Staying At Home With My Kids for Six Weeks: A Story about Boundaries

For the first few weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, I was cool as a cucumber. I was keeping up with the news, while still regulating my own anxiety and becoming educated on the best course of action for the greatest good. I wasn’t in favor of freaking out and hoarding or dismissing the whole thing as overreaction.

I was the epitome of zen, a calm little lotus flower floating peacefully among the chaos, serenely reminding those around me that preparation and social distancing is prudent and panicking isn’t helping.

Then the governor of Washington decreed my children would be home from school for 6 weeks…….

And…….

PPAANNNNNIIIC!

This zen little lotus flower sprouted legs and sprinted head first into the chaos fray.

I went from this:

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To this:

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This doesn’t mean I don’t think its the right call or that I’m not happy to be doing what I can to help out in this epidemic.

In the past, I would have gotten the news and immediately tried to talk myself out of my grief. I would have silver-lined it right away (Hey, I’ll have so much time to teach the kids about their feelings!) I would have told myself I shouldn’t be so upset (SO many others are so much worse off! At least we will be ok financially, I don’t even have to go to work! None in my household are immune compromised- who are you to be upset?)

But now, even though others situations are worse, even though there are upsides, I allowed myself an entire weekend to grieve. To just be bummed. To know that being sad and disappointed is to be human and to just sit with the disappointment instead of dismissing it. I told myself that I knew I would be ok, I would get out the silver-lining tomorrow, but today? Today I grieve.

I ignored all the gratitude and advice my social media feeds seemed to be screaming at me. Those would be for tomorrow.

This whole my-kids-are-now-home-all-the-time thing is interesting timing for me. I was in a conversation with a friend recently where we asked each other to “Describe your perfect day.” Without much forethought I mused, “I would wake up early and meditate and write. Then I would hike. Then I would work. A good chunk of time would be spent just reading. I would spend one-on-one time with each kid doing something fun and connecting. Then I’d hang out with Rich talking and laughing and watching things that makes us laugh.” And I realized, “Whooooaaaa, I’m living my perfect day like, most days!” (except for those big chunks of my day spent cleaning and cooking).

When my kids are in school that is…..

So when I got the no more school news Friday afternoon, I thought, well, there goes my perfect days. I used to think that I need more alone time than the average human to function optimally. I seem to need time to myself to meditate, read, be in nature and write every single day to be running on all 8 cylinders. I need A LOT of alone time to be the best version of Celeste.

And I’ve set up my life to get a lot of alone time. I used to think this made me somehow needy or selfish, but then I look at the women in my life and see how most range anywhere from slightly overwhelmed from being so busy to completely burnt out on the daily, and I think actually most of us need lots of alone time to be fully functioning and we just aren’t getting it.

In any case, I was deep in grief this weekend, kissing good-bye to all my needed time in solitude where no one would interrupt me.

But now? Now the pity party weekend is over and I’m rolling up my sleeves and glass-half-full-ing this thing. And here’s the biggest silver-lining I can find for this time of quarantine: I will have time to set up and practice BOUNDARIES with my kids.

Setting Boundaries with Kids

So ironic that we decided way back when that this month would be Boundary month on Marriage Laboratory. I had no idea how reading the book Boundaries would be the absolute perfect book to be reading right now.

I have been talking about how to set up boundaries with our spouse, but all the same rules apply with our kids.

And my oh my, I’m LONG overdue for setting up stricter boundaries with my kids. For most of my motherhood, I was living under the false notion that the more unlimited access to me I gave my kids, the better mom I was.

I thought that “good moms” were constantly on-call, ready and waiting to wipe any tear, find any lost item, mitigate any fight.

This idea was understandable given that I grew up in a culture where the ideal woman was one who put literally every other person’s desires above her own. This invisible selfless woman was praised and admired far above the “selfish” woman who honored her own desires.

But, I earnestly tried that giving-my-kids-unlimited-access-to-me thing and it didn’t work out so well for me. In fact, it resulted in my darkest years and a very overwhelmed, resentful and frazzled mom.

It’s been a process, but every year I get a little better at setting boundaries around my time and energy with my kids. And every year I seek less permission or justification for doing so. I know the fruits and the fruits are undeniably good.

But truth be told, I’ve still got a ways to go. All too often, I wistfully imagine the best hours of my day will be when my kids come home from school and I get to love on those kids like the mama dinosaur I am:

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But all too often, those hours wind up being the worst hours of my day as I feel less like a loving mother and more like an on-call servant. “Mom! Where is my book?!” “Mom! Look at this!” “Mom!!! He took my pen!” “Mom! Come upstairs!” “Mom! I’m hungry! No not for that!” “Mom, I can’t find any scissors” “Mom can I watch a show?” “Watch this Mom! Mom! You’re not watching!” Etc etc etc.

