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Set boundaries to protect your family from your career

Please don’t get me wrong. I am as excited as anyone about the economy re-opening, students being back in the classroom, and life generally starting to “happen” again. Living in Texas, our isolation has not been as stifling and we only have minor inconveniences to complain about these days. Our family has been blessedly healthy and my heart breaks for those who have suffered due to illness, financial hardship, or isolation.


But I must admit that I somewhat enjoyed our quarantine and God has used this time to do some work on me.


Prior to 2020, there was hardly a week where I did not add to my balance of frequent flyer miles. I proudly wore the “I’m the most busy” badge and accepted accolades for my leadership, customer relationships, and productivity.


I also accepted as absolute fact that I was doing what was necessary for the success of my family. Except that this “fact” was false.


I have previously shared a bit about our family’s journey to safety, health, and happiness (https://www.eight2eightpursuits.com/post/trading-a-year-for-a-lifetime). If you have followed along, you know that our daughter spent time in the Utah desert at a wilderness therapy program and is currently attending a therapeutic boarding school.


I have zero doubt that my excessive work/travel schedule played a role in our daughter’s situation. There. I said it out loud. I know that I am not the cause of her struggle and I know that she had demons to face regardless. I know that she is responsible for decisions she made.


Despite knowing I am not the cause, I do suffer from the “what if’s”. What if I had not traveled for work almost every week since she was 9 months old? What if I had been more of a presence in her school and extracurricular activities? Could I have prioritized the scarce time at home better? Did she feel abandoned by my physical absence? Could I have nipped the behaviors earlier if I had been around more?


Please, for the sake of my wonderful husband, don’t get the idea that our daughter was not appropriately cared for in my absence. The only reason I was able to take advantage of the career opportunities granted me is that we made a conscious decision that he would step back in his career and we had an amazing supporting cast of grandparents and close friends. It all made sense at the time and I felt good that everything was taken care of on the home front.


The fatal flaw in my logic was that my daughter needed ME. Yes, she needed her dad and she got him. But she needed ME, too. She perceived, unconsciously, that I was prioritizing other things over her. She heard me say “I am able to travel so much because my husband handles everything at home.” It makes me cringe to think how that must sound to a child – probably something like “Mom arranged it so that others would take care of me because she would rather go do something else.”


And here’s the thing…despite all the hard work and sacrifices, nothing ended up the way I intended. My career took a turn that I did not expect and was opposite of what I had been striving for – but that is an entirely different post.


In no way do I criticize any decisions that families make about childcare, business travel and career advancement. Those decisions must be made and they are hard, with no one answer being the right one for every family.


My company recently hosted a panel discussion with women executive leaders. Each of the women are mothers. They spoke about how they purposely adjusted and set their own boundaries to protect their families from their career (my words, not theirs), even if that meant accepting a different role, stepping back for a while, or taking a pause. It clearly did not hurt the career of any of these women.


That’s what I did not do. I did not protect my family from my career. I tried to make my family work within the expectations of my career rather than vice-versa. I now realize that I had my sights on the wrong target when making my career decisions. Big, nice house ≠ cozy, fun home. Grand vacations ≠ silly, spontaneous togetherness. Sending in a check for school fundraisers ≠ mom reading to the class on Fridays. I did not set the boundaries around my precious family and instead allowed my career to set the boundaries that my family had to live within.


So what, exactly, do all of my revelations have to do with the quarantine?


For me, God is using this time of no travel and limited social engagements to remind me that I truly enjoy creating a home and taking care of my family. He is giving me time to rest in Him and prepare for our daughter’s (hopefully soon) return to our home. I am listening to what He has planned for me rather than running through an airport in high-heels doing what I think is right. He is giving me a second chance to set the boundaries to protect my family.


Part of our daughter’s therapy work includes learning to set healthy boundaries, and her mom is learning this, too. If you set a boundary, it will be respected. If you do not set a boundary, you will be conflicted in how to respond to situations that push the envelope. Once, my newish boss called me on a Friday night. My first instinct was to pick up the phone (oh boy, someone needs me!), but I caught myself and responded with a text asking if everything was OK and if so, could we have the conversation on Monday? The result – we talked about it Monday, I never received another Friday night call unless it was urgent, and other team members continued to get calls at all hours. I recently created a boundary that I will not take work calls while I am driving my daughter to or from a home visit (it’s 4 plus hours each way). Knowing that is my boundary, it is easier to decline the meeting invitation when it pops up.


Do not let yourself be intimidated into accepting boundaries and acquiescing to expectations that do not align with your family’s needs and values. Your sacrifices will not be as meaningful to your career as your presence will be to your family. If you are sacrificing “for them”, then I invite you to reflect upon what you really want for your family. The physical comfort that wealth affords ≠ emotional wellness and peace. I’m not saying you cannot have both, but I am asking you to examine your boundaries and make sure they are the right ones for your family.


If it would be helpful to know the resources our family has used to seek help and healing:


The Envoy Group (https://www.theenvoygroup.com/) assists families, at no charge, in finding the right wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center.


StarGuides (https://starguideswilderness.com/) helps both boys and girls break dangerous addictions through therapeutic wilderness experiences in the beautiful Utah desert.

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