Establishing Healthy Boundaries

I recently presented at a conference for adoptive and foster parents. My assigned topic; Building Healthy Relationships and Boundaries with Your Biological Relatives. I was excited when the topic was first assigned to me. There are many books on the subject of boundaries, so preparation should have been easy, except that I couldn’t find many on the subject on healthy boundaries with biological relatives for adoptive and foster families. And so I encountered a challenge immediately; I’d have to confront my own issues and experiences to do the topic justice.

Boundaries are interesting and most people are reluctant to establish them, but Brene Brown reminds us that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” So much wisdom and beauty in her words, but to get to the place she suggests requires effort and intentionality.

Remember The Alamo

What images come to mind when you think of Texas? Most of us think of cowboy hats, horses, longhorn steer, the Dallas Cowboys, JR Ewing, oil fields, and of course The Alamo. So much of Texas is tied to the events that took place there in 1836. Colonel William Barett Travis was the commander at the mission during the Battle of The Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836). He wrote a letter on the second day of the battle (February 24) To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World asking for reinforcements during the siege which he famously signed “Victory or death”.

One the penultimate day of the battle (March 5) he drew a line in the sand between him and his men and said, “I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line.” All but one of his men stepped across the line.

How many times have you drawn a line in the sand when something far less drastic would have been sufficient?

We all too often embrace our inner William B. Travis when it comes to boundaries in our relationships. We need to remember that a boundary and a line in the sand are not the same things. Victory or death is rarely a healthy posture in relationships. It’s important to remember that boundaries and ultimatums are not the same things. If we don’t, our recognition that most relationships don’t require ultimatums will manifest itself as an unwillingness to establish healthy boundaries. Once you draw a line in the sand you remove most of your ability to be flexible. That’s a problem because flexibility is more than a friend, it’s your ally.

Just another brick in the wall

Let’s face it, none of us had the unconditional support of our “people” when we decided to grow our families the way we did. I can’t remember many (if any) stories of extended family and friends rejoicing at the news that there were plans to adopt or foster. This was an issue for us for a long time until we realized that no one dreams of becoming a grandparent through adoption, and no one hoped to become a foster grandparent. So we have to give them the grace we want for ourselves.

But we also have to recognize that there are some hurts associated with our decision to adopt or foster, many which stem from the (real or perceived) lack of support we received from those close to us. And those hurts manifest themselves when it comes to establishing healthy boundaries. We need to make sure that we don’t build walls in the name of healthy boundaries. Yes, a wall is a boundary, but it is rarely the best relational boundary.

Healthy boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships

One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is the presence of healthy boundaries. They can be difficult but are necessary for relationships to grow and develop. We all agree that people should not be able to say what they want, do what they want, have unrestricted access, etc. in a healthy relationship. The problem is that most of us can easily see that for others and not for ourselves. Adoption and foster care requires us to see the need for healthy relationships not only for ourselves but for our kids too.

So, why am I so convinced that boundaries are healthy? Because God is the one who established boundaries. Creation is an ordered environment because of the boundaries that He established. I won’t get into details about the life of Job in this post (you can read a summary of the book of Job HERE) but God speaks to him starting in Chapter 38. And the first thing He addresses with Job is boundaries, specifically those in the physical world.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ – Job 38:4-11

We learn from that text that boundaries are created to keep order and for our protection. Imagine a world where the ocean has no limit; a world where He didn’t say “Here your proud waves must stop!” I don’t think we want to imagine that world because I’m yet to hear of the person who looks forward to a flood.

So Why Can’t We Establish Healthy Boundaries?

The past affects the future but does not have to determine it is something I firmly believe. Stated another way, your history brought you to where you are but does not have to decide where you go. Coming to terms with why we do what we do is a crucial part of being a connected parent.

Most of us learn two lessons from our parents; how to do things and how to not do things. This reality will inform our ability and desire to set healthy boundaries…or not. If you had emotionally unavailable parents growing up (I won’t get into attachment styles here) one of two things happened, you set out on a quest to gain their approval, or you lost interest in trying to get their approval and stopped trying. Neither of those positions will allow you to set healthy boundaries. If you are still seeking approval you won’t risk upsetting your family so you won’t establish. If you gave up on gaining approval you’ll build a wall every time a boundary needs to be established.

Here’s an example, your kids don’t do well with unannounced guests, but you have family close by. You have three options. One, say nothing and let them come over unannounced whenever they please. That’s not good because you placed their feelings above your kids. Two, you can tell them that they may only come over when invited. That’s unnecessarily harsh. Or three, tell them that they need to let you know if they are coming over before they head over. For those who don’t respect boundaries, only option one will work for them, but that doesn’t mean that you need to take that option.

