Setting boundaries is important for everyone’s well being.
It happens all the time. You get a text or email from a friend, relative, co-worker, or your boss asking you to do a favor, something that’s not part of your daily routine or job description. “Sure, no problem,” you say, because it really isn’t a problem, and you’re happy to do it. But the next day you get another invitation to be selfless and generous. And after awhile, it seems like a lot of your free time (of which you have little) and a lot of your extra money (of which you have less) is spent giving to others.
That’s wonderful, right? Giving to others is one of the most rewarding experiences for humans — it’s been scientifically proven. Donating money to a charity, volunteering at a community event, or spending time with people who are suffering not only benefits the receivers’ lives, but also enriches the givers’ lives.
Except when it doesn’t.
Like when that same friend asks you to pick up her kids from school a little too often. Or when that one relative is continually down on his luck, and could once again use a little money. Or when your mother-in-law guilt-trips you into visiting that cousin you really can’t stand because she broke her leg and could use a home-cooked meal. Or when it seems like you’re the only one at the office who volunteers to organize the holiday party.
Sometimes giving to others feels exhausting and the very opposite of rewarding.
And that’s when it’s okay to say, “No.” “No,” after all, is a complete sentence. And it’s not a dirty word.
“No” is a way to set a boundary. And boundaries are important for everyone’s well being.
Personally, as a woman, wife, and soon-to-be mother, I find there are more expectations for me to volunteer to do unpaid work and generous tasks than there are on my husband. I know that many men volunteer their time; my husband and my father are very generous, and I’ve seen so many men in action at my church who volunteer much of their lives to charitable work. However, I do believe it’s expected that I, as a woman, wife, and a work-from-home-soon-to-be-mother say yes to every task asked of me when it involves helping others.
But when I don’t say yes, when I decide that I don’t want to spend my time volunteering for a task, or visiting with someone I’m not fond of, or dropping everything I’m doing to last minute help out someone in need, I feel (and maybe I’m just projecting) that others look at me as selfish.
Ah, selfish. No one wants to be labeled selfish. It’s the ultimate insult and a card that can be pulled anytime you don’t do something someone else wants you to do (which actually means that they’re selfish).
But it’s not selfish to set boundaries. And it is not your job in life to satisfy other people. It’s also not your job to continually solve other people’s problems.
Being expected to help others who are truly incapable of helping themselves is understandable. But being expected to rescue someone who poorly manages his time, or volunteering for a task that is someone else’s responsibility is not.
Maybe life was easier when communities were smaller and families lived in the same house. You know, back when “it takes a village” was truly the way children were raised and communities were run. I do wonder, however, if the village that raised those children and ran those communities were really just a group of women — grandmothers, mothers, and teenaged daughters who were expected to dedicate all of their time to caring for others.
In fact, I’m starting to think that’s exactly how so many communities and families were able survive. Because women rolled up their sleeves and did the dirty work. They said yes to every single request, ignoring their resentful feelings because if they did speak up they’d be shunned by society and abused by their families. Other women would also ostracize the outspoken women, because the fewer women around to help out meant the more burdens on the women who were too afraid to say no.
But what would have happened if all the women went on strike? If they actually enforced boundaries?
I’m not sure. But I am sure that I’m not going to give in to anyone’s unfair expectations of me. I’m setting firm boundaries and I’m saying no when I believe it’s right to say no.
And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.
Because no is not a dirty word.