March 27, 2014
Categories: Family, Home, Self
boundaries

Boundary setting has taken on a whole new meaning in my life as of late. From left to right: me, daughter #1, her boyfriend and daughter #2

First of all, a sweaty-warm welcome to those of you who found me this week via A Mighty Girl or Rebelle Society. (I live in the latin american tropics. ALL welcomes here are sweaty-warm.)

A few things you might like to know as a newbie:

1. I’m writing my first book at the moment (details below) and thus uncharacteristically quiet around these parts. I’ll be back in full swing just as soon as it’s finished. (Oh wait, THEN I’m moving the family back to the states while launching my book. Ok, so you found me at a crazy time. Still, stick around and I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.)

2. In the meantime, there’s plenty to explore and discover in past posts. Here are a few favorites to get you started:

A post about your beautiful body. 

A post about your superpowers. 

A post about pollution that won’t leave you feeling hopeless. 

3. This is a kick-ass community of big minds and even bigger hearts. If you’re a change maker, rule breaker or risk taker who follows your passions and sees beauty all around you, you’ll fit right in. If you’re none of those things but kinda want to be, by all means, make yourself at home. We’re a friendly bunch, with hardly a hater among us.

Second, a huge hug (look out) to those who’ve contributed to, read and gained from the past three community-wide conversations.

It’s taken a good deal of will power on my part not to comment to your comments (which would defeat the point of a blogging break) because WOW, what a beautiful glimpse into your lovely selves!

Here are the first three conversations for those who missed them:

Feel free to chime in with your unique perspective, and definitely have a look if you’re ever in need of a little inspiration and/or empathy.

And third…about this book!

Two years and four full notebooks later...

Two years and four full notebooks later…

The first draft of Motherwhelmed is finished!

Lest this proclamation conjure up any far-fetched notions of actual completion or finality, allow me to explain what this means:

1. It means I have yet another beautiful mess on my hands.

As if my children, marriage, home, body and mind weren’t enough, there are now approximately 25,000 words crammed into 12 (or 14?) chapters, a ton of subchapters and a shit ton of chicken scratches that I will now attempt to sort, make sense of, organize, do away with, beautify and bring sensibility to. (Yes, actually, it IS a lot like motherhood!)

Here’s what this point in the process feels like:

Imagine you’ve been living abroad for four years and are now moving back to the states, only to a different location than the one you first fled from. You show up to your hometown, find all the stuff you’d stashed in people’s barns and garages, load it into a moving van amidst tearful goodbyes and hit the road. You drive for what feels like forever while the kids fight and beg, requiring that you pull over about every half an hour. Though the scenery is beautiful and you love road trips, you find yourself battling a growing desire to jump out of the car and run for the woods when half your kids start singing Wrecking Ball loudly enough to be heard over the other half who are apparently marking the midline of the backseat with each other’s blood. Arriving at long last, you pull into the driveway of your new rental, announce yourselves HOME!!! and hope to God that the mattresses are easily accessible. The difference between stepping into your empty house (the point I’m at in this book) and actually feeling at home is the equivalent of what lies ahead of me, writing-wise. Unpacking, hoping for no major surprises, tossing whatever the rats ate, meeting the neighbors, settling the kids into new schools, finding the DMV office and thrifting my way back to a functioning household? THESE are the metaphorical tasks at hand.

Good thing I’m getting a trial run first, ’cause we’ll be doing all of that FOR REAL in about three months. (All prayers and peaceful projections welcomed.)

We rent this upstairs apartment (across the street from our house) to tourists by the week.  Since daughter #1 moved back home and #2 started homeschooling,  I escape to its corner porch (aka, my perch) to write whenever it's not occupied.

We rent this upstairs apartment (across the street from our house) to tourists by the week. Since daughter #1 moved back home and #2 started (temporarily) homeschooling, I escape to its corner porch (aka, my perch) to write whenever possible.

2. It means I am eating my words.

This book looks almost nothing like it did two months ago. Different subtitle, different focus and ehem, it’s no longer going to be part of a series. (Go ahead, unsubscribe. I’ll understand.)

What happened? Well, I got 14,000 words in and found myself totally uninspired. I didn’t want to write about Why Modern-Day Motherhood Feels So Frustrating (the old subtitle). I wanted to write about creative solutions and shifting personal perspectives and why today’s mothers are so totally badass and important. As soon as I rethought the whole thing and gave myself permission to change gears completely, writing it became way more fun and I no longer needed three books to cover what I wanted to say. I am now quite fond of what it’s becoming, and assuming you still want to read it (even though I’m admittedly kinda crazy), I think you’re going to dig it, too. (And no, I’m not telling you the new subtitle yet. I’ve done my share of word eating for the time being.)