Do It for the Kids

So why should we work to establish healthy boundaries? Why should we do the hard work necessary to come to terms with who we are? Simple really, we have children. The day we welcomed our kids home we promised them that we would protect their story. Some of the most difficult boundaries we had to draw were related to our kid’s stories. There are details that we know but are their privilege to share. There are times when that simple truth wasn’t so simple to communicate because people feel like you are shutting them out if you don’t share everything. That is simply not true, our kids need us to stand our ground for them.

That does not mean that we can shut people out. We have to explain why the boundary needs to be established. Those we are in relationship with deserve to know why we have established a boundary. Explaining the need behind your decision will go a long way to building a healthy relationship even when boundaries are necessary.

One of the promises we made to our kids the day they came home is that we would serve as the guardians of their story until they were at a place where they could do it for themselves. That’s our responsibility

That Sounds Good, But What Now?

Establishing healthy boundaries gives you an opportunity to practice you connected parenting skills. This is an opportunity to practice outside of the moment if you need to. This is an opportunity to find your voice. This is an opportunity to give choices. This is an opportunity to compromise. This is an opportunity to grow.

This post originally appeared on Ryan’s Blog.

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Address Book Address Card adjust Air Freshener align-center align-justify align-left align-right Allergies ambulance American Sign Language Interpreting Anchor Angle Double Down Angle Double Left Angle Double Right Angle Double Up angle-down angle-left angle-right angle-up Angry Face Ankh Fruit Apple Archive Archway Alternate Arrow Circle Down Alternate Arrow Circle Left Alternate Arrow Circle Right Alternate Arrow Circle Up Arrow Circle Down Arrow Circle Left Arrow Circle Right Arrow Circle Up arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up Alternate Arrows Alternate Arrows Horizontal Alternate Arrows Vertical Assistive Listening Systems asterisk At Atlas Atom Audio Description Award Baby Baby Carriage Backspace backward Balance Scale ban Band-Aid barcode Bars Baseball Ball Basketball Ball Bath Battery Empty Battery Full Battery 1/2 Full Battery 1/4 Full Battery 3/4 Full Bed beer bell Bell Slash Bezier Curve Bible Bicycle Binoculars Biohazard Birthday Cake Blender Blender Phone Blind Blog bold Lightning Bolt Bomb Bone Bong book Book of the Dead Book Open Book Reader bookmark Bowling Ball Box Box Open Boxes Braille Brain Briefcase Medical Briefcase Broadcast Tower Broom Brush Bug Building bullhorn Bullseye Burn Bus Bus Alt Business Time Calculator Calendar Alternate Calendar Calendar Check Calendar with Day Focus Calendar Minus Calendar Plus Calendar Times Calendar with Week Focus camera Retro Camera Campground Candy Cane Cannabis Capsules Car Alternate Car Car Battery Car Crash Car Side Caret Down Caret Left Caret Right Caret Square Down Caret Square Left Caret Square Right Caret Square Up Caret Up Carrot Shopping Cart Arrow Down Add to Shopping Cart Cash Register Cat certificate Chair Chalkboard Chalkboard Teacher Charging Station Area Chart Bar Chart Line Chart Pie Chart Check Check Circle Check Double Check Square Chess Chess Bishop Chess Board Chess King Chess Knight Chess Pawn Chess Queen Chess Rook Chevron Circle Down Chevron Circle Left Chevron Circle Right Chevron Circle Up chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up Child Church Circle Circle Notched City Clipboard Clipboard with Check Clipboard List Clock Clone Closed Captioning Cloud Alternate Cloud Download Cloud with (a chance of) Meatball Cloud with Moon Cloud with Moon and Rain Cloud with Rain Cloud with Heavy Showers Cloud with Sun Cloud with