It was 7:54am. I just returned home from my second trip to the schools to hear my middle school daughter lamenting about having to walk out into the morning mist and humidity with her freshly straightened hair to catch the school bus at 8:02. This girl can go from smooth and sleek to afro in 3.6 seconds, so I empathized with her plight.
Riding the school bus, however, is a choice she makes every day. You see, I drive my elementary school children to school at 7:05am and my middle school boys to school at precisely 7:40am when there is the least amount of traffic. Total commute time there and back in about 12 minutes. By simply cutting 20 minutes off her morning prep time she can just as easily catch the 7:40 middle school car ride.
On this day, I know she was wishing she had used her time more wisely.
I stood holding my freshly poured cup of coffee, one foot on the stairs ready to head up to the office and the other foot facing her and the door.
Torn between my desire to accomplish things before heading out to work at 9:45am and blessing my daughter with a car ride to school to protect her hair, I made the split second decision to make another trip to the middle school.
I backed out of the driveway at 8:02am, the exact time the school bus stopped 10 feet from our house. When I exited the subdivision I noticed her school bus pulled up right behind us. “Awesome, we’re so ahead of the game,” I sarcastically thought knowing our house is the last stop before the middle school.
The constant and heavy mist along with our time of departure led us directly into a heap of school traffic. Minute by minute I watched my car clock tick away my morning to accomplish things. Every minute made me more and more frustrated. By the time I drove into the drop off loop it was 8:27am.
Meanwhile, the story I had made up in my head during this drive was that my daughter would be beside herself in appreciation of my willingness to bring her to school. This would definitely score me bonus points on the “mom scale.”
Surely she would sincerely thank me for giving up what little time I have home before leaving for work to help her.
She jumped out of the car and mumbled, “See ya” before slamming the door and walking away.
Frustration. Disappointment. Resentment.
I felt all three melt over me simultaneously. All directed towards my daughter.
And all over something she was not even aware of. It was all because of the story I made up in my mind, my unmet expectations, and my lack of defined boundaries.
I comprehended all of this as I pulled back in my driveway at 8:45am. I laughed to myself and owned up to my own actions. No one was to blame for my frustration and resentment but me.
This paradigm shift was made possible by my recent auditory adventure in Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong. She made a few simple statements about maintaining personal boundaries and letting others know what is okay and not okay. This allows us space for us to say yes or no without feeling guilt, shame, or resentment over the decision.
I hadn’t made my boundary clear enough. I hadn’t clearly identified what is okay and not okay for both me and others.
Logic told me I didn’t want to make another trip to the school but my desire to please broke through my ultra-thin boundary and left me wrecked with invalid emotions.
As a parent, it is ridiculously easy to become lost in our children’s lives: meeting their needs, satisfying their wants, and maintaining their own boundaries – all while forgoing your own.
We cannot feel guilty about having boundaries in place to protect ourselves from resenting the normal actions of our children.
We need time and space and it is OKAY to ask for and allow for it.
Because of this experience I have spent reflection time identifying the key areas when I feel most frustrated and resentful of the people around me. I’ve defined a few personal boundaries in addition to not driving to the school after 7:40am.
I will not indulge in conversations after 9pm about phone restrictions or any other rules my children do not like and would like changed. If they’d like to discuss this topic during daytime hours I’m happy to hear them out. But after 9pm they can either share about their day, their struggles and successes, or they can just go to bed. This is precious time reserved for my husband and writing.
I will not go above and beyond for a child who is not fulfilling their basic family responsibilities. Deposits need to be made into the “parent bank”. If a child chooses to not do their chore after repeatedly being asked, I simply declare their account “overdrafted.” Until their account is back into the black I will not do any special favors for them.
I will not cater my dinner menu to the haters of all things good. I know I cannot make everyone happy (unless I serve take-out pizza and even then someone will complain about the toppings or lack there of) and thus I will stop trying to please and I will not feel bad about it when I don’t. I will not make a different meal for anyone, nor will I leave out tomatoes or onions from a recipe because “they are scary”.
Without defined boundaries, I have come to recognize these are the precise moments when feelings of self-doubt, resentment, and shame overwhelm my parenting abilities. This is when I don’t want to be brave; I just want to scream at my children. I don’t want to be the better person, I just want restitution.
If I can prevent these feelings with proper boundaries, I know I can be a better mother. I can calm the crazy and be brave with something as simple as making my boundaries known.
My children need me to have these boundaries so I can be the most whole-hearted and joyful parent I can be.
As we tell our children, “you are only responsible for your own actions.” That is so true for us adults as well. If you don’t like some of your actions or reactions, identify your triggers and form new boundaries. Make them known and maintain them.