Feeling and Defending Boundaries

You probably know that a lot of the work I do with clients is around teaching healthy boundaries.


That I’m fascinated with Boundaries in no way implies that I’m excellent with them!  Quite the opposite: because I’ve built the skill from scratch, because I’ve observed and pondered and obsessed, because I’m good at teaching, my service is useful to those are a few steps behind me with their boundary skills, those who wonder if they’re passing on bad boundaries rather than good ones to their kids.


Which brings me to today’s Boundaries ah-ha story, how I’m still learning and working on myself, and maybe this step forward for me will help you too.


Having great boundaries is really a bundle of skills, not just one.  There’s noticing that your boundary was crossed, and then there’s knowing what to do about it.   This is a story about the noticing and resolving to speak up in a constructive way, rather than continuing with my usual reactive pattern.


A member of my family watched my 2 year old while I went to a yoga class.  He had a commitment right after, so we agreed he’d meet me right outside, hand over le bebe, and be on his way.


As the class ends, he texts me, “Meet you across from the stairs, in front of the park” and I respond “OK.”


I’m looking for a man with a blond toddler and I don’t see them.  I’m looking across the street at the park, confused, and so I call.  He answers and is annoyed that I’m confused, tells me they’re parked in the car.  So now I’m looking for a parked car, on the park-side of the street, and not finding them.  Eventually I see they’re double parked on the other side of the street.


With my cheery yoga glow, I say, “I was looking for you over there!”  My daughter wants a full explanation of my confusion, and I say something to the effect of “we didn’t communicate well,” and the driver of the car gets huffy.  He says that his communication was perfectly clear, and with his tone implies that I’m a total dunce.  Yoga buzz kill.


We go back and forth a bit.  I point out what would have been clearer for me, but I stop talking when it’s apparent that he’s unwilling to take any ownership.  This is a pattern of ours.  I engage with Mr. High and Mighty and disengage when I don’t get anywhere but blamed.  Then we usually drop it.


This is a minor incident, but I certainly feel annoyed with him.  It’s fair to say my boundaries around how I expect to be treated were crossed.  This pattern distances us, and it’s not what I’d characterize as respectful or healthy.


My not-so-helpful response?  To withdraw.  To stew in resentful thoughts.  To wonder long after I’m home whether I want my daughter treated this way by this family member, blamed for silly things I hope a wiser person would simply take in stride.


Then I started coaching myself, recognizing that I was shamed and then I went into stewing.  I thought, I’m caught in Pig, wallowing in the dirt, getting dirtier with the hurtful thoughts, making a mess instead of cleaning it up.


Recognizing my response as separate from myself is so useful!  It brings back choice.  Instead of saying “This is just how I am” or “This is how I feel”, which seem permanent and unchangeable, I was thinking, “I’m caught in Pig mode…do I want to be?” That lens makes it possible and actually quite easy to shift.


What’s better than being Piggy?  Deciding how I want to speak up about this pattern, getting vulnerable about how it hurts and where my mind goes, actually talking about the problem rather than sweeping it under the rug because I’m grateful I got to go to yoga tonight.


Try it yourself: What animal do you become when you’re reactive?  What about your kids?


This is a playful way put the problem a bit outside ourselves, so that those animal traits can be examined, questioned, and tossed aside for a better solution.  With time, I’ll recognize that my boundaries were crossed and I’m in Pig mode more quickly.  Then I’ll shift and make the better route the habit.


Give this a try and tell me how it goes!


In support of you,




P.S.  This is just one tool in the Boundaries and Consent curriculum.  There are many more to help you model and teach healthy boundaries to your child!  If you’d like more, let’s talk. 

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for sharing your story in order to help the rest of us. I’m sorry, but I have to ask why you would have that person care for your child if this isn’t the first time he’s treated you in a disrespectful and unhealthy manner. Why in the world would you leave your toddler alone with him?!

  • Hi Michele, yes, I my mind went there too, as you read, but if I can address it and change it, that kind of brittleness could be an overreaction. In a perfect world, I’d have a perfect family, all the respect and kindness I can imagine. My reality is far from that. There are wonderful things about each person in my family and things I would like to change. Honestly, if I held the standard that I was going to protect myself and my child from every unhealthy exchange, she wouldn’t be in daycare (those kids hit sometimes!) and I’d be a hermit. I hope you have a very different village than I do, one where your community fully respects everyone all the time. That’s not what I have, and I meet people where they’re at and do my best. Just like you, I’m completely concerned about my daughter’s safety and wellbeing and I’d never leave her with someone I thought would mistreat her.

  • Anya,
    Thanks for the share and the thought provoking question of where I go, or what I become, when boundaries are crossed. I applaud your ability to answer the above question as you did. Reading that is where my “papa bear” emerges. Feeling judged, especially when it comes to parenting choices, brings many a visceral reaction for me. I presume like you, my family is filled with people who love my children dearly and would never do anything (purposefully) to put them in harms way or contribute to them being less than awesome humans. That said, my family can do some disrespectful/thoughtless/jerky-ass-s&*t sometimes. It provides an awesome opportunity to discuss with our kids what is healthy and helpful and what feels right and what doesn’t. Empowering them to talk about this with us and with their family (maybe even someday in real time). Then, as the “grown-ups”, we have to wade through the pros and cons of dealing with this stuff head on and how exactly to execute those difficult conversations with said ding-dong family. Like in your story, sometimes it just isn’t possible to handle it then and there. Especially when one is incapable of hearing you. If we kept our kids from being around imperfect family, or people in general, it would be a lonely and crazy-making life.
    Thanks again and stay healthy.

    • Hi ag, I agree! It’s exactly this gray area that I love to explore, because I believe that gaps can be bridged. We have to decide how much extra energy we have to tackle a Boundary issue, what the likelihood of success (resolving) or failure (widening the gap) is, but I think there are times, like this one, where you can safely have a growth mindset and meet somewhere in the middle. Especially with your kids! I wouldn’t want my daughter believing that I’d cut her out of my life if she’s disrespectful, a belief she might pick up from watching my other relationships. I certainly believed that about my mother, because that’s how she chose to function, and indeed, she’s decided not to be a part of my life or a grandmother to my daughter. I have other MIA family members as well, and it’s a family pattern, going back generations. I admire those who can resolve boundaries issues, and I want to be modeling that for my daughter so that she gains some skill earlier than I did.

      • Oh, let me also add that this isn’t a pipe dream of mine. I’ve done the work with families, helping some with bad Boundary skills shift the dynamics at home. One of my private clients enrolled for exactly this reason, and she and her husband really did the work and have felt the tone soften at home and between the two of them. This is a 2 (or 3 or 4) for 1 special: the parent gets better at boundaries and so does the child.

  • Adriana C. González Méndez
    February 12, 2018 5:51 am

    Thanks for sharing Anya!
    I’ll definetely remember the question: do I want to be??


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