We got a dog. This is true for many households in the last year and a half, including my own. I’ve never been an animal person, but I love this dog. 

The biggest issue so far has been the lack of fencing around our acre of land. I see our neighbors out with their dogs walking around off their leads and I wonder how they do it. We step out the door with a leash and we’re happy when it isn’t yanked away as our dear pup, Buttercup, runs after a bird or a squirrel. My concern isn’t for the tiny animals being pursued; it is for the puppy that has yet to learn her boundaries. 

This is the same for us. As children, we crave rules so we know how far to run, how far we can step out while still relying on the safety of our parents. When those boundaries aren’t set, we wander around looking for someone to stop us, someone to take an interest, anyone to say, “Hey! Come over here.” Sadly, this mostly ends up to the detriment of the child. 

As we grow without knowing our boundary lines, we don’t see when we are being treated badly or even injured. We may think this is just how life is. We crave the attention, so we put up with the disrespectful and sometimes abusive behavior. Yet, even as adults, we need to know we should be able to rest in the safety of our boundaries. 

The other thing a fence is great for is keeping the other dogs out. Most of the time our neighbor’s dogs stay at their side. But there have been a few occasions we find these dogs walking the neighborhood or checking out our backyard alone. Most of these dogs are harmless, but we don’t know them all, and a few we do know we would rather not encounter without their owner nearby. 

When we are not taught what healthy boundaries are or given the encouragement to set them up, others learn to manipulate and take advantage of us. People can easily cross what should be a boundary line, or a fence. We may not recognize this as a problem until it is too much to just ask them to step out of your boundaries. The abuse of another has taken hold of us within ourselves and it takes a lot to push them out and lock the gate. 

Getting our dog was a big deal. My three boys that have been begging for a dog for years. Their dad would say, “As soon as I get the fence built.” We have lived in our home for 8 years and we are just now installing that fence. We had to have the motivation to get the fence, so we got the dog first. 

One of the reasons we hadn’t installed the fence yet is the disagreement between myself and my husband on gates. He wanted ample access to our backyard and had designed 7 gates across the front. SEVEN! That didn’t include the double gate at the back. I said we needed one walk through on one side and a double drive through on the other, three gates. In the end, we have compromised with five. 

Gates are extremely important in our boundaries. There will always be those that refuse to respect the boundaries. I remember as a child having neighborhood kids that were left home alone. On those days it was never strange to find them sitting in our living room watching tv because we left a door unlocked. We told them to stop, but they never seemed to get it, so we made sure to shut and lock our doors. 

But we don’t need to always keep everyone out. We have those in our lives that love and encourage us, those that respect us and help us take care of ourselves. We want them to have access to who we are. My boys love to swim on a hot summer day, but we don’t have a pool. Just a few miles away, we have friends that have told us we are always welcome to swim in their pool. However, we do not just show up whenever we like. I will always text her to make sure the time works for them, as well. It isn’t because I don’t believe her when she says, “Anytime.” It is because I respect that it is her property, and I don’t want to take advantage of her hospitality. 

Sometimes we need to close our gates and rest in solitude and sometimes we need to open them wide, to be surrounded by those that love and respect us. But we need to keep these boundaries up when it comes to those that would manipulate and take advantage of us by running over our fences and hurting us. It is a balancing act that should be taught to us as children, so it doesn’t become so difficult to do as adults. 

For me, the first step in setting up my own boundaries was learning to respect myself. I had to stop blaming myself for what was not my responsibility and learn to push out those that blamed me for their choices. Once my “yard” was cleared out, I had to be okay with being alone until I learned what safety, love, and healthy relationships looked like. I have had to rely on God A LOT in this time. But I am beginning to see how much better life is when those that respect my boundaries become my closest friends and I am safe to be all God made me to be without the harsh criticism and judgement of those I had to lock out. 

I will always pray those behind the locked gates will learn to set up their own healthy boundaries and learn to respect mine. But for now, I will continue to heal and rest in the safety of my fences. And I look forward to the day, very soon, that our actual fence is complete, and I can let Buttercup out to run until her heart is content and she has chased away all the squirrels that think our pecan tree is their own. 

If you need help learning about Boundaries or setting up your own, I highly recommend the book: Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend and would also recommend going through the book with a counselor or mentor that can encourage you through it.