Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Setting healthy boundaries is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to learn how to do. Being able to first admit to yourself what it is you need and then follow through on the actions to meet that need without guilt is an act of self-love. In my experience, one of the few things harder than learning to set those boundaries is how to maintain them. Each time you revisit and lovingly honor the limits that you set, you go from practicing self-care to self-love.
As a mom, there are still times I struggle with maintaining my boundaries when it comes to caring for myself, sometimes in the most basic ways. I have learned, though, that not tending to my own needs creates the perfect environment for bitterness and resentment to fester.
The other day, I needed a shower. Bad. I only really take a "real" one every three or four days when I wash my hair, so skipping them when it has been that long is not a good idea for anybody. My kids were set up with lunch and I took that opportunity to clean myself up. I had been in the shower for maybe five minutes when H came in to let me know he had to go.
Side note: It is unclear to me how this started, but every time my son has to go to the bathroom, instead of just going, he comes in doing a frantic potty dance and has to tell us first. This is followed quickly by our enthusiastic encouragement for him to do so and ends with him rushing out and sometimes almost not making it to the nearest potty.
Anyway, he ran from the bathroom he was currently standing in all the way to the other one across the house to relieve himself. (Why he didn't just use the toilet where he was, I will never know.) About two minutes later, he began shouting to me that he was done and ready for help with wiping. He has been doing well with getting himself off of the toilet after just peeing, so it was obvious to me poop was involved somehow.
In that moment, I figured I had three choices: Do I get out of the shower, drip across the house in a towel, and help him? Do I shout-explain that he has to wait ten more minutes while I rinse-out my conditioner and towel off a bit? OR. Do I encourage him to wipe himself as best he can and help him clean up a bit better when I am available?
Interrupting my shower (option number one) and tending to him in this non-emergent situation would have solved his issue in the moment, but it would have made drippy mess for me to take care of later and I would have only ensured a repeat of this scenario at some point in the future. He is almost five, so explaining to him that he needed to wait (option number two) was well within reason, but neither the most proactive or loving choice. I definitely did not want to cause him any discomfort if I didn't have to and it was within my power—and my boundary—to provide some support to him in that moment, so I wasn't going to withhold it from him.
Ultimately, I chose option number three. I told him that he could choose to practice wiping himself and wash his hands and that I would help him finish cleaning up when I was out of the shower, or that he could wait. To be fair, our toilet paper is definitely not the luxury type, so I did ask my daughter to bring him the baby wipes and to instruct him to throw those away in the trash if he used them to wipe. I did everything I could do from inside the shower (my boundary) to help him get his needs met without sacrificing my own and the rest was up to him.
Spoiler alert: He chose to sit and wait, letting me know at interval how ready he was to get off the toilet for ten minutes while I finished up my shower. BUT. While I did feel for him in his situation, I did not have to feel guilty because I do not own the results of his choice. I empowered him to help himself and the rest was up to him.
If I would have dropped everything to help him, I would have been disappointed at having to interrupt one of the two warm showers I get a week; probably took those feelings out on my son or someone else; and resented the mess I had to clean up later—both in my house and in my heart. All of that leads to a giant shame tornado and I am just not willing to cause harm to myself or others that way. Boundary alert!
Placing ourselves in the position of rescuing others is another way we keep ourselves in a victim role. Most of the time, in my experience, the reason we do that is out of fear. We are afraid to lose someone, either to a tragedy or because they walk away. We are not firemen and women, so when someone else's alarms are going off, we don't need to feel guilty for not being able to put out their fire for them, and, honestly, that just isn't helping anyone in the long-run anyway.
You are worthy of love. If someone holds you hostage with the threat of their departure, it is up to you to be strong enough to hold your ground and let them go. Even if you give in to their demands, that does not guarantee that they will stay. No one that truly cares about you will ask that of you either.
Why would you ask that of yourself?
It is imperative that we learn to love ourselves enough to create and keep healthy boundaries so we are then able to support others in a way that feels good. Support can be hands-on, but words of encouragement, links to information or resources, and a nonjudgemental ear go a long way to helping them too because they will also be learning to help themselves. Making yourself the bearer of someone else's burdens in addition to your own is not healthy, loving, realistic, or sustainable. It is exhausting and leaves us dried up and feeling used.
Be a cheerleader, not a rescuer.
Then, everyone becomes an empowered creator of their own destiny—getting their needs met like the bosses they are; loving themselves and one another with their big, beautiful hearts; and changing the freaking world!
I mean, when it boils down to it, I guess what I'm saying is this:
“Do no harm, but take no shit.” ―Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Thank you for joining me. I am so glad you’re here!