Setting Personal Boundaries
“You change for two reasons: Either you learn enough that you want to, or you’ve been hurt enough that you have to.” ~Unknown
Six in the morning, the phone rang.
I stumbled out of bed.
Dad was on the other end of the line.
He asked if I was still planning to pour the concrete floor that morning?
(We were scheduled to pour cement, but I needed to check the weather forecast first/ Nothing worse than getting a downpour when you’re in the middle of dumping concrete)
I told him I still needed to check the weather forecast…
“Junior, don’t you listen to the radio?” He quipped sarcastically. (I need to interject here, I am his firstborn. Grew up shy, super compliant. Never really gave my parents all that much trouble growing up. Dad is 6 ft 2. Ran a construction company… I always felt intimidated by him.)
Well, this morning, for some reason, probably because I’d just woken up..who knows..but his tone of voice ticked me off, and before I could put my good boy compliant persona on , I barked back, “You know, I don’t like it when you talk to me like that.”
Dead silence on the other end of the phone.
Can’t remember much more of our conversation after that, just that it was short.
It was a turning point in our relationship.
I was 45 years old. I’d finally found my voice in my relationship with my dad.
I mentioned the conversation to my mom a few days later and do you know what she said??? ”I’ve been waiting for you to do that.”
She wasn’t mad. In fact she affirmed how I’d handled it.
It was a boundary issue.
She instinctively knew it would not have been her place to get between her husband and son.
There is a quote currently on our kitchen cabinets goes like this: “Be careful what you tolerate. You are teaching people how to treat you.”
Michelle, asked me if I’d like to write something on the issue of boundaries, and I said I would love to. Everything I know about boundaries currently can be traced to two sources. First, the book “Boundaries”, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. And secondly, the bible. You don’t have to be a Christian to tap into the wisdom that can be gleaned from that 2000 year-old book. Wisdom is simply applied knowledge.
As we were raising our kids, my number one goal as their parent was to work myself out of a job.
By the time they were 17, and 18, I knew I better be mostly finished with what I wanted to impart into their lives. After that, my role would switch from authority figure to that of a peer. If you’re not careful as a parent, it’s easy to fall into the trap of continuing to look at and talk with your kids like they are still little youngsters in need of your direction. I would not have been able to articulate that at the time of my watershed conversation with my dad, but that was part of what was going on. He was still talking down to me like I was a little kid, when in fact I was a 45 year-old man almost done raising my own family.
I will occasionally touch bases with our kids to make sure we are not over-stepping our bounds into their lives, even now. All 4 of them have started their own families. In some cases, I see and hear things that make me realize either their in-laws, or their spouses themselves still don’t grasp this whole boundary issue topic…but they’re learning.
A final thought.
If you currently find yourself in a relationship with someone in your immediate family who has put a boundary in their life where they want some space from you, that is not an automatically a bad thing. Being a parent requires lots and lots of humility.
The ability to say to your children things like:
“I am sorry.“
“I was wrong.”
“Will you forgive me?”
You may need to eat a little crow.
It’s not so bad. I’ve done it multiple times. J
And by the way, my relationship with my dad has never been better. He just turned 86. He recently broke his leg and has needed some extra TLC . As I was helping him get dressed for bed last week, I realized just how thankful I am to have found my voice in that relationship. I may still be “Junior” but he has never ever, used that sarcastic tone with me again. and that has been 15 years already.
Dad and I on the farm where I grew up, holding a couple of his roosters
Would love to hear your thoughts, answer questions, etc. DM
DM and his wife “MM” live on an acreage in the Midwest. In addition to writing, DM spends his time as a builder, and teacher. In his free time he likes to work in their apple orchard, build harvest tables out of reclaimed wood, read, and take an occasional nap. His favorite coffee continues to be Starbucks French Roast (whole bean/ not ground). If you’re interested, you can read more on his personal blog at hearttoheart3.wordpress.com and his farm blog: ialsoliveonafarm.wordpress.com
Boundaries are about Our Relationship with Ourselves, and the Values We Hold
We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves. As DM shared, his father’s behavior toward him did not change until DM changed. Often when we set personal boundaries, after the initial period of resistance, the other person will realize their old ways no longer work, and they may adapt their behaviors according the boundaries you have set (not always.)
If you are struggling with holding healthy personal boundaries, here are a few ideas for you to think about.
- Know your values. Instead of creating your boundaries around a difficult relationship in your life, you must make your boundaries about you. For example, if you value honesty, integrity, and respect, then you cannot allow yourself to tolerate behavior that goes against these values. Walking away from a relationship that revolves around deceit and belittling.
- Respect yourself first. Fear, guilt, and low self-esteem make it difficult to set and hold healthy boundaries. We must first treat ourselves with respect. Be careful what you tolerate. You are teaching people how to treat you.
- Give yourself permission. Sometimes we have to put ourselves first, and that is perfectly okay. When we’re in a better place, we can be a better spouse, parent, co-worker or friend.
- Seek support. If you’re having a hard time with boundaries, share your challenges – seek help through a support group, your church, counseling, coaching or good friends.
- Practice. Setting boundaries gets easier the more often we practice.