Boundaries with Mother
Good morning. It’s another fine day in the glorious Emerald City, though I can definitely feel the chilled fingers of autumn reaching out. Today is the first day of school for Seattle Public School students. Full days in person, mostly. I think there’s still some remote learning. It’s going to be an interesting year.
But, moving on. Maybe 20ish years ago, my mother got her first email account. She and her friends all “hung out,” if you can call it that, in the same chat rooms. I have no idea what else they chatted about, but one of the BIGGIES was exchanging jokes. These were not good jokes. They were kind of off color, questionable taste, and — most importantly — really not funny.
I have to state that in my whole life I don’t think I heard my mother ever tell a single joke. Yet here she was, finding all these bad jokes and sharing them. Not re-telling them, but using that other email feature, the FORWARD. Yes, for a brief time she forwarded ALL the jokes. To me. Between 15 and 25 per day.
This was clearly a time to set boundaries. But setting boundaries with a parent can be touchy.
So we had our own chat. Over the phone. I told her the jokes were bad, as in not funny. And there were way too many. And they really were really bad. So I put her on a joke diet. She had choices. She could email me up to three jokes a day. Pick out the “better” ones and forward those. She agreed.
Two things happened.
First, she stopped forwarding jokes. Turns out she never thought they were all that funny either, and just the ease of hitting “forward” was driving it. She thought we all were supposed to “share” stuff (she didn’t read that part of the memo where you’re supposed to “share” good stuff). As a result of the joke diet, when she had to actually go through and select, it was just no longer worth the effort.
Second, it got a little easier for me to set other boundaries, in terms of my state of mind. Just the thought of having to set a boundary can be stressful, accompanied by a whole range of emotions and what-if scenarios. What if she got angry, what if she was upset, what if our relationship was damaged, et cetera. I’d been feeling resentful that I even had to set that boundary. After setting that joke boundary, I felt less resentful about articulating my limits. And when I felt less resentful I was more OK with acknowledging that my mother and I were not going to agree on a lot of stuff, and that was fine, and I could move on without carrying so much extra baggage. And getting into fewer arguments left me in better moods.
I can’t say I planned all that, but I noticed that setting some small boundaries where the other person can agree may just have given me the boost to feel better about other boundaries. Build on your successes.
And while you’re thinking about your next tricky boundary-setting, we cover this in our six-week self-defense courses. Next one begins Sept 11.
Stay safe, live life.