But when I was first introduced to the virtues as a way to live mindfully, and learned that setting clear boundaries was an important Virtues Project™ strategy, I listened.
Betsy Lydle Smith
I was very conflicted about setting boundaries and sticking to them. I grew up in a family where my dad would say one thing and my mom another. We were expected to be "mind-readers." Mom would get angry and say something like, "You never help me; I have to clean the whole house by myself." Dad didn't back her up, and so we kids didn't help either.
No one had ever told me that clear and consistent boundaries create a safe and healthy family. I learned that when boundaries are based on Justice and Respect, they become a foundation for a loving, healthy family life. Children need clear boundaries to feel safe and to have a structure where everyone is respected. Children need to know they can count on the adults to be their guides and protectors.
If Mom and Dad had known how to set clear boundaries, they would have sat down with us and talked about our responsibilities as members of our family. One responsibility might have been that we all needed to help clean the house and do the dishes, and there would be relevant consequences if we didn't. Each person's responsibility would have been discussed, spelled out, and written down with a timeline for it to be completed, ideally done in consultation with the whole family.
At first it was very hard. I often heard myself sounding just like my mother, but with my husband's help, we were able to create those boundaries and hold strong to the consequences when they were broken. Expectations became clear; no one was expected to be a "mind-reader." Boundaries based on the virtues of Justice, Fairness, Respect and Orderliness made it easier to figure out what worked best in our family and for everyone to be on the same page.
Adults also need clear boundaries to safeguard our time and energy and protect us. When boundaries are consistently and lovingly stated, and followed up with relevant consequences and restorative ways to make amends, our boundary issues become teachablemoments and valuable life lessons.
Here's an invitation for you:
Take a look at the Virtue of Respect below. What boundaries would you like to set for your children, grandchildren or yourself? Whatvirtue will be at the foundation? Now, state it in a positive way based on a Virtue. Here are two examples:
"Our family is RESPECTFUL of each other in our words and actions. We refrain from swearing or calling each other names. We listen to each other without interrupting."
"We are RESPONSIBLE for keeping our home clean. Each person's designated chores will be done by Saturday at noon."
Now, it's your turn. Write one boundary based on a virtue or two, for yourself and your family. Discuss it and post it where everyone can see it!
See what happens and email me with your story.
May your day be full of joy and clarity,
If you would like to learn more about setting clear boundaries, consider taking The Introduction to The Virtues Project Online Course.