Recently, I reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen in a while. My friend is more mature than I, yet during our conversation, something came out that startled me. This person, who has grown children and grandchildren, spends extraordinary amounts of mental, spiritual, and emotional energy carrying their loved ones’ load of loved ones, even to the point of feeling financially responsible for each decision family members made.
What happened next shocked me.
I said, “Their decisions aren’t your financial concern. You get to be their main cheerleader and prayer warrior. How cool is that?”
Yup, without thinking, that came out of my mouth.
Surprised, my friend paused in reciting the litany of troubles. It was inconceivable that my friend wasn’t responsible for a grown child’s decision. The umbilical cord was still connected.
But then my comment came back around and slapped me in the face.
What concern am I carrying that isn’t my decision?
Usually, when we have concerns like the ones my friend mentioned, our boundaries are messed up.
Here are the 5 F’s where our boundaries often fail:
- Finances. When our kids prepared for college, there were some financial forms to fill out if they wanted to get student loans. My husband and I found it interesting that the college wanted to know OUR income. Why? We weren’t applying to attend their college. Our income was none of their business.
In the same way, it is not appropriate for anyone to randomly ask another person about the specifics of their income.
Unfortunately, I haven’t held this boundary well. Because of my neglect, I’ve asked and been asked inappropriate financial questions. Depending on someone else to help you live beyond your means is a sure sign of poor boundaries. A mature person is financially responsible.
- Future. What you choose to do to make a living is your choice. You don’t need your parents’ approval or permission.
In the last couple of years, my children have all made various career choices. Good for them! They get to do that just like you, and I do.
You can tell if you’ve got a broken boundary here if you, as a parent or friend, feel like you have any part of this decision. You may not agree with the choice, but you don’t need to. It’s their life and choice. You get to cheer them on and pray for them like crazy.
- Fences. In Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” you find the often quoted phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors.” There’s truth in this phrase.
Think about your home for a minute. You have a door and walls to protect your space. If you have a house, you have a property line. Maybe it’s fenced; maybe not. Again, your space. When your neighbor’s dog, crosses into your yard and leaves a daily deposit, you don’t like it. Not your dog; not your mess to clean up. Wisely, and graciously, you ask your neighbor to respect your yard (boundary) and keep his dog out.
Personal boundaries define where you begin and end.
In Drs. Townsend and Cloud’s book, Boundaries, you learn that establishing healthy boundaries is an act of love toward those around you. Boundaries have nothing to do with another person; they are all about understanding and defining who you are. Read this book this year.
- Family. Whether your family is the best or not-so-great, maintaining healthy boundaries is tough. They need constant shoring up. As a parent, my friend held a mirror up for me about allowing my children to live their lives according to their plan.
I haven’t done this well all the time. My children, thankfully, courageously point out my boundary-busting words and actions. They are right. I’m grateful they do.
My dad used to say, “I won’t live in your pocket, and you don’t live in mine.” He wasn’t just talking about finances. My dad, not a perfect man, did respect my right to make decisions and mistakes and learn from each one. I believe he trusted God enough to allow Him to deal with me. That’s a heritage I’m proud of and continue to learn from.
- Fears. You and I have them. Often we break boundaries out of fear. We don’t want our child or loved one to experience pain, so we interfere believing we are protecting them. Sometimes, we are right to interfere—your child is running into a busy street after a ball. However, when we attempt to control every aspect of someone’s life because we are afraid they might get hurt, we hamstring that person from maturing through natural consequences.
When your college student doesn’t land that six-figure dream job, but the student loans are coming due, will you allow them to work two or three jobs for a season to get out of debt? Or, will you start paying their bills?
When your husband comes home late each evening and doesn’t call to let you know, will you hold dinner for the entire family or will you feed the kids and yourself, and put a plate of leftovers in the refrigerator for him to eat when he decides to show up?
Are you so concerned about what others think about how your home looks that you max out your credit cards to create a Pinterest-worthy look?
Your child left their homework and lunch home again. Will you take the missing items to your child or let them face the natural consequences of their forgetfulness?
Do you live with an addict or are you one? Facing the fear of naming an addiction and overcoming it involves establishing healthy, often painful boundaries.
At the end of our conversation, my friend thanked me for bringing some perspective. I needed it too. How about you?
I encourage you to read the book, Boundaries if you haven’t. If you have, reread it. This is one area of your life and mine that needs constant work.
How healthy are your boundaries?
Remember, it’s not about them; it’s about you. You can’t change or control anyone.
Are you struggling with boundaries related to addiction? Do you live with someone who is battling addiction or you suspect is? I can help.
My husband was addicted to pornography, and I am addicted to food. BUT we found a way out. We chose a way beyond the stranglehold. One fundamental discovery I made is that my past describes me but does not define me. There is freedom along with a new life for you, too. If you need help, please reach out. I promise to listen without judgment and help you take the next step.