Moving boundaries


Last night I had one of about a million encounters with my preteen daughter regarding bedtime. These started at about the age of 3. Both of us have our heels dug in on this issue and it has been going on for years. The reason it’s been going on for years is that it is the one thing (and I do mean the one thing) upon which I have been insistent: my need for downtime at night. I know many parents, particularly homeschooling/unschooling parents, who do not impose a bedtime on their children. The philosophy behind it is usually supported by the desire for children to be able to set their own boundaries, listen to their own bodies, and define their own needs. I get all of that. I strive to give my children as much freedom and self-sufficiency as I can so long as it doesn’t have a negative impact on the rest of us in this little pod called home. That’s the very issue at hand. I need time by myself. Time to process my own thoughts without interruption. Time to regenerate without having to tend to the needs of others. Time to relax without answering questions or teaching something to somebody. I do this all day, everyday, particularly as an unschooler as I’m following three children and their constant desire to learn. I need time off. I have felt guilty about this for a very long time. I felt like I should be able to spend 24/7 with my children without needing a break. The cost was a frazzled, overwhelmed, and angry (and unaware) mother. That certainly is not the environment I’m seeking for my children – or me and my husband. Furthermore, I’m a thinker. I’m a total idea person and if I don’t give my mind time to process ideas it does it anyway…at 3am. That means that if I don’t have downtime, I’m an insomniac. Sleep deprivation has not proved to create a loving, patient mother in me.

When I woke up this morning still angry about not having my boundaries respected yet again, I was forced to take a closer look. I am reading Augusten Burroughs’ latest book (because I’m reading everything Augusten Burroughs right now) and he talks about anger and rage, which has given me some insight into this very issue. What I realized is that because I’ve not been very kind to myself in allowing anger without self-recrimination, I now feel myself approaching rage on this issue of not getting what I am repeatedly requesting. I can feel it welling up in me, but I keep deflecting the need to change upon my daughter. As I was mentally chastising her for taking 10 years to get this “right”, I thought, “Why has it taken 10 years?” I’m not a victim – how am I showing up? Why has it taken 10 years for me to get what I want? Now I had to stop myself from mentally chastising myself for it taking 10 years to get it “right.” One thing I know is that when my children are doing something repeatedly and not budging in how they’re showing up, there is a reason. Where is the mirror? What is the lesson? For many parents, it may be easy to blame them or the fact that their “children”, but for me, I’m always questioning what’s underneath the behavior. So I asked myself the question: how am I really showing up? The cold, hard ugly truth? I’m being inconsistent. I set a boundary and I’m adamant about it…until it conflicts with someone else’s needs/wants/desires, then I adjust mine to accommodate theirs. I’m fairly consistent with that! This is not good on many levels: I’m not being true to my needs, I’m caretaking others and I’m not setting clear boundaries for my children. The message they get is that they need only give me a not-even-really-great reason that they need something from me that is in contradiction with my established boundary and my very clear boundary becomes a very fuzzy, wishy-washy boundary that dissipates at the first sign of the needs of others. Again and again and again and again. And not only with my children. I realized that I’m also doing it with my husband. The harmful part of all this – or one of the many harmful parts of this – is that it eventually comes out as passive aggressive behavior on my part. A trait I thought I’d long since put behind me. I abhor passive aggressiveness, so no wonder I wear it, right? It is, after all, the very things to which we react strongly that are intricately woven into the fiber of our being.

This is a hard lesson for me. I love giving. I love to see others happy. I hate to see my children disappointed (we’ll discuss this one later). This is what makes it difficult for me to say “No, we’re not going to read another book. It’s officially Mommy Regeneration Time.” They get a sad face, I feel empathy, and I give in. I don’t see how detrimental this is in the moment – until it compiles night after night and I am now desperately in need of time alone since I’ve now suffered several nights of frustrating over-the-top-mind-racing-save-the-world-idea-generation-insomnia.  Now I’m cranky and blowing up at my children for doing what they’ve been doing for several nights without calamity. I can only image the confusion. Besides, they get what they want most of the time with only an occasional emotional outburst from me, so what’s the impetus to respect my boundary? The cost to me, though, is great. I truly believe that they don’t want to hold this space for me, either. They want peace. They want consistency. They want harmony. As do I. The truth is that I don’t want to disappoint them so I choose to disappoint myself and in doing so, teach them something other than the importance of respecting boundaries – not only others’ boundaries, but most importantly their own.

For 10 years I’ve been asking myself why the topic of boundaries is so popular in our house. I think I just may have finally figured it out.


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