My perch and writing haven. The trees in the background are in our yard.

My perch. The trees in the background are in our yard.

3. It means that our family Way is undergoing complete metamorphosis.

Because I’ve always been available and the first to drop my plans to meet the kids’ needs, this recent shift into MOM IS WORKING FOR REAL has taken some getting used to. I’m learning that it’s OKAY to say things like, “No, I can’t help you find your i-thingy/favorite pencil/earring back right now. Just keep looking. You’re a good finder!” and “I’d be happy to do that for you…this weekend,” and “Who’s making dinner tonight? Awesome. Here are the car keys and 200 pesos for groceries.”

It’s not been easy, but everyone’s slowly adjusting, and I am quite enjoying the fruits of concentrated and less-frequently interrupted effort.

The view from the other side of the apartment, into our neighbor's "kitchen."

The view from the back side of our apartment, into our neighbors’ outdoor kitchen/living area.

4. It means that SLEEP is my new best friend.

Getting enough sleep is BY FAR the most important factor in my ability to write feeling clear and creative vs. foggy-headed and frustrated. Marie Forleo (from Marie TV, which is pretty great) just did an interview with Arianna Huffington (founder of and editor in chief at Huffington Post) in which they talk about this very thing. I encourage you to check it out, AND TO SLEEP MORE, for your sake and everyone else’s. I, personally, am becoming a big fan of the thirty-minute mid-day nap. Works wonders for the ol’ writer’s block.

So, in keeping with the spirit of this (rather insane) season of my life, let’s talk boundaries!

Community-Wide Conversation #4

Q: Do you struggle with creating and maintaining personal boundaries? Have you improved in this area of your life and if so, how? Have your needs for boundary setting changed over the years? Any words of wisdom for the rest of us? 

Nice checking in with you all, I look forward to hearing from you again, and wish me luck on this second half of the journey!

Love and sweat band,

bethsignature

 

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Meg Konturas

    Two part answer here- wish someone had told me that a large part of parenting is dealing with many seeping bodily fluids!! Also wish I’d been told how much pure love & joy I’d get from my kids every day, including the “bad” days!!

    As for personal boundary setting- this is becoming easier for me, as my oldest son will be a teenager in just a week & he is finding where his boundaries are, which is so inspiring for me. As a stay home mom for 13 years, I’ve been at everybody’s beck & call- canceling any plans I may have made to accommodate everyone else’s schedule. But now I am reclaiming some “me” time by going back to my favorite yoga classes at least twice a week. Do I wish I could go more often? Honestly, hell yes!! But I also realize that balance is slowly sneaking up on us as my youngest heads to kindergarten in the fall- then I will have some quiet time to practice yoga- guilt free!- & still be present for my kids when they are home from school.

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  2. I cannot even describe how excited I am for your book!

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  3. So interesting you asked this question today. This is top of mind. The answer is that I find this the hardest thing of all. I set up my boundaries and then a request, generally for ‘help’ of some kind seems to stimulate a Pavlovian response which shatters and distorts those boundaries out of recognition. The strength to both decide what I need to do for myself and preserve it jealously seems to be beyond me just now.

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  4. I don’t care what you write about in the book – I will buy it to support you (and will probably love it :)

    I haven’t had major issues with personal boundaries…until I had a child…who breastfed for 3 years and although he finished a year ago he still often shoves his hand down my shirt. Sometimes I don’t mind (bed time) other times it makes me crazy (say, a restaurant).

    Prior to being a parent I found it relatively easy to set boundaries. Maybe because I have always been a b#tch. Now, it is just my child who gets what they want. He is growing up and will wean himself off me in all sorts of ways soon enough

    Now get back to your work Go BETH GO!!

    xoxo

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  5. I’m sooooo excited for your book. Thank you so much for keeping us in the loop on your process. I think so many of us think that all brilliant things are just born and either you’ve got it or you don’t. I’m sure your book will be brilliant and it’s good to know that it’s been a process of twists and turns and u-turns. I can’t wait!
    As for boundaries, I’ve actually always been pretty good at it. I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t “brag” about how busy I am. My mom was always busy, never said no, and was a martyr and I’ve known from a young adult that I didn’t want to be like that. I used to be a little more brash with my ability but I’ve learned to be a little more gentle saying no or letting people know what I need. My husband has said that it’s one of the most unique and endearing things about me, that I can effectively communicate what I need and create a space to get it. Although my life hasn’t always ended up where I thought it would, I’ve pretty much orchestrated it so I don’t feel like life is happening to me, I’m at the wheel.

