Cats, Kids and Chickens; Setting Compassionate Boundaries

If you’re anything like us, you may struggle with setting healthy boundaries with your kids and other people (and things) in your life. We know that boundaries are an important part of self-care and yet, they can also be incredibly challenging. Join us, the Mental Health Mamas, as we talk about boundary setting during lots of “together” time, some of our own strict boundaries and some of the boundaries we are continuing to work on.

Notes and Mentions

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Serena: Hi, everyone. I'm Serena.

Tina: And I'm Tina.

Serena: And we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to our No Need to Explain podcast. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, a quick disclaimer as always, we come to you not as mental health providers or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You can find resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: So Serena, what is on your mind today?

Serena: I have been thinking about all of the time that we've been spending in our homes in a really small space. So that’s my family and that would be my husband, three kids, two cats, a dog and six chickens. So I have been thinking about boundaries.

Tina: Wait. You have chickens in your house?

Serena: Uh, well, we did. They were adorable when they were little, little fuzzy chicks. And then they very quickly took over one of the rooms in our house as they grew. Thankfully, they are no longer in our house, and they can go establish their own boundaries within their coop. But I have to share that the moment we moved them out, my youngest was in there cleaning the room and I totally thought she was being helpful.

Tina: And she just wants the room.

Serena: Yeah, measuring tape in hand. Yeah, she too, is trying to find her own space. So, what about you? Has establishing boundaries been a challenge for you too during this time?

Tina: Absolutely. So you know that my work is often driving around in a car from school to school. And now I am home a lot and my husband is working from home. He has a very stressful job. And I’m trying to block out his stress and do my own thing which has been quite an amazing challenge during this time. And the other boundary challenge I have is because my kids don't live here. They're older and they live independent lives by themselves, in a place about 250 miles away from me. Which is kind of awesome for them. I’m glad they’re living these independent lives and they often want to call and talk. And sometimes their timing is different than our timing. And so, I’ve tried to be respectful of their timing and ask for that same boundary of respect for our time which doesn’t always work out. And I also struggle with answering the phone, right? So, for so many years we answered the phone because we knew it was an emergency and it’s hard for me still not to panic or my husband will say, “Just ignore the call. It’s fine. You can ignore the call” and I’m working on that because it is hard for me still.

Serena: Yeah, it’s that, that what if, right? Always. Yeah. So, we have the privilege, I will say, of being two working parents at home right now and I'm so grateful that my husband and I have both been able to work from home. And our three kids are doing school virtually and so that's a lot of people in a small space. We were using the outdoors a lot during the summer for workspace and other things just to kind of be able to spread out. But, you know, now that the weather's changing, I'm feeling a little frantic, a little panicky. And I'm not always the best at communicating my needs.

Tina: Really? And I guess that's part of what I'm for, right? I can continue to ask you what you need, Serena.

Serena: Mmhm. Yeah, yeah, but truly, I would say it's clear in the bigger picture that we don't necessarily understand even physical boundaries. I mean, like, as humans, right? And perhaps I might need more physical space than some, but I think we've probably all had the experience of someone perhaps you don't know well, standing uncomfortably close and you really wanna back up and you don’t wanna seem rude, and mostly I just end up standing in a really awkward position.

Tina: Yes, so I totally understand that even though I am a close person. I certainly have experienced people who stand a little too close to your bubble and that can be a little uncomfortable. I'm also picturing your house and your people. You have more people than I do clearly in your home and always have because you have more kids than I have and yet, I think about asking for the space that you need no matter what your situation is, right?

Serena: Right, right. Yeah, it’s hard. And there's the sort of literal idea of boundaries in that we're all supposed to be at least 6 feet apart right in public right now. And it's clear that we don't understand that, given the stickers on the floor everywhere showing us what 6 feet apart means. Tina, I'm remembering that you had an experience recently with this?

Tina: I totally did. So as I said, my kids live away and I was mailing them packages at the post office and we live in a college town, right Serena? So there are lots of students who have come back to campus. There’s been quite a bit of concern about the pandemic and having them gather when we choose not to. So I was in the post office and there were two young women who were standing behind me. As if there were no pandemic they were creeping ever closer to me. And I ended up turning around and saying, probably in a not so kind way because I was getting anxious about it. You know, do you all see those things on the floor? They’re there for a reason and it was really uncomfortable. Being there physically was uncomfortable and speaking out was also uncomfortable. So, it was weird. It was weird.

