So…you’re in a situation where someone says “hey, can you help me out on the weekend?” and you immediately scroll through what your plans look like. Do you have something to do? Do you want to do it? Do you want to help this specific person? Do you have the resources to help? Do you have something you’d rather do instead?
- Going to say “let me get back to you? (Because you have self-respect and want to give yourself time to process)
- Going to say “no, sorry I have plans”? (Even if you don’t have plans)
- Going to say “I’d rather not”? (Because you’re honest) or,
- Going to say “yes! No problem”? (Even if you are not sure you can swing it)
I’m a “say-yes-and-bitch-about-it-later-woman”. I know it benefits the people around me, and they think it’s pretty great, because it generally gets them out of a pickle. But for me-I think it’s a bad quality to have. I think it sucks for my fiancé because, he has to hear the “bitching”, but it really sucks for me because, I am constantly kicking myself in the ass for agreeing or committing myself to something that I just don’t want to do. It also sucks, because the guilt and anxiety that I have when trying to get out of it could eat me alive!
Boundaries? What are those? I am the worst at this! Two years ago, I began going to counselling with one of the most incredible people I have ever met. She was also the spouse of someone who went to jail and so therefore, there was a kinship and an upspoken bond between us. She just got me! She was really honest with me about the fact that my biggest problem was that I was incapable or unwilling to create safe and healthy boundaries for myself. She was very clear that the lack of boundaries in my life would result in feeling resentful, tired and unappreciated. Boy was she freaking right!
After my fiancé’s accident, I had moved in with him at his Mom’s house, moved in with the kids, took on a parental role that happened prematurely, my boyfriend was charged, we bailed him out and the court dates started. After the accident, I had taken on the responsibility to be the primary breadwinner, the sole driver in our quick family of 5, and most challenging the emotional support and caregiver to my boyfriend. I was a “say-yes-and-bitch-about-it-later-woman” on steroids during this period of time, except the “bitch-about-it-later” didn’t come for about 5 years after the accident.
I went into my relationship young, inexperienced and frankly insecure. These traits steered my ship into making decisions that I just would not make today. I am a little wiser and a little more secure in who I am and what I bring to the table. I wanted so badly to prove who I was to my fiancé and the kids. It was purely ego-driven because I wanted recognition to enforce my need to be here in this family and reinforce my decision to stay! My insecurity in my position with my fiancé and the kids powered my choices to over-do it in many situations. I said yes, because I was fearful of the repercussions I would experience if I said no. I worried that if I didn’t over-do it, then I would be of no use to my fiancé and the kids. So, I said yes, over and over again until I crossed every boundary I could! Then…I hit a wall. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to create some healthy guidelines for what I was willing and capable of doing, but that can be so hard once you’ve established a precedence!
The worst part about hitting a wall though is the recoil. How do you take back your role to people who are now dependent on you? How do you start to create boundaries around money, your time, your resources and your energy when all of these things have made 4 people’s lives easier? How do you create boundaries when this is how an entire family has survived over the last 5 or 6 years? Well. Honestly. I don’t know if I have a direct answer because, I am still navigating this.
After talking with a friend and colleague about parenting, there were a couple things that came to light. When a Bio-Mom says “I really need a break”, listeners celebrate their advocacy! The listeners encourage the Bio-Mom to take the time away from their family that they need (whether or not someone steps in to help is another issue). When a Step-Mom says “I really need a break”, listeners will say “well, you know what you signed up for” and in most cases, I can honestly say I would just refrain from those words to stay away from judgement, or worry that someone would assume that I can’t handle what I signed up for. I really struggled with telling my fiancé that I needed a break in fear that he would think that I didn’t want this anymore- because my entire relationship in this family is based on choice, not obligation. I would internalize and worry that he would feel rejected or that he would think that I was rejecting the kids. So, I didn’t create that boundary. My counsellor was right, I began to get resentful.
I ran around, all over town, doing everything that I could for my fiancé and the kids. Working all day, coming home, running around in the evenings and passing out at night. I had very little time for myself during the week, and I had very little alone time with my fiancé. I was running out of steam and started to lose momentum. I just couldn’t up-hold the energy that was needed to keep everyone happy and attending the things that they wanted to do. The counsellor was right again, I got tired!
I was feeling resentful because I didn’t have breaks. I was losing steam, going a mile a minute and feeling like I needed to be everything to everyone. I was just running ragged, running out of energy and not saying anything to anyone about it. I was boiling over in my head thinking that my feelings were not being considered in our family. I felt as though I was being used for what I was contributing to the equation. I was starting to feel like maybe no one wanted me here, for me, but for what I brought to the family. And this is when the counsellor was right for the third time, I started to feel unappreciated. I was exhausted!
They say when you hit rock bottom that you have nowhere to go but up. And that is so completely true. I had hit the bottom and started to grasp at anything I could. I would pick fights with my fiancé just so that I could sit alone in my room (to get a break and rest). I would get whiny with him to hear that he appreciated me, when really, I just pissed him off! I acted like a child because I was too afraid to voice my ACTUAL feelings and needs, so I had mini-adult-tantrums! So embarrassing! I was afraid to share my thoughts and feelings with him because I worried that he would think that I was not cut out for this!! The craziest thing happened though. When I started talking like an adult, expressing that I needed a break, that I was losing steam, that I wanted to spend time doing things that I loved again, that I wanted to have more time with my fiancé, that I didn’t want to run around every night, that I could actually say no; people listened and didn’t want to dispose of me. The fear of the recoil wasn’t actually that bad! I had realized that my fiancé and the kids legitimately didn’t know I was feeling any of the things that I was feeling because believe it or not, they weren’t mind-readers! Go figure!
I can’t say I have totally figured out the art of creating the initial boundary, but honestly, I have learned a couple things through my recoil process. People actually care about your feelings when they love you! Gosh, what a revelation! My family does care about my needs regardless of when I need to say “no”. My people know that when I say “no” it’s because I can’t and I do not need to justify or make excuses for my decision. The decision just….is! That is so empowering in and of itself.
No more saying yes and bitching about it later.
We can just be! We can just exist and we don’t need to over-do it. We don’t need to prove anything. We don’t need to exhaust ourselves through our efforts. When we are loved, and loved for who we are, our loved ones want us to feel happy, appreciated, valued and safe in our home. We can avoid all of the pressures that we put on ourselves to uphold standards that are not sustainable. I still need to work on setting the initial boundary, but in going through this massive recoil, I have realized that if I can say “no”, after I have said “yes”, that maybe saying “no” off the hop won’t be so hard!
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.