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  6. Being a people-pleaser (in recovery), I have rarely set boundaries in my life and am really just learning what that means. Unfortunately aided by a heavily co-dependent upbringing where boundaries did not exist as everyone’s identities were co-mingled. I am just now, at 38, learning my worth and that boundaries help to preserve me! It is painfully hard and I struggle constantly. I started by setting boundaries with my parents (where it all began) and since they live on the same property, it is HARD. They struggle against it constantly but I simply cannot involve myself in their lives as I was forced to for so long. This learning process is now crossing over to other relationships but it is slow. It is also painful to look back at so many relationships in my past where I had so little regard for myself because I could not set boundaries. I realize that my early struggles were futile because I was going about it backwards…trying to set boundaries in order to feel better about myself when in fact, I needed to realize my value first, then I think, boundary setting becomes much easier :)

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  7. As a part-time high school teacher, I try to set an intention on the way home from school to focus on my tribe when I walk in the house and leave my work at school. I am really good at not grading or planning at home (which is complicated because to be a great teacher you really can’t leave all the grading and planning for your planning time at school), but I am a sucker for responding to emails. This causes frustration on the home front all around. The flip side of this is that I anticipate having more boundary setting issues next year when I am no longer teaching (RFH may or may not have had a big impact on my decision to teak a break from my teaching profession;). I will be so much more available to my tribe that I anticipate being frustrated by the slow pace of all the projects I am looking forward to embarking on and continuing with on my extraordinarily slow journey to a permie lifestyle. I am trying to embrace the strategy of incorporating my kids into many of these projects. It’s going to be a shift though! I look forward to revisiting the comments here (and buying the book!!!).

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  8. i love and miss you. look forward to seeing you. and talking about being women and mamas.

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  9. I’m excited about your book too, and the direction it’s taking. Keep at it – I know you will.

    My boundaries are better. One thing that has shifted in the last year is realising that I’ve been spreading myself too thin – too many voluntary activities, commitments in different places.

    It has been hard to step away – and to say I’m not coming back. But I know that I’ve served my time doing them, and I also know that we’re coming into a life season where I need to be available to my family in a different way. Cutting down on commitments is making me ready to do that.

    But with that goes keeping free time for myself – and then allowing myself to kick back and enjoy it! It has really taken until being a mum to realise how much I need it, and how it is not a luxury but a necessity.

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  10. Laura at ourgardeninthecity.blogspot.com

    Boundaries? What are those? I jest, but I seriously need to find some. My cosleeping babies have morphed into cosleeping toddlers and now 8 year olds. I weaned my 2 yo last September because I just couldn’t handle being his personal restaurant on demand. My 10 yo is on the autism spectrum and a sensory seeker, meaning he doesn’t get personal space. Plus I homeschool him and try to keep him stimulated and engaged so he doesn’t zone out with electronics. I could go on. I definitely will be working on this.

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  11. I feel like I am always taking the middle path whenever I respond to these questions. Maybe it makes me seem wishy washy, but mostly it is just that I am mellowing in my motherhood and not taking everything so seriously. Like boundaries. They are pretty amorphous in our household. Changing with the breezes and moods of the family members. Some days my personal space boundaries are stricter than others and it is the same with all of us. We strive to respect other peoples boundaries on any given day. Does this cause some confusion with the young children. Perhaps. But they learn to go with the flow I have found and so have I. Sometimes a boundary I have set seems sort of pointless a month or a year later and so it flexes and bends. Sometimes something that I never thought would need a boundary suddenly becomes a problem and I have to try to establish one. Motherhood I suppose is the realm of boundary setting and childhood the realm of pushing and breaking those boundaries, but with the ever flowing nature of our household I never feel like boundaries are a real problem. They come and they go and I try not to hold hard to them as they are likely to change as people grow, get older, change. Like a river whose boundaries are changing in minuscule ways every second so goes my boundaries and our families. I use to think in a much more concrete way…that rules and boundaries would be set personally and in the family and they would never change…written in stone type of view. But I left that behind as I felt myself growing and changing and saw how fast my girls were growing and changing. I suppose the only one that has remained constant so far is my boundary of saying no to too much. I value down time too much for myself and my kids to fall into the local mom trap of scheduling every moment of everyday with play dates, activities, ect. Community is good. Feeling like every second of my week is scheduled is not. Interesting question Beth. Boundaries can be real problems I think especially if there is a lack of respect for oneself or others. And easy trap to fall into these days.

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    • this response is beautiful!!! amorphous…breezes and moods…like a river…wow…just wow. I feel the same way about my family. each day is new…and you have to approach each new day differently. thats how we survive as a whole.

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  12. Motherwhelmed is a brilliant title, and I cannot wait to read it!

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  13. Thanks for the update on your book; it made me smile. As a writer myself, it’s helpful to read how your process is working. And how delicious that your family gets to take more responsibility (though I suspect this may not be the way they see it)!

