Holding My Breath

Like many Americans, I’m having some feelings this week. Lots of flashbacks to the last election.

Four years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter and I was excited. I was so sure my daughter would be born into a world where she’d be able to take a female American president for granted. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer: our country’s most qualified candidate in history was running against our country’s most unqualified, outwardly racist and misogynistic candidate. It should have been a slam dunk.

I believed the polls. I had faith that an overwhelming majority of Americans would not choose fear and ignorance and hate. Needless to say, the outcome was shocking and traumatic. The experience was definitely a loss of innocence.

That election day I attended a goodbye party for another mom-friend of mine. This was a sad occasion for my whole family since her husband was friends with my husband and they were basically the first friends we made after moving to Oregon. This party was also the last time I planned to leave the house for a while, as my goal was to potty train my 2 year old son as best I could before the new baby came.

We had election coverage on in the background while we ate dinner. We had to turn it off while my husband put my son to bed, and I remember sitting in my room on my phone, scrolling. My first indication that something was wrong was when Florida went to He Who Must Not Be Named. After that, we watched with growing fear and went to bed in shock and disbelief.

I woke up the next day in a daze and proceeded with the potty training plan. It was horrible, stressful. I spent a good portion of the day in tears, not knowing what exactly I was crying about. All of the day was spent elbow deep in piss and shit, one way or another.

I remember thinking that my daughter would be ALMOST FOUR before we’d have the chance to vote him out. Four years is a hell of a long time to do a lot of damage. And so much damage has indeed been done.

As I write this, it feels akin to how one might tell a story of where they were and what they were doing when the twin towers fell or when Kennedy was shot. It was a dark day; one I’ll never forget. Looking back, it spun me (us) into a crazy-ass couple of years. My daughter was born. My post-partum anxiety took off like a brush fire. I went back to therapy. I spent a good few years just trying to get ahold of myself and figure out who I was and how to leave the house with pants on. All this with a background of news reports on hate, ignorance, fear, anger, violence. Rolling back progress and denying human rights.

Fall of 2019, I finally started feeling better, consistently better. I, like many others, declared that 2020 was going to be my year. And it was…until the pandemic. And now the election.

So you can see (I hope) how I am holding my breath. I’m white knuckling this. I’m so angry and scared. I want to believe the polls. I want to have faith in people to do the right thing. But frankly, this country is not what I thought it was, and we’ve all been here before, on this abusive rollercoaster from which we can’t seem to get off. I’m honestly not sure how I’ll get through the next few days…or weeks…or longer, depending.

To those in power who are using that power for personal gain and to manipulate and spread fear: we see right through you. You might be fooling some, but you sure as hell aren’t fooling me.

Abusive people use anything at their disposal to have power and control over others. If they can’t control others, their power is gone. Abusive people try to stop others from voting. Abusive people try to sue for votes to not be counted. Abusive people lie and manipulate the system. Abusive people threaten violence. Abusive people intimidate (in this case, by bringing guns to the polls, or by blocking traffic, etc.). Abusive people gaslight others and deny any wrongdoing. All of these behaviors are coming from a place of insecurity, NOT love, NOT protection, because if these people knew they could be fairly reelected in a just, democratic system, then there would be no need for such devious theatrics.

Abuse is not strength. Make no mistake, we are in an abusive relationship and that is an incredibly powerless feeling.

I voted as soon as I possibly could. I even made sure my ballot was received. And now, I wait. Full of dread, fear…and some cautious hope.


Day 2

Period. Full Stop.

I’m here to tell everyone – all parents really – that you have permission to set boundaries for yourself and your kids in reaction to everyone, anyone, for any reason and at any time. Period. Full stop.

And unless you’re being abusive to your kids, then nobody gets to tell you that your boundaries aren’t valid. Like, ever. I mean, they can try, but they will fail.

Because guess what?

BEING THE PARENT MEANS YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR KID.

Not a stranger on the street. Not a neighbor or a friend. Not your cousin or sibling or parent or the babysitter. None of them are the parent or legal guardian, so it simply ain’t their job.