Serena: So the question is, did they back up?

Tina: They did back up after looking at me like I was the wicked witch. And yes, they totally did back up.

Serena: Well that's good. Yeah so, I know you're a hugger and so I'm thinking that that particular boundary, in terms of not being able to hug people, that must be tough for you right now.

Tina: It is very, very tough. I have socially distanced with people, especially when the weather was much nicer out we would have a little bonfire or whatever. And just to see those people who I hug all the time and not being able to hug them was very, very difficult. And I was with my mom and that was tough too. Your first, my first instinct is to give someone a hug and it just makes me sad and it’s very, very hard. And I know you're not a hugger.

Serena: Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t say so that I'm not a hugger. I just, I’d say I'm more like a cat.

Tina: True, true. A cat. OK. Go ahead. Explain that to our people, Serena.

Serena: OK. So, I know that you are not a cat person.

Tina: I am a dog person. Self-outed. Dog person.

Serena: But really, it occurred to me the other day that I'm kind of like a cat. I've owned or well, more like, been owned by, as cat people know, several different cats. And each one had, like a different touch out point, you know, like you're petting them and they're very happy. And then they scratch you or bite you. So it's not like I dislike physical touch, but I do get touched out fairly easily, at which point I might lash out.

Tina: Oh, my. That is a great description. And, yes, for sure. She’s never bitten me, by the way. And I have hugged her before. Many times. Yeah, I think that scratch point is pretty long for me. What did you say?

Serena: So like your touch-out point?

Tina: Yes, exactly.

Serena: Yeah, yeah, so I think maybe it’s more like a dog? Not that I’m calling you a dog. But I think of my dog who never gets tired of getting petted.

Tina: Yes. And, although, interestingly, we have this new puppy. And my other dogs will lay down right in your lap, although they’re 40 pounds and not lap dogs. You could pet them forever. One of them nudges your hand every time you stop petting her. This puppy is a little bit different and I always say to her every morning that she has bad boundaries because she seems to not relax. And she is a little more like a cat dog, and that was an old cartoon that my kids watched, cat dog. It was a weird cartoon, but anyway. She wants to be near you but she keeps backing away when you touch her so, it’s, it’s just very interesting.

Serena: So I have to share that my middleist (as she refers to herself), my middle child, on the other hand, she's the opposite of me. And honestly, I find that really hard to manage at times. So, if I'm angry or upset, I don't want to be touched and she's really the exact opposite. She's very kind and loving and wants to give me a hug because that’s what she would want in that moment. And then, honestly, I feel like a terrible mom if I don't always want the hug.

Tina: Yeah, you are the furthest thing, I will tell you, from a terrible mom. You are not. It just seems to me that you are super aware of what you need. And you’ll remind your people of what you need, which is good. So I would encourage you to remind yourself about what you need because you clearly have your boundaries that you need to tell people about.

Serena: Yeah, I know I need to give myself permission to set boundaries. And I also know that if I don't we are all miserable and unfortunately we have experienced that before. I know intellectually that my needs are important and that my kids need to see this and learn and respect it and yet, I still feel a little guilty sometimes.

Tina: I totally hear you. I totally hear you.

Serena: Yeah, so I've been wondering, thinking about if it’s even possible right now to separate work and life and family and self? And in many ways it feels like we're all parenting 24/7 with few or no breaks. And I wonder if we’re supposed to be available all times? Are we allowed to set boundaries?

Tina: Yeah. So boundaries are so important in the scheme of parenting, right? I’ve learned a lot. Again, my kids are older. So, not that we don’t have a lot of parenting left in us cause we certainly do and boundaries are super important. And so, for example, you know, we moved a lot, and there was a lot of guilt that came with moving because it was an adult choice to move, not a kid choice to move. I remember one of the therapists saying to us, “You know that it's okay for your kids to see you cry, right? Like, that’s OK, right?” And it was such permission because I didn’t think that was an OK boundary. I did not think that was okay for my kids to know that I was feeling super sad about leaving my friends and you know, leaving the place we knew for so long. But yet, I think one of my kids never cried. She’d get very angry, she would throw things. There were a lot of things that went on, and all I would think to myself is I wish she would just cry. And yet, what did I do? I didn’t cry when it was a time I was feeling really sad because I had never set that boundary. I had never talked openly about that.

