Last week I wrote to you about my own journey in boundary-setting as a business owner and woman. This week I’d like to dive deeper into boundaries and talk to you as both a mama and a clinician about boundaries on the home front.
As a clinician, not only do I have extensive knowledge about early childhood development but one of my areas of expertise is reducing disruptive and dangerous behaviors. I spent the first five years of my career in Applied Behavior Analysis working in early intervention and on crisis cases.
I can see my young self now, rested for the day, walking into a therapy session and teaching things like how to work through a tantrum. I worked with each family on their own values and expectations of their child, observed the needs the child was trying to get through their tantrums, and taught consistent consequences to the family as well as adaptive skills to the child. In the range of adaptive skills I often taught language (use your words), patience, tolerance to hearing ‘no,’ disappointment tolerance, and expression of feelings. Each family and child was unique but the structure of the treatment was similar and based on boundary setting.
Learning Boundary Setting as a Mom
Fast forward about 8 years to when I became a mama and my son Henry became a toddler. Henry was (and is) a strong-willed child. I remember writing in his baby journal “I didn’t know babies came out like you…” because Henry was (and is) so vocal about how he sees things and how he wants things done. As a mama, I tried to also be a BCBA and use the same tried and true treatment structure with Henry. State a boundary, follow through with the boundary, use your words, and teach new skills. Easy right? No. Hard no.
Throughout my journey into motherhood, while I love my boys above all else, I have struggled with both postpartum depression (Henry) and a toxic home environment because of domestic abuse. Toss in three boys who all have varied needs, wants, desires, and voices and the stress of setting boundaries felt impossible. You see, the thing with setting boundaries is that when you first set them children tend to resist them. Boundaries feel like a “no” to children (often they are) and the “no” feels like something for them to rebel against. As a parent, you have to be ready for the explosion as you set expectations. I’m going to be honest here; I could not weather the explosions so I became a, “yes mama”. Ugh.
Boundaries by Example
A year ago when I left domestic abuse my children & me. We were living in a psychologically frightening environment and I knew, no matter how much I wanted their dad to get help, that I couldn’t stay any longer. I set the boundary that I would not live in an abusive environment and modeled this incredibly important boundary for my children.
Yet as the last year passed my small children had so much change in their little worlds. While some of my “yes mama” tendencies went away, some remained. Want a new toy? Sure. One more piece of candy? OK. TV time? You got it. This also worked the other way and when my children behaved in ways I didn’t love (not staying in bed, dumping their food on the floor, screaming for things) I would spend time making empty threats (one more time and then…) and eventually give in. While home life was much calmer as a single mama and my children were happy with me, I knew I had to reset, buckle in, and teach boundaries.
You see, without boundaries children don’t know which behaviors are OK and which ones are not. Without boundaries, they don’t learn how to navigate unpleasant emotions and what to do with their unpleasant emotions. They also don’t learn how to behave in social situations and can become impolite, spoiled, and disruptive.
Keep in mind that little children are still children. It’s basically their job to overreact while testing boundaries early on. It’s our job as parents, however, to shape their behaviors in positive ways. Yes of course I want my children to be happy but I also want them to know how to navigate their own inner and outer worlds. Boundaries are the way to teach this.
As the fall came so did a new peace in our home. I set some simple boundaries for the boys I knew I could follow through with and continued to teach them how to navigate their emotions. I spent time making sure the values I set were in alignment with my values and that I was ready for tantrums when they came. The boundaries I set were for good listening, respect, kindness, and understanding “no.”
My children have become calmer overall after the initial, “holy crap” boundary bursts. Boundaries tell them what is OK and what is not so they don’t have to guess or use tantrums to figure a given situation out. When they don’t like the answer they know we can hold space for them to be sad or mad. It’s a win-win.
Me? I have a ton of compassion for the woman I was in early motherhood and know I was doing the very best I could at the time. I also am incredibly grateful that I’m in a space to apply my clinical skills to mommyhood. One day (and boundary) at a time.
Last week I wrote to you about integrity and my own personal experience in being unwilling to bend as a woman. I spoke about my experience not only as a businesswoman but also as a woman who has left domestic abuse and is walking through divorce. That, in my unwillingness to bend, I have had to grow a tougher skin in order to stand my sacred ground. That skin, or cloak if you will, represents my boundaries. My boundaries are how I protect myself, my work, my children, and my soul. My boundaries are also what shame has told me to ignore and each time I did I lost myself.
In writing to you about my unwillingness to bend, I also wrote to you about society’s general expectations that women should be docile and accommodating. That from a young age we are taught to put down what we actually need in order to please another person (males, teachers, adults, authorities, etc). With this social conditioning, there are no lessons on protecting your own worth, needs, and desires, leaving boundaries as never a topic that is never discussed.
