Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area can be submitted to email@example.com, or anonymously using this form. Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
I’m protective of my alone time for a host of reasons and have gotten backlash for this in my blended family. My S.O.’s kids will regularly be dropped off at our house earlier than they’re picked up to be with their other parent. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme, but it can add up to a point where I feel disrespected and taken advantage of. I’ve found that if I don’t establish boundaries, I get walked on, and if I do, I’m considered hostile. Really, I’m just protective over time I’d established in my calendar as “mine.” What’s the right stance here when flexibility leads to being taken advantage of and clear boundaries make me a witch? I want to express that for the most part, everyone involved is reasonable, but I don’t think anyone really understands why this time might be important to me.
Dear Boundary Witch,
There’s no doubt that setting firm boundaries will get you in trouble with those who don’t want to respect them. So if your main concern is not rocking the boat, then I’m afraid to say you’re out of luck. It’s a beautiful and healthy thing that you are aware of your needs. That’s the first step toward success. The next step is defending them, and that’s not so easy.
You’re very gracious to say that “everyone involved is reasonable.” But I’m not certain you’re correct. Respect doesn’t require understanding — if they were reasonable people who truly respected you, then it wouldn’t be necessary for them to understand *why* you value your time. They would simply trust your judgment. If you want to have a conversation with all parties about this, that might be a place to start: “You have shown that you do not trust my judgment on which aspects of our agreement are important.”
However, that’s a relationship-building thing. It would be a gracious gesture on your part and would likely strengthen communication with your S.O.’s co-parent. But it’s not necessary to the goal of protecting your time. For that, you really do just need to set those boundaries.
In order to convince yourself to set firm boundaries, especially if you’re a person who’s a “pleaser” or who just isn’t comfortable being seen as “a witch,” you need to remember that those boundaries don’t just benefit you, they benefit everyone. If a line is not clear, no one can know when it is crossed, and hostilities can blossom out of control. We all feel that brief glow of freedom when it seems like there is nothing governing our actions — but it quickly evolves into anxiety when we realize that consequences still exist, we just can’t predict them. The key to trust begins with expectations that circumscribe our relationships with clarity.
And it should go without saying that, in establishing these boundaries for yourself, you are setting a valuable example for all of the children in the scenario.
Remember that clear boundaries don’t preclude flexibility—they allow for it. A tree can only bend in the wind if its roots are firm. Once a pattern is established, you can consider deviations on a case-by-case basis. But until your blended family acknowledges your rules, they have no right asking you to break them.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 286.