“I’m done.” My son put the car in park and calmly got out of the driver’s seat. “One of you can drive because I’m not.”
Our family was going out to dinner. I was in the backseat with my husband being chauffeured by my two kids. My first reaction was to try and talk my son into getting back behind the wheel. In fact, I said the words, “You could just give your dad another chance to not comment on your driving.” But that was the part of me that likes to smooth things over and keep the peace at all times. The other part of me... the part who teaches about boundaries, who is working really hard to notice when I allow people to cross my line, who is practicing taking care of myself by choosing not to engage in behaviors that make me uncomfortable or pull me away from my center… that part swelled with admiration. And I climbed out of the back and drove us to the restaurant.
Often we think of boundaries as guidelines for other people. How they need to change their tone of voice. What they need to stop doing. But giving other people rules is really an attempt at manipulating them to conform to your ideal. It puts your well-being into the hands of other people. And once you do that, your feelings become totally dependent on how those people act. Which means trying to control what they do or say becomes very important. Basically, you are broadcasting to the world:
In order for me to feel good, you need to behave how I want you to.
And then who gets to choose how they behave and how you feel? They do.
Really, boundaries need to be guidelines for us. How we need to respond when someone yells at us. What we need to do when people do things we don’t like. When we make our own rules, we get to behave how we want to. And take responsibility for our own well-being. When you do that, your feelings are no longer dependent on what other people do or say, you are dependent on yourself. Your actions become important. In this way, you tell the world:
In order for me to feel good, this is what I need to do.
And then who gets to choose how you behave and how you feel? You do.
When we got out of the car, I pulled my son aside and told him that there are often situations in which I want to do what he just did. That I’m not always able to. And that I’m really proud of him. After dinner, my husband apologized. With humility and grace. He even shared his reasons for reacting the way he did. Fear. More specifically, fear of drowning in a car. (They had picked me up at my yoga studio which sits on a river. The edge of the parking lot drops off into the water. My son was backing up to turn around and the whole thing was happening really close to the edge.) We understood. And we laughed. So this quiet, matter-of-fact stance my son took… it opened up a discussion that was full of vulnerability and humor.
With ten words and one action, my son took responsibility for himself. When he stepped out of the car, his message was: When you choose to panic about my driving, I choose to stop driving. He didn’t plead for my husband to change his behavior. There was no anger. There was mutual respect. And then there was an awesome follow-up.
What a great teacher I have.