Touch Down! – Me, Mom & Boundaries

Matt Carla Ben

Therapist Carla Shorts with recent alumni Ben

On a Monday, many years ago, I was instructed to complete the task of cleaning my room or I would not be allowed to go to a football game with my friends that Friday night. Like most 15 year olds, I thought the request was outrageous and that surely my mother would forget about it by the time Friday actually rolled around. Boy, did I misjudge the woman. As I hair sprayed my “mall bangs” (don’t judge, it was the 90’s), my mother came into my room to inspect my progress with the assigned task. She took one look around my discombobulated living space (which I’m fairly sure resembled Calcutta at that point) and proclaimed that I would be staying in for the evening. “Was she actually serious about cleaning my room?!” I wondered.

As fate would have it she was, indeed, very serious and wasn’t being swayed by my feeble attempts to bargain with her. “I swear I’ll do it as soon as I get home!” No dice. My mother made it very clear she would not be transporting me via minivan to my high school football game. There I stood in my carefully picked out outfit and perfectly teased bangs with all the hurt and anger an adolescent girl could muster. Deep in my own crisis, I threw out the biggest weapon in my arsenal, “You are the worst mother in the world and I hate you!” My mother proceeded to tell me she regretted the decision I had made and left me to deal with my sorrow and disappointment.

In the book Boundaries With Kids, Dr. John Townsend states that, “Basically, we change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” That day, I learned that it was going to be more painful to miss the football game than to clean my room. I also learned that my mother was a woman who was going to follow through on her word. By setting that boundary, my mother taught me she wasn’t going to be a woman who made idle threats or tolerated disrespect.

Many years later, when I was an adult, my mother confessed she had locked herself in her bathroom that day and cried over my hurtful words. Looking back, it would have been so much easier for my mother to throw her hands in the air and allow me to go to the football game with my friends. It would have been an infinitely more simple task for her to clean my room herself rather than endure our nasty confrontation. Fortunately for me, my mother wasn’t one to take the easy way out when making difficult parenting decisions. Because I had a mother who didn’t immediately jump in to save me from my pain as a child, I’ve grown to be an individual who can navigate the waters of adulthood in a healthy, independent manner with a sense of knowing that I am responsible for my actions. Because my mother set this seemingly small boundary with me, I learned that I, too, should be a woman who keeps my word and does not tolerate disrespect from others. And for that I am thankful.

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posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (8)