This is such a simple concept that it blows my mind when people don’t understand it.

And then, because I’m a therapist, I take a step back and try really, really hard to understand why someone may not understand such a simple boundary of how the world works. From my experience, people who either don’t understand boundaries or perceive them as unkind are people who did not grow up with firm boundaries and/or were not taught how to set healthy ones.

To be specific, boundaries are some form of communication or action that communicate a limit or expectation for how that person wants to be treated. Boundaries have two parts: the first part described above, and then the second part is the consequence – what the boundary-setter plans to do if that expectation is not met.

(I just wrote the above off the cuff, but I’d like to add the Wikipedia definition I just looked up because it’s much more succinct: “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.“)

Imagine someone grew up without these. Imagine that person could do whatever they wanted growing up and had no consequences. For a kid, that sounds like a pretty scary, lonely, and unsafe place to be. Not being taught how to act with respect and integrity must land a person in some confusing and frustrating situations growing up. A common reaction is to blame everyone else for these problems, because the alternative is often too painful to entertain.

Now imagine that that same person has grown up and is being told how to act or what to do by another person, and is being given consequences to boot. Especially if this new boundary-setter is not perceived to be an authority figure, the reaction probably wouldn’t be positive.

There’s often backlash, or an attempt at manipulation, or accusations that the boundary-setter is being mean and controlling, or simply ignoring the boundaries and blowing right through them.

[Side note: my above growing-up-without-boundaries scenario was the kindest, most benefit-of-the-doubt explanation I could think of. Worst case scenario when a person blows through your boundaries is that they are being abusive. The simplest red flag for abuse is when the perpetrator does not hear you say ‘no.’ When a person ignores your ‘no,’ it means they are trying to control you or the situation. And gaining power and control over another person is what abuse is all about.]

Even though I get it on a conceptual level, these people are so fucking hard to deal with.

How do you explain to someone that boundaries aren’t mean?

And yup, they are about control, because I have control over myself and my life and my kids – AND YOU DON’T.

It’s one thing having to set a boundary one time with someone who is a reasonable human being: “Oh crap, you don’t like when I do that? I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again.” Best case scenario, right? Because it’s quite another thing to have to set the same boundary with someone who is boundaryless again and again and fucking over again.

Setting boundaries, like raising children, is exhausting. It’s having to stay firm and respectful and consistent in following through with consequences. Again and again and again until forever. It’s teaching little people how to behave in the world and it’s teaching big people how you, as an adult, wish to be treated (or how you wish your children be treated).

And when I’m setting boundaries on behalf of my kids – that’s where the stakes are high. My bitch mama bear comes out and I take no prisoners. No, dude on the street, my kid does not have to smile for you. No, lady at the park, you cannot touch my baby without asking me first.

My kids are depending on me to protect them until they can protect themselves. And they are learning from my example. They learn bodily autonomy and the value of consent when I say, Do you want to give _____ a hug? Because you don’t have to if you don’t want to. And if someone gets mad about not getting a hug, then that is their problem (and also a huge red flag!). Not mine, and sure as hell not my kid’s.

I’m setting the boundaries for them now so that they can do the same for themselves (and their kids) in the future. Because I don’t want my kids to grow up without boundaries. It’s dangerous and scary!

And for those adults who might recognize that they have negative reactions to boundaries being set – instead of writing off the boundary-setter as mean, you might want to take a look at exactly what is being asked of you. Is it truly unkind, or are you just not used to hearing “no”?

At the risk of rage-filled rambling on forever, I will wrap this up. While this may read as a tutorial for an audience, it’s actually directed at myself. It’s my way of reminding myself that I’m doing right by myself and my kids; no amount of negative and manipulative reactions to my boundaries will steer me off course because they [the reactions] aren’t mine to carry, deal with, or worry about. Period. Full stop.

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Do any of you out there have trouble setting boundaries with boundaryless people?

What are your coping strategies?