Sun and Rain Alternate Cloud Upload Cocktail Code Code Branch Coffee cog cogs Coins Columns comment Alternate Comment Comment Dollar Comment Dots Comment Slash comments Comments Dollar Compact Disc Compass Compress Alternate Compress Arrows Concierge Bell Cookie Cookie Bite Copy Copyright Couch Credit Card crop Alternate Crop Cross Crosshairs Crow Crown Cube Cubes Cut Database Deaf Democrat Desktop Dharmachakra Diagnoses Dice Dice D20 Dice D6 Dice Five Dice Four Dice One Dice Six Dice Three Dice Two Digital Tachograph Directions Divide Dizzy Face DNA Dog Dollar Sign Dolly Dolly Flatbed Door Closed Door Open Dot Circle Dove Download Drafting Compass Dragon Draw Polygon Drum Drum Steelpan Drumstick with Bite Taken Out Dumbbell Dumpster Dumpster Fire Dungeon Edit eject Horizontal Ellipsis Vertical Ellipsis Envelope Envelope Open Envelope Open-text Envelope Square Equals eraser Ethernet Euro Sign Alternate Exchange exclamation Exclamation Circle Exclamation Triangle Expand Alternate Expand Arrows Alternate External Link Alternate External Link Square Eye Eye Dropper Eye Slash fast-backward fast-forward Fax Feather Alternate Feather Female fighter-jet File Alternate File Archive File Audio File Code File File Contract File CSV File Download Excel File File Export Image File File Import File Invoice File Invoice with US Dollar Medical File Alternate Medical File PDF File Powerpoint File File Prescription File Signature File Upload Video File Word File Fill Fill Drip Film Filter Fingerprint fire Alternate Fire fire-extinguisher First Aid Fish Raised Fist flag flag-checkered United States of America Flag Flask Flushed Face Folder Folder Minus Folder Open Folder Plus font Font Awesome Full Logo Football Ball forward Frog Frowning Face Frowning Face With Open Mouth Funnel Dollar Futbol Gamepad Gas Pump Gavel Gem Genderless Ghost gift Gifts Glass Cheers Martini Glass Alternate Glass Martini Glass Whiskey Glasses Globe Globe with Africa shown Globe with Americas shown Globe with Asia shown Globe with Europe shown Golf Ball Gopuram Graduation Cap Greater Than Greater Than Equal To Grimacing Face Grinning Face Alternate Grinning Face Grinning Face With Smiling Eyes Grinning Face With Sweat Smiling Face With Heart-Eyes Grinning Squinting Face Rolling on the Floor Laughing Star-Struck Face With Tears of Joy Face With Tongue Squinting Face With Tongue Winking Face With Tongue Grinning Winking Face Grip Horizontal Grip Lines Grip Lines Vertical Grip Vertical Guitar H Square Hammer Hamsa Hand Holding Hand Holding Heart Hand Holding US Dollar Lizard (Hand) Paper (Hand) Peace (Hand) Hand Pointing Down Hand Pointing Left Hand Pointing Right Hand Pointing Up Pointer (Hand) Rock (Hand) Scissors (Hand) Spock (Hand) Hands Helping Hands Handshake Hanukiah Hashtag Wizard's Hat Haykal HDD heading headphones Alternate Headphones Headset Heart Heart Broken Heartbeat Helicopter Highlighter Hiking Hippo History Hockey Puck Holly Berry home Horse Horse Head hospital Alternate Hospital Hospital Symbol Hot Tub Hotel Hourglass Hourglass End Hourglass Half Hourglass Start Damaged House Hryvnia I Beam Cursor Icicles Identification Badge Identification Card Alternate Identification Card Igloo Image Images inbox Indent Industry Infinity Info Info Circle italic Jedi Joint Journal of the Whills Kaaba key Keyboard Khanda Kissing Face Kissing Face With Smiling Eyes Face Blowing a Kiss Kiwi Bird Landmark Language Laptop Laptop Code Grinning Face With Big Eyes Laugh Face with Beaming Eyes Laughing Squinting Face Laughing Winking Face Layer Group leaf Lemon Less Than Less Than Equal To Alternate Level Down Alternate Level Up Life Ring Lightbulb Link Turkish Lira Sign List Alternate List list-ol list-ul location-arrow lock Lock Open Alternate Long Arrow Down Alternate Long Arrow Left Alternate Long Arrow Right Alternate Long Arrow Up Low Vision Luggage Cart magic magnet Mail Bulk Male Map Map Marked Alternate Map Marked map-marker Alternate Map Marker Map Pin Map Signs Marker Mars Mars Double Mars