set intellectual boundaries, such as discussing politics or religion or sharing biased news in a family group chat. Intellectual boundaries can be important these days; they can prevent tension during family dinners or holidays.

tips for setting healthy boundaries:

  1. Be empathetic as you learn to set boundaries. Consider that your family might interpret new boundaries as being pushed away. Describe boundaries as a way to learn more about you and your needs. Check in with their emotions and invite them to learn about setting boundaries along with you. Ask them what they need and what works for them.

  2. Make the boundary about you and your needs. When you state a boundary, focus on you. This will help others feel comfortable and less defensive.

  • “In order to continue this discussion, I need us to …”

  • “I notice we don’t get very far when discussing politics. Can we change the topic to something else?”

  • “I would love to join your family for dinner, but I can only stay for an hour.”

  1. Explore what you need. Healthy boundaries are set by knowing your needs. Practice journaling as a way to explore what you need from different situations.

  • Do you need to prioritize yourself?

  • What makes you feel uncomfortable?

  • What is important for you?

  • How can you make situations more enjoyable?

  1. Be clear about your needs and communicate them. If you feel resentment, it’s possible that you’re not clearly communicating your needs. If you need space or prefer one activity over another, communicate that with your family. Try not to appease others at the expense of your own enjoyment.

  2. Anticipate your triggers. Prepare for stressful family situations and plan ahead for how you will handle them. That includes anything from your kids hounding you the minute you walk into the house or your partner never putting dishes in the dishwasher!

  • Prepare to set the boundary more than once. When we grow up around families our entire lives, it’s easy to fall into habits with how we relate. It might take a few reminders for a family member to get used to the new boundary.

  • Reassure your family member that this boundary can strengthen your relationship and bring you closer.

Boundaries may sound aggressive, but they are actually a way to respect and honor both parties so that they can grow and thrive together. They can deepen the connection between you and your family members, allowing everyone to learn more about each other.

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