Boundaries, in any relationship, are important but can be difficult to set. This is challenging for me because I feel guilty when I disappoint others by disagreeing with them.
Growing up, obedience was one of the most important lessons we were taught. We did what we were told without questioning it. This can seem like a dream for most parents, but what it can do is hinder a child’s ability to learn how to respectfully disagree but also manage when others disagree with them. This does not mean there shouldn’t be structure and rules – there most definitely should be. But as children grow there should be more room for dialogue allowing them to learn to voice their opinions and set boundaries so that they are not placed in situations where they have to sacrifice their values.
I didn’t learn the importance of setting boundaries until I became a mother and not being able to do so earlier is probably the single most impactful source of my anxiety. Let me tell you, establishing these boundaries now is much harder because I had set a precedent of surrendering and changing it seems to cause more disappointment further fuelling my anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
When you do something that is different from the generational norms in your family there is always one comment bound to creep up “we did it with you and you turned out fine”. This may sound like a seemingly harmless comment but for me it is riddled with cynicism. I love my parents and family, but it can be exhausting to be around them constantly justifying my choices and feeling like I’m not enough or my decisions are wrong. I go back and forth and constantly evaluating my choices seeking reassurance from others – this lack of consistency and confidence can only be detrimental to Ayaan who relies on me for stability.
Here is an example – last week my mum asked whether Ayaan has taken to eating solids, which he hasn’t. He doesn’t seem to be interested yet and I am not really worried about it – he will get there when he is ready. She commented that the reason he wasn’t eating was because I didn’t add salt to his food. Now I know that salt is harmful for babies and refuse to give him any and tried to explain this to her. As I drove away though, I couldn’t help but second guess myself and worry that it was my fault Ayaan wasn’t eating – maybe a little salt wouldn’t hurt him and it was more important he starts to eat solids. Days of internal deliberation followed. I felt by disagreeing with my mum I may have made her feel like I am critical of the decisions she made – which is not the case at all.
Boundaries can result in your loved ones feeling left out and less involved and that is unfortunate. As mothers it is imperative that we are allowed to decide how much help we need, and when and how we want it. I don’t think society does a good job of supporting new mothers in their decisions especially when they contradict what tradition and culture dictates. At least this has been my experience. The overwhelming judgement we face can be damaging and isolating.
How do you disagree without disappointing anyone or hurting any feelings in the process? In all honesty, I don’t think it’s possible but I think eventually, with time, these boundaries will be respected. The other option is that you continue to prioritise others needs over yours but this will probably result in resentment towards them. Is that really worth it?
You don’t have to be in a situation or do something that makes you uncomfortable especially when it comes to how you choose to raise your child. Your child, your rules, your boundaries. You decide what level of involvement you are comfortable with. So say NO! Say it with conviction and without any guilt. I am learning to do so slowly. My disagreements are not judgements on others choices; they are merely a reflection of my parenting philosophy.