When we talk about boundaries, many of us refer to keeping others out of our “space,” whether that means physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. But in her book, Ready to Talk, Insights therapist Mary Sanger reminds us that boundaries actually work in two directions: “It’s your job to determine how closely you let others in, and also your job to contain yourself so that you don’t intrude on someone else’s boundaries,” she says. Boundaries can be tricky because they are different for each person and in each situation.
And then … even trickier are boundaries during quarantine.
When COVID lockdown began five plus months ago, many of us found ourselves suddenly surrounded (24/7!) by family members who were typically away from home during the day or evening—either at the office, or in school, or playing sports, or at summer camp or a friend’s house. Spouses who once traveled frequently set up makeshift offices for hourly Zoom calls in the dining room. Kids were either learning online via a shared computer in the kitchen or asking at 10 am when lunch would be served (or both). Unless you live in a large house, boundaries these days look very, very different and they are tricky, indeed.
How can you set or maintain boundaries when physical space and opportunities for separation are limited? Here are some simple tips to help you:
- Don’t be afraid to ask family members for what you need (e.g., one hour alone daily in which you can read, take a bath, exercise, etc. without interruption).
- Carve out personal spaces for everyone and respect them (e.g., mom and dad’s bedroom is off limits for kids’ TV lounging; the playroom is off limits to mom or dad’s webinars; if someone is using the dining room as a work space, the table should be cleared before dinner time, etc.).
- If you’re lucky enough to have your own home office, post signs on the closed door to let others know when you’re on an important call or online meeting (this will save a lot of frustration with loved ones, not to mention potential embarrassment among co-workers).
- Rather than resorting to pent-up anger and yelling, maintain open, even communication about things that are bothering you, and respect others when they do the same. Practice using “When you/I feel/I’m asking” statements. For example, “When you leave food all over the counter soon after I clean it, I feel frustrated and disrespected. So, I’m asking you to please wipe down the counters every time you use the kitchen.”
- For younger children easing back into school, establish a firm online/study schedule. Little ones will undoubtedly need your assistance, but if you set aside a specific time to help them rather than fielding questions throughout the day, things will go more smoothly (hopefully!).
Respect for others begins with self. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, even during (and perhaps, especially during) difficult times. As Brené Brown so elegantly says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”