Serena: Yeah, it's so tricky to, you know, try to hold the emotions for our kids and acknowledge our own at the same time. And I have to share that one boundary that we do strictly enforce in my house is around the news. All three of my kids literally arrived in this world anxious and just seeing a headline can send them into a total tailspin. So we don't watch any sort of news because it's just too much. And I know for myself I have to be really careful about how many alerts and notifications I allow into my life, electronic or otherwise. I get a little overwhelmed when everything's dinging and beeping. And if I consume too much info, then I shut down and nothing gets through which is no good either. So I'm curious, Tina. Is there anything that you are really boundaried about? Either you or your family?

Tina: You know my number one, super duper boundary.

Serena: I do?

Tina: You do, you do! My number one thing. My number one boundary is sleep.

Serena: Oh, right. Of course. Sleep.

Tina: I have been out with some people and at 10 p.m. I turn into a pumpkin and it's just something you know about me, it’s something I know about myself. I need to go to sleep at 10 o'clock and I am so very boundaried about that. We’ll be in the middle of a show we're watching, and 10 o’clock, I will say to my husband, “It's 10 o'clock. You just need to put it on pause and we’ll see it another time.” And he's like, “Aren't you going to finish? We only have 20 minutes left.” Nope, I'm going to bed. I am very boundaried about sleep. I would also agree with the boundary during the pandemic. Well, I will say twice in the history of my life I’ve been boundaried around news. One, to protect my kids. My kids were little during 9/11 in 2001 and we did not watch any news at all. And now I just watch, I will watch one half hour of the news and then that’s it. I cannot, I cannot watch much more than that.

Serena: Mmm. Yeah, it's so hard because you want to stay in the loop and not oversaturate yourself right now. So here's a vulnerable question for you.

Tina: Love vulnerable questions.

Serena: What boundary do you secretly want to set? But maybe you're a little afraid to do so?

Tina: Oh wow, that’s a great question, but I did say I love vulnerability, didn’t I? So, I would say if I were to reflect on poor boundaries in my life as a mother, maybe. I wish I had established more exercise time that was much more intentional for myself. And while my kids are really good exercisers now, they were not growing up. We just didn’t make that part of our life. It was not a priority. And it's such an important thing for all of us and as I get older I really wish I had done that myself. I just never prioritized it and wish that I had. So, what about you?

Serena: So, even though I shared that I'm really good about not over saturating myself with news and information, I am so attached to my phone. And I think that’s, that's where the fear comes in, right? The not wanting to be away from my phone, not wanting to miss a call or know something that's going on. I think this is where we started this episode, right? And I think this is something that's happened to a lot of people right now. We all know when the numbers are gonna come out at the end of the day, right? And it may be different for different places.

Tina: Mmm. Yes, well, I don’t.

Serena: Oh, you don’t? You don’t check the numbers? Well, that is definitely something I always want to check. I want to know what's going on and that's all attached to my phone. And I think it's kind of like a security blanket and I feel like I'm hanging on to it so that I have maybe just a tiny bit of control in my life right now.

Tina: Yeah and I’d say when I say I don’t, I think that the other person who lives in my home is obsessed with it and I just think it’s a block for me whether I’ve set that boundary consciously or whether I just kind of ignore it, I don’t want to know. Boundaries are a super big topic. As I’ve said, we will certainly revisit this in the future, I’m sure, in lots of our conversations. So we wanna thank you for allowing us to be vulnerable in front of you and we would invite you to think about what boundaries you secretly want to set and might be a little bit afraid to do, to do so. We’re here to help you feel empowered to be a better parent and a better person. And again, we are just doing the best that we know how to do. Right, Serena?

Serena: That is right. We would love for you to send us an email about the boundaries you would like to set or share any other feedback you have for us. You can send it right from our website,

Tina: And if you like what you're hearing, please leave us a review, subscribe and tell your friends. We are so glad you are here joining us.

Serena: Until next time, here is our gentle reminder, as always, to take good care of yourself while also taking care of your people.

Tina: See you next time! Bye!

Serena: Bye!