A Lesson in Boundaries

Mommy motto to remember

Despite what you may think based on the split second captured and filtered on Instagram, E and I have been struggling with finding our groove when it comes to playtime. Seeing all these parents so joyfully accepting—even reveling—in their little ones messes has brought on the mommy guilt big time. And while there is a time and place for messy play (specifically, in the backyard, after I've had my coffee), there is also nothing wrong with setting limits that you are comfortable with. We tell our children that they should be true to themselves, while at the same time sacrificing so much of ourselves in the name of "good parenting".

Any dishonesty in a relationship will eventually lead to resentment. The cracks are tiny, but they are there. Over time, they will turn into breaks that are harder to repair. This therapist me speaking to future me; it's a lesson I need to keep repeating to myself.

E and I have been painting together. I am not an artist. I do not have the skills to turn her scribbles and splotches into beautiful collaborative pieces. I am a student. I need space to make my own mistakes without having to make the most of her mistakes contributions.

Halfway through every art exploration session, I hear her ask, "What are you doing, Mommy?" But that's not her real question. What she wants to know is "Why are you doing something without me?" How dare I! Without fail, she asks to join me. Sometimes, I don't mind and I let her. Sometimes, I do mind—I'd just figured out how to freehand a flower or I liked the shade of blue I'd mixed—but I let her anyway. That's what good mommies do, right?

Then it hit me: No wonder I get so upset by the smallest acts of defiance—paint mixed with the wrong colors in the pan, water spilled on the floor. I had sacrificed something important to me for her happiness and this was the thanks I got? But my sacrifice was not coming from an honest place of love and generosity. And it was causing a crack.

Today, I painted a floral border. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty to me, for a first attempt. Today, when she asked if she could paint on my paper, I said no. Then I calmly placed my work where she couldn't reach it and offered her a blank sheet of paper that we could explore on together. And play continued without missing a beat, we even got a bit messy, and I enjoyed it, honestly.

Janet Lansbury writes about boundaries on her blog, how they lead to freedom, how they "are and look like love." I couldn't agree more. When we know where the fences are, we can dance without worrying about falling off the edge.