“We want our lives to feel limitless, so we must learn the art of creating boundaries that protect, nurture, and sustain all we cherish.” -Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
My childhood bedroom was painted light blue and had two windows overlooking the backyard. I had an antique twin spool bed, a large antique dresser on wheels, and a desk. This was my space, and home to my stuffed animals, dolls, books, and other treasures. My brother and sister had their own rooms as well, and when we were little, our schedule included a 30-minute rest time each afternoon. The only requirement was that we spend it alone and quiet in our own rooms. Our parents used to joke with other parents that sending us to our rooms was never punishment for us; we enjoyed those personal spaces.
When I was in grade school, I decided that I wanted a Dutch door for my room. Sawing my door in half was not going to work, so my dad managed to find an old door that could be made into a Dutch door. He painted it and hung it up in place of the old one. I was thrilled! I could have my door three ways: completely open, completely closed, or half-and-half! I loved being able to close the bottom and keep the top open, and that is how I kept it at night. Somehow that old door provided a new type of boundary with more options, freedom, and control. This is what boundaries do for us.
Looking back on my life, I see how each season has challenged me to discover and design new doorways. As we grow and change, so do our needs and relationships. Our boundaries get tested, pushed, and even pounded at times. Our doors may come off the hinges! When I got married, I realized that I had taken boundaries for granted. I joined a family that had no concept of boundaries, and my sense of self-esteem began to weaken. I had to figure out how to navigate this new territory without compromising who I was. It took years of intentional work complete with frustration, tears, and forgiveness, but together my husband and I established the boundaries needed to protect and nurture our own family. Within this circle we had to determine our individual boundaries, and that was another growth process.
Boundary-building was woven into our parenting, and Daughter #1 put us through boot camp. Her strong and spirited nature bumped into the boundaries hard and repeatedly, making sure they were solid. In a brilliant book I was given at the time, “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, I found an empowering new perspective on parenting. Kurcinka says the parents of a spirited child must be strong and confident, setting clear boundaries to make her feel safe and secure. I learned to reframe our daughter’s behavior as I came to understand and embrace her temperament. The new approach reduced tension and stress and led to more effective and empathic parenting. The power of healthy boundaries once again revealed itself to me.
Raising two daughters to adulthood brought us numerous lessons in loving and letting go. My inner spiritual work helped me to recognize and honor the sacred in each of us. In giving them the gifts of responsibility, respect, and autonomy, we helped them shape their own lives. As I learned from my parents, “there are two lasting gifts we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings,” (Goethe). Healthy boundaries protect, nurture, and empower us. They help us to discover our wholeness and build healthy, supportive relationships. They ground us while allowing us to soar.
Unlike walls that we erect out of fear and insecurity, boundaries give us room to stretch, breathe, and grow. We develop greater confidence and clarity as we learn to say ‘no’ to the things that diminish, distract, and drain us. In taking responsibility for ourselves, our feelings, and our choices, we gain self-respect and autonomy. “Saying ‘no’ can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we truly need” (John Robbins & Ann Mortifee, “In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World”). Then we are able to say ‘yes’ to that which brings us joy, energy, and fulfillment. In turn, our relationships will deepen and flourish.
We can create spaces and rituals that support and nurture us, like a room with a Dutch door and daily periods of rest and reflection. We have the option of closing all or part of the door, or opening it wide. The shape and substance of our lives are determined by how well we design and develop those doorways. We can repaint, renegotiate, and reinforce them as we grow and change. We hold the keys and the tools for creating a healthy, balanced life.