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Setting and Holding Boundaries

“We have to believe we are enough in order to say, ‘Enough!’”  — Brene Brown

“For women, setting boundaries is difficult because shame gremlins are quick to weigh in: ‘Careful saying no. You’ll really disasppoint these folks. Don’t let them down. Be a good girl. Make everyone happy.’”  — Brene Brown

While we are at it, your husband may be having trouble setting and holding boundaries as well. “For men, the gremlins whisper, ‘Man up. A real guy could take this on and then some. Is the little mama’s boy just too tired?’” — Brene Brown

(Wait! You don’t know Brene!?)

If you are in a same sex relationship and new parents, you have the privilege of the how women experience shame to the power of two.

If you are mothering alone, we all salute you.

Carolyn, a very wise, second time mom shared a story at support group recently.  She shared how she allowed family to come visit her and her new baby the first week after she was born. She let the family know that they could stay until her toddler went down for a nap.

She set a clear boundary.

“Sure! Come over to see baby Layla, but you’ll need to go once Connor is down for his nap.” (She is thinking “I really want to take my shirt and bra off.”)

All was well until the toddler went down for a nap and the family showed no signs of leaving.

Now, see, this isn’t Carolyn’s first rodeo. She knows that she is worthy of saying, “I’ve had enough!”

Carolyn knows she is enough; that’s why she felt empowered literally to yell, “Get the f*uck out of my house!”

Now, Carolyn admits that she maybe could have used nicer words when holding her boundary, but she was 10 days postpartum—the height of sleep deprived, sore, and emotionally depleted. There is no filter.

Carolyn also happens to know her family loves her no matter what crazy word vomit leaves her mouth. It won’t be the last time it happens.

So, my guess is that you, like Carolyn, know how to set boundaries. Or, at least, you know what your boundaries should be. For example, not working during maternity leave including not texting about work with colleague/friends.

So, how do you know where and how to set a boundary? It is easier that you think. Your boundary is pretty close or exactly matching the first thought that pops into your head in response to someone’s question or comment.

What if your husband’s brother (who he isn’t all that close to) and his new girlfriend (who you have met once) want to come over on day five? Your immediate first response: “I really don’t want to worry about my brother-in-law and this chick seeing me looking all a hot, shirtless, puffy-eyed mess right now. I sure as shit don’t feel like making myself presentable or carrying on conversation.”

So, your immediate response is totally right. Too soon. Next week maybe. For 30 minutes. With brownies.

But, as Brene calls them, the gremlins interrupted before you could speak up and set that boundary. The gremlins said, “Don’t let them down. Be a good girl. Make everyone happy.”

So even though the only reason you agreed to let “Uncle Mikey and Crystal” come over was to keep your husband, your brother-in-law, and probably your mother-in-law happy, it wasn’t for your best interest or the best interest of your baby.

Get it? You know the boundary. You know the line you need to draw. You just don’t think you deserve to draw it.

Drawing the boundary is the easier of the two parts of this process, sadly.

The real work comes in holding the boundary.

Carolyn yelled, “Get the f*ck out of my house!” See, Carolyn could have just “been nice” and “let them stay” to “keep the peace.”

I am not sure what feels worse, not having the guts to set a boundary in the first place or compromising yourself by letting someone violate your boundary.

But Carolyn chose to hold the boundary she set. It felt so good to her she proudly told the story to 15 other new breastfeeding mamas at group. We all laughed.

Here’s what you must remember:

It is not within your control whether or not others respect your boundaries.

It is your responsibility to hold the boundaries you set.

But you will only be able to hold your boundary if you think you deserve to have a boundary.

You do deserve it.

Therefore, exercise your God given right to say “Enough!” and set some damn boundaries!

P.S. Holding your boundaries is an awesome thing to do with your partner. Also, he should be a stand-in spokesperson. A postpartum woman can be known to be, well, uncouth and she may sometimes need to not say anything if she can’t say anything nice at all.

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