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?

 

 

 

 

 

Throwing Out is Hard to Do

While I’ve been back in my childhood home, I’ve been going through boxes of my old stuff in an effort to reduce clutter in my life. 

One issue is that I am a sentimental person, and even as a kid, I kept everything. Ticket stubs, brochures, every paper I wrote, every exam I took…I saved it all. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to let go of stuff, because it’s making it harder for me to get rid of it now. 

I go through an inner struggle with many items I come across. Do I need this?  Do I have space for this? Will I miss this? Oh, but it’s evidence of my hard work and/or good times!

Gah. 

Some things are easier to throw out than others. Math exams? Gone. Old birthday cards? Trashed. But some things are just too good to go. 

  

This freaking awesome life-sized cardboard cutout was given to me by my college boyfriend and I can’t let it go. It has nothing to do with who gave it to me, it’s just a really bitchin’ thing to have on hand. 

Legolas was there at my college graduation party, proudly displaying my cap and gown. He’s watched over me sleeping all those years. He valiantly posed for countless drunken selfies with my roommates and me before selfie was even a word. He’s been more loyal than most partners. And damnit, even though he has no real use, he’s not going anywhere. 

  
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Childhood Books Come Full Circle

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to relive the best parts of your own childhood.

A subset of this experience is getting to read beloved childhood books to my son with the same kind of enthusiasm and weird voices that my parents used to read to me.

Here are a few of my favorite books from childhood that I am now reading to my kid.  These were my favorites not because of the stories they told, but because of the way my parents told them.

The Cat in the Hat

Seuss-cat-hat

I had this book memorized, and I can still recite the first several pages by heart.  Growing up, my Dad would quote this book, especially when my brother and I complained we were bored.  “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how!”

Millions of Cats

Wanda_Gag_Millions_of_Cats-book_cover

This books was hilarious to me.  Spoiler alert – a lot of the cats kill and eat each other.  Like, a lot.  Doing the voices of the Very Old Man and Very Old Woman is quite fun.

But No Elephants

But no Elephants

This is another quotable classic, made famous in my household because my parents would add “But nooooo elephants!” onto any request to which they acquiesced, as a way of expressing the whole everything in moderation philosophy.

The Monster at the End of This Book

mon001

This was my favorite by far, just because my Dad was soooo strong that he kept turning pages that Grover tied shut, or built brick walls over…all to save us from the monster that – spoiler alert – ends up being lovable, furry old him.  “Oh, I am soooo embarrassed…”

What childhood books were your favorites???


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Radio H-O-M-E

I was inspired by Emily and Ashley‘s prompt about radio, because people, when I was little, I made the radio.

That’s right.

It was actually in elementary school with my friend also named Emily.  She introduced me to this fun activity we called H-O-M-E.  You know those boom boxes where you could record your voice onto a sweet cassette tape?  Well, we took one of those and created our own radio station, complete with original songs, audio murder mystery stories, and commercials.

Our radio station changed depending on the location we were recording from.  If we were at Emily’s house, we’d say, “Hello, this is Melissa and Emily coming to you live from 1234 Smart Court, H-O-M-E!”   Change of address meant change of the station.  We knew our listeners could keep up.

I loved this game so much that I brought up the idea with two other friends on separate occasions and I now have many cassette tapes gathering dust in my childhood closet with awesome H-O-M-E radio recordings.

At one point we used Emily’s keyboard to create background music for our various audio entertainment.  Emily and I recorded original songs we wrote about pollution and how bad it is and how we wanted to save the monkeys in the rainforest.  My friend Leah and I did commercials for a fictional store called Fit It Right, where they guaranteed that your clothes would…fit correctly, no matter your size.

Most of the commercials were just recorded on the fly and if we messed up or got a case of the giggles, we’d just rewind and tape back over it.  But with my friend Megan, we put together and scripted an entire murder mystery tale that would probably get us sued by the people who wrote Clue if it ever goes viral.  We had backstories and physical descriptions for an entire wealthy family, complete with maids and cooks.  We foreshadowed and we dropped hints and we used really bad French accents.  No spoilers as to who the killer really was…but I wouldn’t eat the stew if I were you!

I also went solo for my blue period in radio.  I recorded myself singing My Girl (remember that movie with Anna and Macaulay?!) and quotes from movies or shows I’d heard and didn’t quite understand, but knew enough to know that they were cool.

What’s your sign, baby?

The Hollywood sign!

My most treasured radio show was when I interviewed each member of my family.  And by interviewed, I mean I told my family members exactly what I wanted them to say.  I must have been about 8 or 9 years old, and my grandparents were visiting from Wisconsin, which was a big deal.  Both of them have since passed away, and so I really love that I still have a piece of them on tape.

I listened to this interview so much over the years that it’s been cemented in my mind.  First, I recorded all my scripted parts alone in my room, and then I would run downstairs and tell each person what to say, and the pattern would continue.  Here’s the transcript of what I remember:

Hello, and my name is Melissa ___ _____.  (I always introduced myself with my full name, middle and last.)

Today we’re going to meet the members of my family!

First, we’re going to talk to my Dad, and he loves watching football on TV.  Hi, Dad, what are you doing?

Dad: I’m watching football and they just scored a touchdowwwnnn! (My Dad said this with the appropriate amount of fake enthusiasm.)

Next, we’re going to talk to my Mom, and she loves to cook.  Hi, Mom, what are you doing?

Mom: I’m making a casserole.

Next, we’re going to talk to my little brother who loves playing video games just like I do.  Hi, Brian, what are you doing?

Brian: I just got to the 3rd level in Nintendo!!  (It took some expert levels of coercion to get him to say this on tape, but it was worth it.)

Next, we’re going to talk to my grandpa, and he loves to play golf.  Hi, Grandpa, what are you doing?

Grandpa:  And you know what?  I was playing golf and I just got a hole in one, whooooo-ppeeeeee!  (He went off-script for this one, but I’ll forgive him.)

Last, we’re going to talk to my grandma, and she loves to knit.  Hi, grandma, what are you doing?

Grandma: I’m knitting some mittens.   (Those four words never sounded so sweet.)

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So that’s all I got.  Thanks for reading me remember my journalistic roots.