“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” -Josh Billings
I have never been very good at defining boundaries in life. The resources of time and energy were never something that I measured in terms of my ability to give or not. I remember being shocked when an acquaintance once told me that they knew they could never have enough energy for more than one child. It was an internal conversation that never occurred to me until I had my fourth and last child. Even with four kids, my sense of what I could accomplish in a day rarely reflected a true sense of time.
Age has helped me become more realistic about what can really happen in a single day and how long it takes to for things to really get done. Building in time to be well, to be fed, to exercise is not really a luxury any more. Missing only a few days of attending to my own needs ends up costing more to my health, productivity and relationships than whatever I would have lost by taking care of them. I have witnessed this enough times to know it, yet I still find myself more frequently than I would like to admit in situations where I agree to give more than I have.
It is a maternal form of insanity where the needs of the child supersede the needs of the mother. All mothers have this built in to the biology of having children. But well after the survival mechanism of child rearing is over, I still frequently agree to things for my children’s good that are clearly outside my emotional or physical limits. It isn’t malicious, I actually do want to be that ever available support and encouraging witness to their development, I just often don’t know how to do it while considering my own needs.
I have been at it for a very long time. Years of juggling multiple sporting events, musical rehearsals, play dates and academic progress has earned me a better sense of reality about how one yes can eat up a whole weekend. Yet even with all my experience I am still stunned by the place where my automatic pilot, yes mom can get pushed just a half step too far and explode and degenerate into seething resentment. I still can’t quite see it coming, this breakdown of boundaries so complete which hinges so close to normalcy, but where I flail violently, trying to grab a breath.
I did it again today. Gave up the lounging and hot water bottles that my monthly cycles would have enjoyed to drive several hours to see my son play in a tennis tournament. It was a beautiful re-entry for his game and I was happy and proud for him. But it was just one too many yes’s- agreeing to a friend joining us for dinner and dropping her 20 minutes out of the way when I could feel the break coming inside and watch the emotional overflow wash away all the positive feelings that the day had created. Just a few steps too far and the essence of the goodness is buried under the one last thing.
A good friend and well known psychic once told me that “Boundaries are how we love ourselves.” They are also the foundation for keeping relationships positive and true. I am still learning how.