Getting On With It — Week Ten

Establishing Boundaries

My journey to buying a townhome. Below are links to previous stories. 
Week Seventeen of 52-Week Writing Challenge.

Credit: Skyler Smith on Unsplash

As humans, particularly free-wheeling Americans, we tend to regard boundaries as evil. They limit, confine and conform us, keep us from expanding, experimenting, and adventuring. Or do they?

Personal boundaries are a favorite of self-help writers and success advocates. Learn to say no. Protect your time. Put yourself first. Set limits. Admirable platitudes on paper but herculean feats in life, particularly for women. Aren’t we the caregivers — the ones who sacrifice for our children, husbands, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, careers, churches? We stay home with the babies while our partners work, play golf, go fishing. We juggle jobs and diapers, playdates and soccer games, romantic evenings and PTA meetings. No boundaries. Little personal space or private time.

Although, having adopted a teenager, I was not a natural mother and missed child-rearing responsibilities during my parenting years, I was the caregiver for elderly and challenged family members — my husband’s and mine. Boundaries were unknown when I was helping my father pee or cleaning up my alcoholic sister’s vomit. And, although I did not raise a baby or young child as a mother, I have been deeply involved in raising my two grandchildren, now ten and eight. Again, no boundaries during those years as an adult caregiver or my late-in-life years raising grandchildren.

Probably and oddly, my most challenging limits have been with my bookkeeping clients. I have an overly-developed sense of responsibility and loyalty. A client can treat me like crap, and I stay. Not because of the person but because of the work. I will get the work done no matter what. Each job feels like a child that I nurtured. It’s difficult to let go when I anthropomorphize the responsibilities of my career.

Now that my grandchildren and daughter have moved out and my husband and I are moving to a smaller place, I am exploring boundaries. How much time do I volunteer to watch the grandkids? How many hours will I work for a client?

Placing limits is uncomfortable for me. I feel weak, unkind, stingy, selfish, and guilty. I gave notice to a client last week, explaining that my personal situation is changing and I want to stop working 50 to 60 hours a week. I only work for his office on weekends, and I am tired of working every weekend. He gave me the what-will-I-do-without-you spiel. Not a surprise that I was left feeling weak, unkind, stingy, selfish, and guilty. But, I know letting him go is the right thing to do — the best decision for my husband, my grandchildren, and me. And, yet, it is still unbelievably distressing for me to do.

When I have my grandchildren on Saturdays, I want to be with them, not at an office working while they sit at a conference table reading, doing homework, or watching movies on laptops — and, sadly, this happens regularly. I don’t want to leave my husband alone at home on Sundays, so I can work for some guy who is probably playing 18 holes of golf.

I realize that not having boundaries is precisely what has limited me and kept me from expanding, experimenting, and adventuring. I don’t have time for any of that as long as serving others is my primary concern.

This piece is being written late in the week because I worked until 8 or 9 pm every night this week. I squeezed in a few poems while eating lunch or right before bed but didn’t have time to write anything longer. This week has been rough but no rougher or tougher than my 60+ hour weeks during the first three months of this and every year. But, now I am paying attention to my time and noticing how little I get for myself, my interests, or the people I love.

Our move is triggering me to think differently. I want more time for writing, photography, and reading. Taking long walks with my husband is high on my list. Enjoying the time left with my two elderly dogs is also a must-do. Funny how one life-changing event leads to even more transformative decisions.

Boundaries are like the guardrails on the Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, when you walk on the bridge, you are limited by those railings, but still, the view is astounding, and, best of all, you don’t careen off the sides into the chilly water below. I have been floundering in those cold waters for a lifetime, and from down there you don’t see the gorgeous vista of life — you just paddle furiously to stay afloat. I am so tired of paddling furiously. Now is the moment to get back on the bridge and move forward.