(I want to preface this by saying I do not claim to be an expert by any means, but I have lived a LOT of *hard* life, from which I wish to share my learnings and best practices.)
I have always been good at time management and task management. However, having children changed that. And with each additional child, I struggled more and more. By the third child, I began to feel overwhelmed. Not only did my panic attacks return (I was plagued by them as a child and young adult, but thought I had outgrown them with age), but I had to seek support though medication – something I had never had to be on for very long to manage my anxiety. But the medication that had worked for me in the past wasn’t working this go-around, and as pressures of being a working mom and wife mounted, I found myself in the darkest place I had been in since teenage years – only at the ripe old age of 45. I don’t cry easily, but I found myself crying DAILY – over seemingly nothing. Things that used to roll off of me just brought me to my knees. It was a tough time.
For starters, a visit to a psychologist and a medicine change were in order. But once that was under control, I began to evaluate how I was balancing my time between work and home – and how I was failing miserably. You see, I can be a workaholic. Career and work have always been a priority for me. While many young women dream of finding a husband and having kids, my focus has always tended to be more career-minded – and if the other stuff happened, that was great too. And so being a mom has been a challenge for me to find healthy boundaries – boundaries at work, boundaries at home, and boundaries within myself.
As most start off their year with resolutions of losing weight or getting organized, mine are centered around living my best life within these new boundaries. Here’s how I created boundaries to help reduce my stress and find enjoyment in life again:
BOUNDARIES AT WORK
PROBLEM – With the technologies available in today’s workforce (and working an HR role in the service industry, which is open more than Monday-Friday 8-5), I felt like I was constantly ”on”. I would get texts, phone calls, and emails from the 80+ team members (which includes about 15 leaders of various levels) at all hours of the day, 7 days per week. Everyone had my personal cell phone number and was not afraid to use it. While I had my phone on ”do not disturb” from 10pm-7am, it wasn’t enough. I would awake to 3 texts that had come through overnight from team members about scheduling or complaints about a leader or whatever. And so when I would pick up my phone in the morning, that would be the first thing I would see, which would already put me in a stressed mood before the day had even begun.
SOLUTION – I created a Google Voice phone number, but I chose to NOT route those calls and texts to my regular phone – meaning that I HAVE TO LOG IN to an app to check the messages. Then I blocked all team members from my personal cell, so that they can only reach me through that number. (I did NOT block our leaders, so that they can access me whenever needed – which is necessary in my line of work. However, it should be noted that they don’t typically reach out to me at odd hours unless there is a true urgent situation.) I also removed work email from my cell phone. By doing both of these things, I have been able to compartmentalize work, allowing me to focus on my family (or even ”me” time) without being interrupted. It has been a GAMECHANGER.
BOUNDARIES AT HOME
PROBLEM – My biggest issue with my time at home is that I was still trying to work while also making dinner, helping kids with homework, and doing all of the normal mom/wife things. Once I drew the boundaries for work, I found that I was able to focus 100% on helping my kids with their homework – which meant I was less frazzled and was able to extend more patience in helping them, which resulted in a MUCH easier homework process for all involved. But sometimes I replaced the work that I was doing with household tasks, and I still found myself saying, ”I can’t; I’m busy right now; maybe later”.
SOLUTION – I am at a place in my life where I can unapologetically say I have hired a house cleaner that comes every other week. It is AMAZING! She gives our master bathroom and kids’ bathroom a deep clean, as well as sweeps and mops my floors, and then she dusts once per month. That’s it. I still do my laundry and cook and things like that, but just having those few things off of my plate has made SUCH a difference. Additionally, I have pledged this year to spend one-on-one time with at least ONE child each month (rotating, so that each child gets a special one-on-one time at least once per quarter). And I am trying to have date night with my husband once per month – nothing fancy, but again, that uninterrupted one-on-one time. I have also just generally been trying to be mindful of being ”present” for my family – whether it’s watching a show or movie together, doing something crafty together, or even just going shopping together.
