Back when I was studying to become a teacher, I remember the day my professor drew a highly technical drawing that looked something like this:
The topic of discussion was on boundaries. My professor explained that if we’re clear and firm on our boundaries, students will recognize the limits and stay safely inside; conversely, if students sense a weak spot in the “fence” they will all come along to test it out.
Seemed reasonable. I jotted a line in my notebook, adding it to my list of teacher preparation tips, and went on my merry way.
What it did not prepare me for was the magnitude of said “testing,” not with my students, and most certainly not with my three year-old son.
Take this morning for instance. He declared he didn’t want banana bread. His sister then asked for some banana bread. He then insisted that not only did he want banana bread, but made it clear that the world would end if he did not have banana bread.
Knowing his track record for eating only two bites, I told him that if I gave him some, he would have. to. eat. it. That he would get nothing else until he did so. He agreed.
And like a rookie, I fell for it. I gave him banana bread. Of which he took two bites. And then asked for something else.
Here was my chance to hold firm on my boundaries, and boy, did he test them.
He seemed to possess a finely tuned sense that my boundaries — and my sanity — were hanging on by the slimmest of threads. And the whole herd was rather methodically working away at that vulnerable place.
But that’s when more wisdom on boundaries returned to my memory, this time, from Brene Brown:
See, boundaries aren’t just about keeping the “herd” from wreaking havoc in every which direction. They are about compassion for ourselves and for those around us.
We are compassionate enough to ourselves to hold true to our values (ie, food waste and follow-through in the above story). And we are compassionate enough to others to be clear, direct, and kind so that we don’t end up harboring unseen resentment (ie, lingering frustration with my son and myself had I caved).
And so I held on. I worked to focus on those boundaries and my values I was working to preserve and instill, rather than the frustration that threatened to devolve the whole thing into a shouting match.
Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. We left the banana bread for a couple hours and when we came back, he was perfectly happy to eat it before getting a new snack.
Which just goes to show what a break can do for a battle of wills — and preservation of our boundaries and our sanity.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto