The Hard Truth About Boundaries

Aug 03, 2021 |

By: Libby Nelson, Professional Certified Coach at 3Be Coaching

It’s no secret to working parents that there are always fewer hours in the day than there are things to be done. There are the things we HAVE to do – work, ensure that everyone in our care is fed, clothed and (relatively) clean, pay bills – but there are also the things we WANT to do, like connect with a friend, squeeze in a workout, be the one to tuck our babies in at night. Our lives are a constant juggle of competing priorities, of deciding what to do and when.

To quote the author Lynne Twist, “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is "I didn’t get enough sleep." The next one is "I don't have enough time.”…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn't get done that day.”

It can feel complicated to sort out what to say yes to and what to say no to when everything feels important. Many high achieving women believe they are successful, at least in part because they have said “yes” to opportunities, requests and responsibilities at work and at home. 

"Women want to be able to do it all—volunteer for school parties, accept new business projects or cook gourmet meals—and so their answer to any request is often “Yes, I can do that.”  RAQUEL BALDELOMAR, FORBES 2016 

Stay late to help finish a project? Yes. Mentor a more junior employee? Yes. Bring in a treat for the daycare St. Patrick’s Day party, help host a baby shower, shop for all of the family holiday gifts? Yes, yes, yes. The desire to feel helpful and cooperative, to be a team player and not be perceived as selfish or “less than” as a parent, partner, colleague and friend can be a relentless taskmaster.

Here’s the hard truth - every time we say yes to something, we are saying no to something else. 

Sometimes those choices have no emotional fallout: If we have chicken for dinner, we say no to fish. But so often, the choices we make DO impact other people and our own personal peace. If we say yes to planning the baby shower, we say no, not just to having that Saturday afternoon with our families, but to the precious downtime we sacrifice to hunt for the perfect decorations, order the cake and track down addresses for the invites. When we say yes to spending dinner, bath and bedtime with our little one, we say no to staying late at the office or online, to taking calls from our co-workers who have “just one more question.” 

Every yes has a no on the other side of it. Getting clear on that can actually help us feel more in control of our lives, not less.

Here’s an exercise to try: 

Sit down and make a list of all of the things that are unequivocally yeses for you. Start with the ones that feel easy: I’m not willing to miss my baby’s birthday or doctor appointments. I want to have a date night with my partner once a month. I’m willing to work late for an emergency at work (provided those emergencies don’t happen every week). I won’t miss church on Sunday or my Wednesday night running group. After your gimmies, consider your negotiables. What are you willing to say no to in order to honor your yeses? Who can you enlist to help you keep those commitments?

In the end, there will always be more left to do and also people that are disappointed that they didn’t make our yes list. That’s okay. Understanding and defining our boundaries is knowing that while we can’t please everyone all of the time, we’re being true to what matters most to us. If most days we can go to bed knowing we prioritize our most important yeses, that’s a big-time win.

P.S. Follow us on Instagram @3BeCoaching. Join us on Facebook.  Connect with Carla Greenan, Founder of 3Be Coaching on LinkedIn. Read and share last week's blog that offers tips on how to cultivate the skill of powerful and effective conversations.

Baldelomar, Raquel. “Why Saying No At Work Can Further Your Career And Improve Your Health.”, February 4, 2016, 

Categories: : Working Parents