    Learning about boundaries appears to be my life’s theme. Yes I struggle with creating and maintaining personal boundaries. Yes I have improved in this area, mainly through attending 12-Step meetings and therapy. Yes my needs for boundary setting have changed over the years — living in an intentional community and then motherhood catapulted me into a whole new understanding of boundaries.

    Words of wisdom? All I can tell you is what I’ve learned so far (for me).

    (1) Today’s understanding of boundaries is incredibly useful in my life, and what I learn tomorrow will make today’s wisdom seem primitive. That’s OK. It means I’m growing.

    (2) Boundaries are essential.

    (3) For me, boundaries started with knowing where others end and I begin, and with understanding that what I want and need is perfectly OK even if it clashes with what others want and need (which is also perfectly OK).

    (4) For a couple of decades, I practiced not doing anything I didn’t want to do. (Caveats: I was not a mother at the time! and I did go to work, etc., even when I didn’t want to, but from the place of knowing why I was CHOOSING to go to work.) This helped me focus on who I am and what I wanted, as opposed to others’ expectations of me.

    (5) Boundaries do not have to be rigid. It is OK to want three relationship-free days each week in one month, and none the next.

    (6) It is good to know what I want, and it is fine to want what I want. However, I may not get what I want, and that’s just how life works sometimes.

    (7) When my boundaries are a real expression of who I am, it is easy to express them calmly, lovingly and effectively. If I’m unsure or unclear or lack confidence, things can get ugly.

    (8) If I meet lovely people with poor boundaries, I avoid them like the plague, or at least attempt to keep them at arms’ length.

    (9) It is possible to have different boundaries in different situations. For example, when I lived in an intentional community, I had five different roles with another woman (we were colleagues, friends, co-participants in a self-help group and I forget the other two). I learned to conduct myself differently with her depending on what roles we were in. Each role implied a different set of boundaries.

    (10) Motherhood shot my boundaries to hell. It was impossible to meet my basic needs for the first couple of years, because I would not have been able to meet my child’s basic needs. It is taking YEARS to grow into healthy mama-boundaries. A major step was when I realized that I could go to the bathroom before attending to a crying child, because I would be a better mother if that basic need was taken care of. It shocks me that with all my prior work on boundaries, motherhood “reduced” me to this level.

    (11) Children require boundaries, but unlike adults, they are not able to negotiate them, so I have to impose them (lovingly, and with the intention of doing the best for them).

    (12) Growing up as I did with very poor boundaries within the family, it is a major challenge to hold my personal boundaries and set suitable and enforceable boundaries for my child. It is very painful how poorly I have done this sometimes. Other people’s poor boundaries around my child, including some people who are very close to her, drive me crazy.

    (13) If I can create just a moment or a breath of distance between myself and a troublesome situation, I am more able to feel what my boundary is. And the more time and the more breaths, the better. It’s all about me behaving with the greatest integrity I can muster.

    (14) Boundaries are what allow us to participate in the dance between intimacy and autonomy. How good the boundaries are, affects how graceful the dance is.

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  14. I too have had my struggles with boundaries. What stands out to me at the moment is the more empowered I feel, the clearer and *nearly* effortless my boundaries. It all becomes very clear when I feel confident and certain that I CAN MAKE DECISIONS that are right for me…that I have choice. Boundaries often get blurred, abused, etc. because I forget I have control to make decisions about them…
    Certainly this is a slice of the topic, but there it is.
    I enjoy your writing–best writing vibes to you!
    Sheila

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  15. boundaries….oh where do we begin? not having a baby on the hip now is liberating in itself. celebrating that the child you bore now demonstrates autonomy is wonderous (and scary). It is so seductive to get drawn into their pleas for help…it makes us feel needed again. they do need us, but not nearly as much as they think they do. I find myself getting wrapped up in it. I have to remind myself that they also need to learn how to do. (do for themselves, do for others) the feeling works both ways…my son won’t be needing me forever…and its hard to face that reality.
    I love this blog.
    I feel connected to the writing, the imagery and the thought provoking content.
    Please keep up the great work!
    ps. i especially enjoy reading about your oldest child….

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  16. Rena thompson

    I loved reading this Beth. Though my daughters are long gone from the home, as an artist I remember well the struggle of finding time for the creative mind and the responsibility of the loving care of motherhood. It split me in two sometimes. Because I had my children so much older than most, I was so accustomed to my obsession with art. It took me a while to work it out. This is the one thing that I learned: you can have it all but not at the same time. It is hard to see that when they are little but they grow and we grow and somehow we can create the boundries we need to be who we are. Keep it up, you are on a wonderful path!

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