Stroke Mars Stroke Horizontal Mars Stroke Vertical Mask Medal medkit Neutral Face Face Without Mouth Face With Rolling Eyes Memory Menorah Mercury Meteor Microchip microphone Alternate Microphone Alternate Microphone Slash Microphone Slash Microscope minus Minus Circle Minus Square Mitten Mobile Phone Alternate Mobile Money Bill Alternate Money Bill Wavy Money Bill Alternate Wavy Money Bill Money Check Alternate Money Check Monument Moon Mortar Pestle Mosque Motorcycle Mountain Mouse Pointer Mug Hot Music Wired Network Neuter Newspaper Not Equal Medical Notes Object Group Object Ungroup Oil Can Om Otter Outdent Paint Brush Paint Roller Palette Pallet Paper Plane Paperclip Parachute Box paragraph Parking Passport Pastafarianism Paste pause Pause Circle Paw Peace Pen Alternate Pen Pen Fancy Pen Nib Pen Square Alternate Pencil Pencil Ruler People Carry Percent Percentage Person Entering Booth Phone Phone Slash Phone Square Phone Volume Piggy Bank Pills Place of Worship plane Plane Arrival Plane Departure play Play Circle Plug plus Plus Circle Plus Square Podcast Poll Poll H Poo Poo Storm Poop Portrait Pound Sign Power Off Pray Praying Hands Prescription Prescription Bottle Alternate Prescription Bottle print Procedures Project Diagram Puzzle Piece qrcode Question Question Circle Quidditch quote-left quote-right Quran Radiation Alternate Radiation Rainbow random Receipt Recycle Redo Alternate Redo Registered Trademark Reply reply-all Republican Restroom Retweet Ribbon Ring road Robot rocket Route rss RSS Square Ruble Sign Ruler Ruler Combined Ruler Horizontal Ruler Vertical Running Indian Rupee Sign Crying Face Loudly Crying Face Satellite Satellite Dish Save School Screwdriver Scroll Sd Card Search Search Dollar Search Location Search Minus Search Plus Seedling Server Shapes Share Alternate Share Alternate Share Square Share Square Shekel Sign Alternate Shield Ship Shipping Fast Shoe Prints Shopping Bag Shopping Basket shopping-cart Shower Shuttle Van Sign Alternate Sign In Sign Language Alternate Sign Out signal Signature SIM Card Sitemap Skating Skiing Skiing Nordic Skull Skull & Crossbones Slash Sleigh Horizontal Sliders Smiling Face Beaming Face With Smiling Eyes Winking Face Smog Smoking Smoking Ban SMS Snowboarding Snowflake Snowman Snowplow Socks Solar Panel Sort Sort Alpha Down Sort Alpha Up Sort Amount Down Sort Amount Up Sort Down (Descending) Sort Numeric Down Sort Numeric Up Sort Up (Ascending) Spa Space Shuttle Spider Spinner Splotch Spray Can Square Square Full Alternate Square Root Stamp Star Star and Crescent star-half Alternate Star Half Star of David Star of Life step-backward step-forward Stethoscope Sticky Note stop Stop Circle Stopwatch Store Alternate Store Stream Street View Strikethrough Stroopwafel subscript Subway Suitcase Suitcase Rolling Sun superscript Hushed Face Swatchbook Swimmer Swimming Pool Synagogue Sync Alternate Sync Syringe table Table Tennis tablet Alternate Tablet Tablets Alternate Tachometer tag tags Tape Tasks Taxi Teeth Teeth Open High Temperature Low Temperature Tenge Terminal text-height text-width th th-large th-list Theater Masks Thermometer Thermometer Empty Thermometer Full Thermometer 1/2 Full Thermometer 1/4 Full Thermometer 3/4 Full thumbs-down thumbs-up Thumbtack Alternate Ticket Times Times Circle tint Tint Slash Tired Face Toggle Off Toggle On Toilet Toilet Paper Toolbox Tools Tooth Torah Torii Gate Tractor Trademark Traffic Light Train Tram Transgender Alternate Transgender Trash Alternate Trash Tree trophy truck Truck Loading Truck Monster Truck Moving Truck Side T-Shirt TTY Television Umbrella Umbrella Beach Underline Undo Alternate Undo Universal Access University unlink unlock Alternate Unlock Upload User Alternate User Alternate User Slash User Astronaut User Check User Circle User Clock User Cog User Edit User Friends User Graduate User Injured User Lock user-md User Minus User Ninja User Plus User Secret User Shield User Slash User Tag User Tie Remove User Users Users Cog Utensil Spoon