Do you remember, when you were a child, wishing or saying that you couldn’t wait to grow up so you could do whatever you wanted? Children usually utter that statement when a rule is being enforced or they are being subjected to a food or task they really don’t care much for. That statement highlights children’s’ innocence and naivety, but there is also an interesting truth hidden in there: do adults give off the impression that they get to do whatever they want?
Some of those children grow up and live out that childhood ambition of having no authority and rules in place to weigh them down. They live their lives a mile a minute and may appear, at times, to be having the time of their lives, but soon reality hits and they realize that their foolish way of living might not have been in their best interest.
What we didn’t see as children were all of the rules and boundaries in place for the adults, too. Careers, parenthood, bills, after-school activities, chores — boundaries and rules come in many forms! The trick is to not see boundaries as a detriment to our lives, and to not view setting them as a monumental task.
How can we get ourselves to a point where boundaries are a helpful protection rather than a barrier? Why do we struggle to see boundaries in a positive light?
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” – Luke 16:13
I believe there are three reasons we struggle with boundaries. First, our parents may have modeled work as being very important, especially if they were affected by the Great Depression. We learn a lot about how we do life from our parents, so if they had utilized rigid boundaries that unevenly spread time between facets of their lives, we were raised to view those uneven boundaries as the norm.
Second, we may really enjoy the work that we do and it doesn’t seem like work, so we let ourselves spend a lot of our day doing work that we have a passion about; thus, we don’t feel like it is work. You might think this isn’t a problem at all, but consider the dangers of over committing at work, even if you don’t view it as such. Other areas of your life will suffer, like your relationships or your ability to connect with your church community.
A third reason we may struggle with boundaries is that we cherish our families above everything on earth, second to our faith. This may cause us to resent having to delegate time to other things, like work. We will view any commitment that takes us away from our families as a chore and we won’t be able to enjoy ourselves.
Setting boundaries is a daily struggle for me, as I do cherish my family and relationships while at the same time I am passionate about my work. My parents “modeled” working hard, so as I grew up, this was what I did and it feels natural to me. I keep track of how many hours I work each week, so I stay disciplined around the amount of time I work. In 2017 and 2018, as 4wordwomen.org grew, I found that my work had gotten “out of control.” Those who have started a company or organization know how hard it is. My commitment and workload with 4word looked a lot different when I started it back in 2011!
We have finally reached the financial capability to afford bringing in a leader to help me and the board supported this move in 2018. My new goal is to work 45 hours a week (thanks to the help of 4word’s new COO, Pam Johnson!), so I am hopeful for new balance in my life.
Boundaries are a part of systems that you put in place. When I was at Trammell Crow Company and CBRE, my boundaries were that I would not travel more than one night a week on average through a year. I also left work at 5:45 every night so that our family could sit down at dinner at 6:00. If my boss and I didn’t agree on these boundaries, there would not have been systems in place to try to keep me on the goal of this unobtainable thing called “balance.”
A new chapter in my life has brought boundaries into the forefront for me again. My granddaughter, Opal Sage, was born a few weeks ago, and is already such a huge part of my life. Her arrival set into motion plans for new boundaries to help protect my time with her and my ability to have a part in her life. My kids didn’t have grandparents as a part of their daily life because their grandparents lived in Oregon and Oklahoma and we were in Texas. I grew up on our family farm where I saw and worked with my grandparents on my Dad’s side every day, so I understand the special gift of having that relationship in a child’s life, if possible. I want to be there for Opal Sage to help her navigate every stage of her life, but not daily, because I want our relationship to be special.
If you’re struggling with boundaries, I totally understand. They are a tricky part of all of our lives, but they are so important and worth the effort to get right. When I think about setting boundaries, I love how Molly Fletcher walks through it. First, she says, be gentle on yourself. We are all trying hard to be the best spouse, parent, friend, worker and leader. Boundaries take time to get just right for your unique situation. Second, be clear about what is important to you. This will help you know which boundaries are needed, and will then help you communicate the importance of the boundaries to anyone who needs to know.
Then, lay out a plan for adhering to your boundaries. I am asked to speak a lot related to the topic of reaching women in the workplace. I’d love to be able to speak at all of them, but that is just not realistic or supportive of my personal boundaries! I have an amazing board who are great speakers, so I have learned to ask them to speak for me. They love doing it!
Once your boundaries are in place, you must have the courage to adjust. I know, that sounds frustrating. You went through all the effort to create and stick to boundaries, and now they may have to change? It’s a natural part of life! I needed to bring someone in to help me care for my daughter Annie, so I hired Adam. I had tried to balance caring for Annie with my duties with 4word, and Adam proved to be much better at the daily care for her than I was. This adjustment of my boundary to prioritize my family helped my daughter have better quality of life and helped us enrich our relationship as I wasn’t stretched thin anymore.
Lastly, Molly encourages you to have someone that will hold you accountable to your boundaries. My husband is this accountability partner for me. Mike Lafitte did this when he was my boss at Trammell Crow Company and CBRE. Those you are closest to will know you the best and can recognize when you’re ignoring boundaries or letting them get the best of you. Listen to their counsel and be humble enough to make adjustments, if you need to.
“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:37
Don’t fall into the temptation of being pressured into doing things you know are not part of God’s plan for your life. It is a very real temptation, especially when it could result in you getting that promotion you’ve been wanting. This is where boundaries come in to save the day. They are God’s active guardians for your wellbeing. If you’re struggling to secure your life with healthy boundaries, start first with searching your soul to see what should have priority. Once you have those stakes in the ground, setting up the fence of boundaries around them will be a much smoother process. Be mindful of that fence and make sure to tend to it when you see damage starting. And always leave room for expansion as life transitions and brings new blessings that require protection.