Let there be boundaries

  • Humour Me
  • Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014

A FEW weeks ago I woke up from a mid-morning nap to realise that I had forgotten to pick up my daughter!

My immediate reaction after realising I didn’t have my phone anywhere near me, was to call out to my son and ask for the time.

When he said it was already noon, I went into panic mode and frantically rushed down the stairs to look for my mobile phone. On my WhatsApp, my daughter had sent me a few messages including one to inform me that her training would end half-an-hour earlier than usual  on that day.

My phone rang right after I finished reading the messages. It was my daughter, calling to let me know her friend’s mum had offered to send her home.

I couldn’t be any more grateful. We were running on one car and ferrying two kids and a husband around was beginning to take a toll on me.

When my daughter and her friend’s mum appeared at our gate half-an-hour later I thanked the woman repeatedly. If this had happened a few years ago, I would have reacted to it differently. For instance instead of saying thank you, I might have focussed more on apologising profusely. I would probably have felt so guilty and beaten myself up for months!

I deal with my limitations differently now after countless frustrating experiences over the years. In fact because of those experiences, I am now able to be kinder to myself and willing to accept help from others.

I used to be tight lipped about asking for help as it made me feel vulnerable. Growing up, I was conditioned by those around me into thinking that needing support is a weakness.

Because of that, for many years I was more comfortable giving than receiving, In fact I derived my self worth from always extending help and never accepting it.

For a long time my perception of giving and taking affected the many relationships I had with other people. Because I felt good when I give and bad when I take. In fact I almost always ended up giving more than I could.

A lot of times it involved my time and effort and I often ended up feeling like I had been taken for granted. For example, when friends asked for help to babysit their kids. Most of the times I was okay doing it but there were times when I did it because I felt obligated to.

Because I sometimes did things out of expectations, I tended to question my ability to give unconditionally. Especially when I compared myself to people who are genuinely happy to give without expecting anything in return.

It took me a while to realise that giving isn’t a place I go to so I could feel better about myself. Giving as I now understand it, is about sharing and letting go a part of me without expectation. When I give to feel good about myself it is no longer unconditional as my self worth becomes dependent on it.

When I was small whenever I complained about giving, my mum would say, “when you give you must give sincerely. You should not expect people to give back. Otherwise, don’t bother giving.” It’s not about keeping score she told me.

As a mother, I sometimes find myself in similar situation. My kids sometimes tell me about people they met and their attitudes towards giving and taking which are conflict with what we practise at home.

With my kids I go a step further by explaining to them the importance of loving themselves and setting boundaries; the two essential ingredients  in giving unconditionally.

This I came to understand after having the serendipity to read Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown is an author and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. The book helped put giving unconditionally into perspective for me.

In retrospect I wasn’t able to set boundary with others because I was too afraid I would hurt their feelings even when it hurt mine.

As Brown puts it, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”

Just today I told my kids that we need to remind each other if we have crossed boundaries as it happened and not wait until it’s too late and resentment festers.

I find my relationships with others very liberating nowadays as I learn to set and respect my very own boundaries. I still have a long way to go but it has been worth it.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
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