A boundary marks the very edge or outer limit of something. In personal relationships, boundaries can be physical, emotional or spiritual, and they involve both what is input into the self from the world around us, as well as what we put out into the world. A great deal of work in therapy takes place in the way the boundaries between therapist and client meet and relate. Knowing our boundaries is important, but what about when they are redefined through pregnancy and parenthood? How do we define our new boundaries as they expand in many ways and contract in others?
In times of great change and transition, our personal boundaries shift, though the shift may be one we need to work a little bit to shape and make meaning of. A concrete example of how our physical boundary might change is in the body of the pregnant mother. Her physical boundary while pregnant is very different than while not-pregnant as the outer edge of her body has expanded. Even more, her body is literally inhabited by another person. An example of how an emotional boundary might change is in the ways that "parents' brains are remodeled to protect, attune with, and plan for their infants." Prior to baby, our brain was (pretty much!) our own. Now it's being remodeled!? Do we have any say? Well, yes and no.
Some of the changes that happen to parents are purely biological. Many are cultural, and others are inter-personal. The latter two changes are ones in which we have a say, and that say is an important one to consider and define on our own terms in the ways that will best support our personal and family structures.
Our culture may be one that tells us that mothers are to be cherished and nurtured in the postpartum period or it may be one that tells fathers they must return to work despite having a preemie newborn at home. Often the messages new parents get are paradoxical and contradictory and have so very little to do with us, really. The task in defining our boundary in the context of cultural constructions (and realities) of parenthood is to identify what serves us and makes us stronger, and what to discard and ignore.
Our interpersonal boundaries are exercised and stretched, too. We may need help from family but want it to be in a way that feels right. Perhaps you want a few days or weeks at home to bond or feel stronger before entertaining friends or family, or maybe it feels right to have all the company you can get right away. Or maybe you thought you wanted people over, but now baby isn't napping, and you're overwhelmed and need a little space.
The ideal emotional boundary is a flexible, semipermeable one. A metaphor is that of a castle with a moat around it (filled with alligators, or mermaids, whatever you wish) and a drawbridge operated by the inhabitant of the castle at his or her own discretion.
The key is in ways of knowing and feeling your new boundaries, and sensing their new shapes. If you've read previous blogs, this is where you might notice a theme: check in with how you feel! In a given interaction, are you left feeling depleted, unsteady, or anxious? Are you resentful? These can be clues that you are pushed beyond your limits. The next steps would be to then find what components of this situation you can control, and take that control by asserting your needs or taking several steps back. All of this takes both courage and patience, elixirs that may be in short supply. One practice is to simply say "pass the bean dip" when you've had enough of whatever unsolicited advice is being served. Change the subject if it's one that breaches your limit. Up goes the drawbridge! Protect your dear self and then you can better feel and explore these new edges.
What an adventure!