“No Thanks”

Great Wall of China

Janet Lansbury wrote a great article on her website, Elevating Child Care. I was particularly moved by her observations about personal limits. As a trauma survivor, I struggle with setting boundaries. In recent months, I have come to see this as a two-step process. One step is garnering the strength to speak up about my boundaries. This has taken time and practice, since for so long, speaking up was absolutely prohibited. The other step is knowing what those boundaries are. This is actually proven to be the more difficult step. It requires a new level of self-understanding.

For a trauma survivor in an adult relationship, setting boundaries is challenging. With children, the process of healthy boundary creation is just short of rocket science. Recently, I have realized that I spend most of my daily energy trying to stay calm as my children invade my personal space. Boundary invasion comes in many forms. As I become aware of these forms, I am getting better at addressing them in a positive manner.

My physical boundaries were the easiest to address, but not because my kids respect my physical space. I am a human jungle gym like all parents with small children. The anxiety I felt about these boundaries was just easier to understand. I know my physical boundaries were never respected as a child, so my reaction made sense. I also find it easier to ask for my space when I need it. “You can’t sit on my lap right now, but you can sit next to me.” “You can climb on me, but try to keep your very sharp elbows out of my stomach.” I can do that.

One challenging physical boundary involves sharing my things with my children. They always want to play with my stuff. Why? Because it belongs to me of course. Unfortunately, my past experiences don’t encourage a generous spirit on my part. In my childhood, my things were not respected. When a family does not respect body boundaries, they usually don’t stop there. Recently, I have realized that my ability to share has a direct reflection on their ability to share. I have started to make different choices. I still don’t let them play football with my glass collectibles or mess with my work computer, but I have been a bit more generous with the non-breakables.

Some boundaries are less obvious because it may only be an energetic intrusion. When my twins start to run around the house, chasing each other and screaming, there is boundary invasion. It took me a while to recognize that. I can feel my anxiety rise as the volume goes up in my house. My internal control-meter starts to go off. The situation gets less and less predictable as the intensity rises. As someone with a trauma background, predictability has always been critical, because traumatic situations always happened when there was chaos.

The most significant challenge in my relationship with my children is determining the definition of “no”. I have struggled with holding my ground after I have said no, because in my childhood, I wasn’t allowed to use that word. Unfortunately, this sends the message to my kids that I will change my mind if they just persist. No means maybe. On the bad days, I have to ask them to stop an activity many times before they stop. The more times I have to say it, the more my anxiety builds, because if my kids don’t respect my “no”, I feel unsafe. If there is any time that I am going to yell, this is what causes it.

My children aren’t the only boundary invaders in my house. I do it to myself. I violate my personal limits. I don’t know when enough is enough … until it is too late. I will try to get just one more thing done. I will schedule five appointments in one day and forget to eat. I will stay up late organizing some part of the house even though I have to get up at the crack of dawn. I will actually push myself until I am whining. When I ignore my need for self-care, it never ends well. I become intolerant and impatient. With small children, intolerance does not create a good family environment.

Recognizing and responding to my personal boundaries is critical to my success as a trauma survivor turned parent. Ignoring my own needs for physical space, quiet and downtime will always create a parenting moment that I would like to forget. I have heard that I need to love myself before I can love another. For a child abuse survivor, boundaries provide that love.


21 thoughts on ““No Thanks”

  1. You know I can’t honestly imagine having children often because of all that you’ve blogged about, being touched, in my personal space, lack of sleep, triggers. I’d be afraid that I would be too much like the father.


      • I know several abuse survivors who choose not to have kids or could not have children. It was actually challenging for me. Child sexual abuse can do major damage to the reproductive system. I will say that abuse survivors can transform the world in so many ways that don’t involve having their own children (as I am sure you are aware).


      • It’s sad that abuse robs that too. For us it was Hubby who couldn’t but, we went through 3 rounds of IVF and I lost them all. So I wasn’t carrying either, I often wonder if it was do to abuse in general, but also the trauma of IVF. You’re right we can still make a difference in the lives of children and adults. 🙂


  2. I am not a survivor, and yet, I identify very strongly with what you write. Your description of the energetic intrusion of the twins playing loudly is very insightful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.


    • Thank you Andrea. I think that most parenting difficulties run a continuum. I have learned that many parents without traumatic backgrounds relate. I love that. It makes me feel like there’s a little more company on this journey. 🙂


      • Hello! Yesterday I have discovered your blog and I am reading it since then. I am so sorry for everything that happend to you. I see you so brave and strong and I admire to you (to your inner child I give a big hug). I am not a trauma survivor but I can very much relate to your parenting struggles 🙂 Thanks to Janet Lansbury I did an enormous improvement and every day is more easier.


      • Thank you Marina. I am so glad you found me. And I am glad that my writing speaks to you. Janet is an amazing teacher. I have learned so much from her also. I am so grateful that she supports me through her sharing of my writing.


  3. Even as a self aware survivor/MSW/Social Worker….I have issues with my anger responses to my kids. It’s a constant source of conflict for me…


    • This is so hard for all of us. I find that my anger responses to my kids are a projection of my anger toward myself or my parents (or just an inability to handle my anxiety on that particular day). Keep up the good fight.


  4. Pingback: Repost: “No Thanks” | The Falco Project

  5. Your article was so helpful. I just had one of those days. I had stretched myself, was tired, and then reacted to everything my kids did. Upset with myself for getting angry. But encouraged realising that others also live with this everyday conflict in parenting young children.


  6. I am a survivor too. I struggled with many of these things. Like you said, I find that first simply recognizing why I am anxious or frustrated helps a lot. Then if I still need space, I just state what I need like I have the right to it, even though I might not believe that all the way! “I am going to lay down for a few minutes while you play.” “I don’t want you to crash into me. It doesn’t feel good.”

    I reassure myself that if I recognize that I need something and then calmly ask for it, I am also modeling that for the kids I work with. Sometimes it is easier to take care of yourself if you know you’re also taking care of someone else.


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