Utensils Vector Square Venus Venus Double Venus Mars Vial Vials Video Video Slash Vihara Volleyball Ball Volume Down Volume Mute Volume Off Volume Up Vote Yea Cardboard VR Walking Wallet Warehouse Water Weight Hanging Weight Wheelchair WiFi Wind Window Close Window Maximize Window Minimize Window Restore Wine Bottle Wine Glass Alternate Wine Glas Won Sign Wrench X-Ray Yen Sign Yin Yang 500px Accessible Icon Accusoft Acquisitions Incorporated App.net Adobe Adversal affiliatetheme Algolia Alipay Amazon Amazon Pay Amilia Android AngelList Angry Creative Angular App Store iOS App Store Apper Systems AB Apple Apple Pay Artstation Asymmetrik, Ltd. Atlassian Audible Autoprefixer avianex Aviato Amazon Web Services (AWS) Bandcamp Behance Behance Square BIMobject Bitbucket Bitcoin Bity Font Awesome Black Tie BlackBerry Blogger Blogger B Bluetooth Bluetooth BTC Büromöbel-Experte GmbH & Co. KG. BuySellAds Canadian Maple Leaf Amazon Pay Credit Card American Express Credit Card Apple Pay Credit Card Diner's Club Credit Card Discover Credit Card JCB Credit Card MasterCard Credit Card Paypal Credit Card Stripe Credit Card Visa Credit Card Centercode Centos Chrome cloudscale.ch Cloudsmith cloudversify Codepen Codie Pie Confluence Connect Develop Contao cPanel Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution Creative Commons Noncommercial Creative Commons Noncommercial (Euro Sign) Creative Commons Noncommercial (Yen Sign) Creative Commons No Derivative Works Creative Commons Public Domain Alternate Creative Commons Public Domain Creative Commons Remix Creative Commons Share Alike Creative Commons Sampling Creative Commons Sampling + Creative Commons Share Creative Commons CC0 Critical Role CSS 3 Logo Alternate CSS3 Logo Cuttlefish Dungeons & Dragons D&D Beyond DashCube Delicious Logo deploy.dog Deskpro DEV deviantART DHL Diaspora Digg Logo Digital Ocean Discord Discourse DocHub Docker Draft2digital Dribbble Dribbble Square Dropbox Drupal Logo Dyalog Earlybirds eBay Edge Browser Elementor Ello Ember Galactic Empire Envira Gallery Erlang Ethereum Etsy ExpeditedSSL Facebook Facebook F Facebook Messenger Facebook Square Fantasy Flight-games FedEx Fedora Figma Firefox First Order Alternate First Order firstdraft Flickr Flipboard Fly Font Awesome Alternate Font Awesome Font Awesome Flag Font Awesome Full Logo Fonticons Fonticons Fi Fort Awesome Alternate Fort Awesome Forumbee Foursquare Free Code Camp FreeBSD Fulcrum Galactic Republic Galactic Senate Get Pocket GG Currency GG Currency Circle Git Git Square GitHub Alternate GitHub GitHub Square GitKraken GitLab Gitter Glide Glide G Gofore Goodreads Goodreads G Google Logo Google Drive Google Play Google Plus Google Plus G Google Plus Square Google Wallet Gratipay (Gittip) Grav Gripfire, Inc. Grunt Gulp Hacker News Hacker News Square Hackerrank Hips HireAHelper Hooli Hornbill Hotjar Houzz HTML 5 Logo HubSpot IMDB Instagram Intercom Internet-explorer InVision ioxhost iTunes Itunes Note Java Jedi Order Jenkis Jira Joget Joomla Logo JavaScript (JS) JavaScript (JS) Square jsFiddle Kaggle Keybase KeyCDN Kickstarter Kickstarter K KORVUE Laravel last.fm last.fm Square Leanpub Less Line LinkedIn LinkedIn In Linode Linux lyft Magento Mailchimp Mandalorian Markdown Mastodon MaxCDN MedApps Medium Medium M MRT Meetup Megaport Mendeley Microsoft Mix Mixcloud Mizuni MODX Monero Napster Neos Nimblr Nintendo Switch Node.js Node.js JS npm NS8 Nutritionix Odnoklassniki Odnoklassniki Square Old Republic OpenCart OpenID Opera Optin Monster Open Source Initiative page4 Corporation Pagelines Palfed Patreon Paypal Penny Arcade Periscope Phabricator Phoenix Framework Phoenix Squadron PHP Pied Piper Logo Alternate Pied Piper Logo Pied Piper-hat Pied Piper PP Logo (Old) Pinterest Pinterest P Pinterest Square PlayStation Product Hunt Pushed Python QQ QuinScape Quora R Project Raspberry Pi Ravelry React ReactEurope ReadMe Rebel Alliance red river reddit Logo reddit Alien reddit Square Redhat Renren replyd Researchgate Resolving Rev.io Rocket.Chat