Do you want the truth? I am good at a lot of things. I am empathetic with my kids. I am understanding. I am flexible. Nobody works harder than I do to make sure my kids have the proper conditions to thrive and flourish. What I am NOT so good at? Setting boundaries.
Cognitively, I understand the value of setting boundaries. I understand that kids with ADHD need and require structure. I know that this eases anxiety, creates clear expectations and, in the end, requires LESS work on the parent’s part. I am a school psychologist. This is what I DO FOR A LIVING for goodness sake! But, somehow, as a mom, I am kind of a softy. This translates into failing to USE or IMPLEMENT all of the great skills that I have. So I write this as a reminder to myself, as much as a tutorial to all of you!
Here are five signs that you, too, may need some work on setting boundaries.
- You often feel taken advantage of. For example, your kids leave their stuff all around the house, assuming you will pick it up. You feel angry, but pickup the stuff anyway because if you don’t do it, who will?
- You repeat yourself over and over.
- You frequently feel resentful. You have the “must be nice” outlook. Oh, it “must be nice” to get to work all day uninterrupted. It “must be nice” to have someone picking up after you.
- You don’t follow through. You set a limit only to find that it was broken and you did not do what you said you would. Or you make threats that you have no intention of following through with. “If you don’t start doing your work, I’ll have to take back some of your Christmas presents.”
- You rescue others from the consequence of their actions. For example, your son waits until the last minute to do his book report. At bedtime he remembers and you stay up all night with him, helping him to finish in time.
Some of these sound hauntingly familiar, don’t they? Chances are, what you THINK is setting boundaries, may in fact, be something else entirely.
Setting boundaries IS NOT….Lecturing, Bribing, Encouraging, Punishing, Nagging, or Micro-Managing! So if these are not boundary setting super powers, let’s talk about what a healthy boundary DOES look like!
One of my favorite resources on setting boundaries is Dr. Brad Reedy of Evoke Therapy. He makes the distinction that setting boundaries is not about getting the other person to do what you want. Boundaries are not used to bribe or intimidate others into change.
A boundary is simply your communication about what is and is not okay with you. It is just how YOU FEEL. When you set a boundary it is not debatable, it is how you feel! You may be wrong. They might be right. If this occurs, you will simply take responsibility and adjust your boundary.
You don’t have to be right.
You don’t have to justify or explain.
The other person doesn’t even have to understand OR agree!
Dr. Brad Reedy uses some great language around setting boundaries. Here are some examples.
“I may be wrong, that’s just how I feel….”
“I may be old fashioned, but that’s just what I’m comfortable with…’
“I might be wrong but….”
“I may be crazy, that’s just how I roll…..”
You may also choose to use If/Then language. “If you miss your curfew, you will no longer have access to the car.” or “If you are finished with your work, then you can play your video games.”
Setting boundaries may seem like a lot of hard work! But, I have found that the hard work up front paves the road for less work in the future. People don’t argue with gravity. There is NO POINT!! Once a pattern of predictable, healthy boundaries is established, it creates a more calm and peaceful environment.
So the next time my son leaves his room a mess and I’m in there picking up clothes, muttering to myself….”I don’t know how many times I have to say, pick up your room before you leave…..” THAT, my friends, is on me. If I require that a room be clean before leaving for the day, I better be clear about what that boundary is. The work is not in fixing my son’s behavior but in presenting and following through with the boundaries I set in my home.
After all, “I might be uptight, that’s just how I roll…..”