Setting Boundaries Isn’t Selfish
For an incredible amount of time, I thought that boundaries were selfish, that when I placed a boundary on someone else who had a need or request I wasn’t serving humanity. Each time I placed a boundary and received backlash I measured my own worth against it. I thought that somehow my boundary was denying another person what they needed. It wasn’t until my experience leaving domestic abuse that I learned how life-saving boundaries are.
Just as many women are coming to find out that self-care isn’t selfish (I’m sure it’s a hashtag somewhere), I discovered that boundaries are also not selfish. In her work surrounding shame Brene Brown teaches us through her research that boundaries are actually compassionate. Compassionate to ourselves and the person with who we are setting boundaries. Boundaries tell us what we are willing to do in alignment with our own values (and person) and what we are not willing to do.
When a person does not respect boundaries it is not a reflection of the worth of the person setting the boundaries, it is a reflection of the person pushing your boundaries. Over the last year, I have learned that people pushing boundaries are expecting their happiness and “power,” to come from another person. Neither of these things can be true.
Boundaries & Happiness
You see, happiness is a choice we make. It is a sacred emotion that lives in our own hearts that only blooms when we remain true to ourselves. Without knowing what makes our hearts glow warmly it is impossible to know what makes us happy. Without knowing what can harm us it is also impossible to be happy. Boundaries are a lifeline to our happiness and hearts. They protect our souls.
Control is a perceived human condition, when we seek to control another person or outcome we have lost trust. We have decided that the world is hostile and that people cannot be trusted. That we must control the enemy, who is taking away our happiness so that our life can be fulfilled. Control over another human being is always about taking and never about true happiness.
As a woman, a business owner, and a survivor I have lived in both of these worlds for too long. Thinking it was somehow my job to make others happy before myself. Thinking that when someone wanted something from me (personally or professionally) it was my job to give it to them. In the biggest lesson in my life, I learned domestic abuse breaks your boundaries in a way where you lose yourself. Gaslighting was a constant theme in all of these scenarios, scenarios that were telling me I was crazy when I did not give in.
Here is what I have learned to be true in a year of healing. Boundaries are a lifeline. Whenever you do not know what to do, how to respond, or who to be in a relationship with, consult your personal values. Then, after you truthfully consult your values, you can insert a boundary. When you insert a boundary that is aligned with your values you will be at peace even if others are not. When others tell you they are uncomfortable because you have drawn a line in the sand you will be strong enough to withstand it. You will be strong enough to know that being at home in your own heart is all the strength you need.
Start Setting Your Boundaries
I have a list of boundaries I lean on now. If you don’t know where to start with boundary-setting, feel free to use a few as you put these lifelines in place for yourself:
- I will not make an excuse for harmful behavior
- I will not excuse my own harmful behavior
- My children and I come first
- I will not go against my personal values or needs to please someone else
- I will not be involved with someone whose words and actions do not align with my own
- I will not be in a relationship where I am not cared for, loved, and respected
After writing to you about my career and company, last week I detoured into my wishes for my nieces’ futures. I wrote of some of my own personal hardships as a woman in business as well as as a woman leaving domestic abuse. This week I’d like to speak to you about my perspective as a woman who is unwilling to bend, and the cost and benefits.
Women in Society
Over the past year, as I have stood my sacred ground, I have witnessed both the external and internal costs of taking a stand. Externally I have navigated (and continue to navigate) cultural stereotypes. Internally I have fought and am fighting to keep the voices at bay that tell me I am being too loud; that I must become small. I’m walking through fire and slowly learning that I am in fact fireproof.
As women, we are taught from a young age to make ourselves small and to make other people comfortable. That it is somehow our gender’s job to make men comfy. And not only should we make men comfortable but we should excuse ourselves at any point in which a person around us is hurt or offended by anything we say or do.
By societal standards the perfect woman is polite, accommodating, nurturing, and apologetic. She is beautiful, slight in her waist, and ready to smile through the adversities of life. I realize in writing this you may have a gut reaction of, “I don’t expect this of other women, or myself,” but if you ask yourself, “has society taught me this or shown me this,” I assure you the answer is yes. While we do not wear the corset of the 1800’s I guarantee you each woman reading this article has tried a diet at some point in her life. We are still wearing the expectations of our gender on a large scale even if your experience isn’t as dramatic as mine.
Internal & External Perfectionism
In the book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” the author writes about the concept of perfectionism as it affects women. On a much deeper level, she recants how from infancy through college (and even well into marriage) women are taught to be perfect and polite. Soft and docile. Desirable. In her work, she writes about overcoming the need to meet society’s standards and to be brave enough to be herself. It sounds like a small thing but as a woman, I assure you it is not. As soon as you slip off “soft and docile” the crowd in the stand wakes up. I have yet to meet a woman who is boldly herself that has not pushed away these crowds and at times even gone to battle with them. What does this battle entail?
