Establishing Boundaries

When Jada was a toddler we focused heavily on teaching her to be kind and to be a good listener. It wasn’t until 1st grade when she was faced with her first “frenemy,” that I realized our parenting was shortsighted. She came home upset one day because her new friend told her “If you don’t _________, I won’t be your friend.” I can’t recall what the little girl wanted her to even do, but what I do recall, is how abruptly I realized we had been so hyper-focused on teaching Jada to be kind and respectful, that we hadn’t spent any time teaching her how to handle people who weren’t being kind towards her. She had no tools to handle mean girls and we were raising a marshmallow!

This slap-in-the-face led me to shift our daily preparatory conversations from a focus on being kind, to a focus on identifying and establishing boundaries. We taught her the difference between disagreeing with someone and being mistreated by someone, and if she feels like she is being mistreated she needs to stand up for herself! We empowered her to respond with “I don’t like the way you are treating me, so I’m leaving.” We role played, running through different scenarios, reinforcing that she is in control of how she allows people to treat her. If she doesn’t like it, she needs to change it. I didn’t learn this lesson until adulthood, so you would think I would have been mindful to teach it to Jada, but it never occurred to me that she would need these tools at 6 years old. 

I once had a principal speak to me in a harsh tone in the middle of our bustling main office, while I was greeting guests from out of district. Although I didn’t respond in that moment, I later made it a point to respectfully draw to her attention how I was treated by her, how that made me feel, and how I would appreciate her handling interactions with me in the future. Initially I contemplated not saying anything at all to her, but I was unsettled by how she treated me and knew my silence would be unstated permission for her to do it again. By using my words to kindly shine light on this blind spot, and sharing the impact it had on me, not only did she sincerely apologize for her unintentional disrespect, but she also expressed genuine gratitude for my work ethic and my performance.

Not long ago a friend mentioned that boundaries are a relatively new concept for her. She went on to clarify that she had heard of boundaries before, but only recently had she recognized a need to really apply this concept to her life. Brene Brown says, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” What I find is that boundaries are often driven from upset. When someone has upset you, leaving you feeling mistreated or maybe even violated, that is an indicator there is a need for a boundary. People treat you how you let them, so if you do not like the way you are being treated by someone, then you need to take a stand for yourself and teach that person how to treat you. Tell them what is okay with you and what is not okay with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s your husband, your mother, your children, or your boss, it’s vital you establish healthy boundaries in every relationship.