And I feel more like this:

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So.

Boundaries.

What have we learned from boundaries this month?? Boundaries are taking full responsibility for our own feelings, pain and desires and NOT taking responsibility for those of other’s.

Hmmmm, definitely been doing that exactly backwards when it comes to my kids. Not taking responsibility for my own desires. Taking full responsibility for theirs. We’ve also learned that it is SO MUCH MORE loving to be clear about your desires and feelings rather than resentfully accommodating someone else’s in order to keep the peace.

I listened to a podcast recently where a mom with five kids related her story of getting cancer. She said she was so nervous about not being able to do everything for her kids, but as she couldn’t get out of bed, she was amazed at how her kids stepped it up and were able to take care of themselves. They were able to finish their own homework without her reminders, able to step it up with cleaning, able to help out with dinner and dishes. She said without being sick, she never would have realized how much she was holding her kids back from their potential by doing everything for them.

As I was listening, I felt a little nudge to the heart as I glimpsed how often I hold my own kids back by how much I do for them that they could be doing for themselves.

Also, I haven’t been taking responsibility for how I want my life to be when my kids are around. What would it look like if I took FULL responsibility for my desires when they were around? It would look like me not being a servant to their every request first off.

I would keep my 10 minute special one-on-one time with each kid because I love my kids one-on-one (it’s when they are all together that the trouble starts 🙂 ) and I do relish that time together.

I would give the responsibility for their entertainment solely over to them. I wouldn’t allow so many interruptions for little favors when I’m cooking or on the phone. And sometimes? Sometimes I would put myself to bed and read a book. Read a book! In bed! When all 4 kids are home?! How crazy would that be?

It’s true that you teach people how to treat you. I’ll take ownership over the fact that by allowing them to treat me like a servant, I’ve taught them that this is acceptable behavior.  I found I could tolerate it in the hours they were home from school, but being around them 24/7 and I’m going to go crazy.

So, this time of quarantine is the perfect push for me to put start walking the walk instead of talking the talk when it comes to setting boundaries with my kids around. Here are a few boundaries I’ll be setting:

– Each kid gets 5 favors from me a day. This includes even the simplest favor like, “Mom! Look at this!” or asking any question- anything that causes me to interrupt what I’m doing) After that, they have to meet their own needs somehow. (update: we started this morning and it’s having exactly the effect I was hoping- for them to notice how often they ask me for things they could do themselves. When my daughter called out, “Mom, I think the pencil sharpener is broken.” I said, “Do you want to use one of your favors?” She paused, then a moment later said, “Nevermind, I got it to work.” Success! When my 5 year old asked, “Mom, can you get me a spoon?” I asked the same favor question to him and he got it himself.
– I’m set up sections of my day when I am “on-call” and available for favors and interruptions and other times when I’m not. Mom is off limits for favors, questions and interruptions during recess, reading time and quiet time.

-They are responsible for cleaning up their own messes, cleaning their rooms each morning and picking up 20 things from the main floor before school.

I plan to follow boundaries expert and personal hero, Brene Brown’s advice on how to set boundaries, “Don’t puff up. Don’t shrink. Stand your sacred ground.” I won’t puff up into blame, anger or criticism (or ya know, I’ll do my best). I won’t shrink into being a doormat and resentful accommodation (again, I’ll try). But I will stand my sacred ground. I am a human being, worthy of her own feelings and desires. My worth does not come from meeting the needs of others.

5 Steps to Setting Boundaries

If you want to set your own boundaries with your spouse or your kids, here are some guidelines:

  1. Go to a quiet place alone with some paper.
  2. Take a few calming breaths and think about a desire you have that you aren’t taking responsibility for (our clue is what is making us feel resentment).
  3. Name the desire as specifically as you can (for me it was that I not feel like a servant around my kids).
  4. Journal some ideas of what taking FULL responsibility for this desire would look like (important note: boundaries are NOT attempts at controlling other people: “my kids will not ask me for so many favors.” Boundaries are deciding what OUR response will be: “I will only do 5 favors then I will ignore their requests”)
  5. Communicate these boundaries as clearly and lovingly as you can when things are calm (not in the moment they are broken).

Congratulations! You are a boundary setter!

Quarantine, let’s do this thing!

Now tell me, what are your boundary plans???

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