BOUNDARIES FOR ”ME”
PROBLEM – Let’s be honest: the first few years of being a mom leave virtually NO time for Mom. Those first couple years with baby are just feeding, changing diapers, and trying to grab an hour or two of sleep when we can. When they hit toddler stage, we’re chasing them around to keep them safe (“don’t put that in your mouth”, ”slow down”, ”watch where you’re going”, etc). And then they get potty-trained, but maybe we’re still assisting with a butt wipe every now and then, and they are always hungry, and we’re doing laundry all the time, and picking up AAAALLLLL the toys. It takes a WHILE to get to where they are relatively self-sufficient for most hours of the day. I am FINALLY getting there – to where they can sort of entertain themselves and don’t require constant supervision.
SOLUTION – I discovered (or rather, RE-discovered) my love for painting during the first year of the pandemic. The kids and I painted SOOO many things during those first few months of being homebound. But then I sort of let life get in the way again and stopped. Then last year, one of my goals for the year was to get back into reading. My goal was one book per month (so 12 for the year). I was SUCH an avid reader as an elementary school kid, but once I started having to do it for school, I lost that love – for decades. But last year I ended up reading 14 fiction books! I loved having that time for ”ME” – an escape doing something I love. So this year I have set a couple of new ”me” goals: 1) to paint at least one painting per month, and 2) to blog at least twice per month (I also love writing). Getting back into these creative activities relaxes me, allows me to have time for ME, but – most importantly – doing something that I LOVE to do. Getting wrapped up in ”life”, I had forgotten what doing something for ME was like. I’m not talking about getting a massage or getting my hair and nails done. Those things are great too, and definitely needed in their own right. But there is something to be said about engaging in an activity where you lose track of time and you are ”all in” on whatever it is you are doing – known as ”flow”.
As I try to guide the young adults that work for our team, I see mistakes that I wish someone would have told me about at their age – mistakes that I had to learn about the hard way. Here are some other best practices for boundaries that I suggest:
- HAVE FRIENDS THAT YOU DON’T WORK WITH – If your social circle only includes people that you work with, you are treading on dangerous ground. Not only may you find yourself in a lonely place if you ever change jobs, but you risk perpetuating the complaints and negative vibes from work ALL. THE. TIME. When with these people outside of work, you will inevitably still talk about work – and let’s be honest: those conversations don’t usually include the positive aspects of work. So find some friends that you can hang with that have nothing to do with your current job. You deserve the release from work, and those friends are more likely to follow you wherever you end up. (You can still hang with people from work – just be choosey about how often.)
- HAVE A HOBBY – Have an activity that provides you with the ”flow” I mentioned above. Even if you are single, don’t work all the time just because you can. Read. Paint. Exercise. Play music. Write. Draw. Play a sport. Do SOMETHING that allows you to forget ”life” for an hour or two.
- HAVE FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF YOUR ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP – A mistake that I see a lot of young people make is spending AAAALLLLL of their free time with their romantic partner. This is simply not healthy. While you may be in love and have all the feels, you need to maintain friendships and hobbies that have nothing to do with that person. You need to maintain your own sense of identity and not morph into what you *think* your significant other wants you to be. Just like with having friends from work, spending all of your time with your significant other allows no time for YOU. You need that release. You need to be reminded of who you are. And you need an outlet for those interests that you may not share with your significant other. DON’T LOSE THAT.
- IT’S BETTER TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE FOR THE 5 MINUTES TO SAY ”NO” THAN THE HOURS YOU WILL LOSE SLEEP BECAUSE YOU SAID ”YES” – I actually took this one from Brene Brown, so I can’t take credit for it. But it is SOOO true. Yes, it is uncomfortable to tell people ”no” sometimes. But it is even more agonizing when you say ”yes” to something that you SHOULD have said ”no” to – but now you’re stuck, and you HAVE to do it, but you really don’t wanna (or don’t have time, or whatever), and you’re miserable. Learn how to say ”no” if you truly don’t have time or don’t want to – it’s ok to be honest! (By the way, if it’s because you just don’t want to – the best way to say ”no” is to say, ”I don’t really think that’s my jam, but I would love to help you __________.” Then you aren’t just shutting someone down – you are being honest, but also offering what you ARE willing to do.)
I hope you have found these suggestions helpful. What best practices do you have for setting boundaries?