In my experience, the battle is first and always presented internally. You know you have something to say, you know injustice is happening, and you know your soul is trying to break free. Your internal self scans the external world. Unskilled in any first attempt, when a woman boldly speaks her mind, she is almost always met with judgment. Sometimes she is met with hate. The judgment could be from an external person scolding or bullying the woman for being bold or from her own internal interpretation of how the world perceives her.
In both instances, the woman will question her own mind, her own soul, and her own desires. Was standing up, speaking out, and being herself worth the cost? The cost of losing a perceived community, relationship, place to fit in, or being ‘liked?’ In extreme cases, like domestic violence or any type of restriction of safety/liberty, the woman is hurt for speaking up.
Speaking up, unwilling to bend on who she is, the woman will learn quickly who in the world is not ready for her and who accepts her as the being she always was. The thing here is that the woman, unwilling to bend, has to accept herself as she always was. She must learn to ignore the explosions from the outside, call internal questioning a liar, and stand her sacred ground. As the wounds from the outside accumulate the woman must tend to the wounds with care and not accept the wounds as a reflection of her worth. They are battle scars from the fights.
Looking to the Future
As I wrote about my nieces I wrote with hope for a future in which no corsets (physical or mental) exist in the world. Where they are free to boldly be themselves. This goes for my three sons too. To set a future for our children when little boys and little girls are able to be who they are and one where we as parents don’t bend. We cannot accept the status quo or any type of gender stereotyping that restricts the freedom of another person. This freedom can be tiny, such as domestic division of labor, or large, such as equal representation in the legal system. We have a long way to go. But if more of us are willing to stand our ground and realize that by speaking our desires and advocating for our equality there will eventually be more people in the ring fighting for justice than the stands.
I’ve been down here a solid year, fighting for equal representation in domestic law, I’m not tired yet. I am my children’s mama, my niece’s aunt, and I am a woman unwilling to bend.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve written a little to you about my business Instructional ABA Consultants and my early career as a BCBA. This week I celebrated my twin nieces Grace and Emma’s third birthday. That’s them in the photo for this blog. They are related, I promise. As I held my now not-so-baby nieces on my lap I also held my desire for the world I want them to live in. This one’s for the girls.
Being There & Not Being There
In the fall of 2018, my sister was 32 weeks pregnant with the girls and I was around four months pregnant with Declan. My sister shared her birth plan with me as she got closer to the delivery. A piece of that plan was not wanting family there until after the girls were born.
On a Friday morning, Kristen’s plan changed when she found out she had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome meaning the girls had to be delivered immediately. At the time I was overcome with fear for my sister and what to do with Henry. My ex-husband was less than kind when I spent time with family or when I was not the one caring for our son. I called my dear friend and babysitter in tears. She immediately jumped in to help with Henry. I called my sister, let her know that I was on my way to Ohio, and left.
This is a day of joy and despair that I will always remember. My sister and baby nieces were in crisis, I was pregnant, and felt fear for my family. Isolation is a common tactic of domestic violence and my ex-husband used this birth just the same. Nothing was below him. As I drove to Ohio I was ordered to turn the car around and when my nieces were born I was told I didn’t love my own son if I didn’t come home. I cried in relief of their birth, for my sister’s wellbeing, and for the cruelty of my ex-husband. I stood my ground, of course, and stayed with my sister and the girls.
My Sister’s Beautiful Little Girls
I remember their tiny little fingers and toes as my brother-in-law took me to the NICU. Emma’s soft, fuzzy blonde hair and Grace’s dark brown are still clear in my memory. I kept thinking for 32 weeks these babies have so much hair! Linked up to tubes and swaddled into boxes, my baby nieces were safe and still developing as though they were in the womb.
I will never forget braiding my sister’s hair and wheeling her to see her daughters. To see her reach into each incubator and brush their hands, “I’m mommy, I’m mommy.” Healing from her emergency c-section my sister poured love into those baby girls (their papa too) as they welcomed their daughters into the world. Me? I was an aunt. The very thing I wanted, even before I wanted to be a mommy of my own.
Leaving Domestic Violence Behind
Over the last three years so much has happened and changed. My baby nieces came home from the NICU after four weeks and just in time for Thanksgiving. Wonderful, beautiful Declan was born. Dametrius became my son. And I left domestic violence.
I have spent an incredible amount of time in shock over how I have been treated simply because I am a woman over the past year. Raised in a household where gender did not define our worth, I have been overcome with disbelief time and time again as I have been met with discrimination. Discrimination that I, until I faced, did not know still occurred in this day and age let alone in my own family.
When I came out to my father’s family about my experience with domestic violence last fall, his family’s radical views on women came out of the woodwork. A cousin I held dearly turned on me within a day of me standing up to my ex-husband reciting the 10 Commandments to my dad. An uncle told my dad, his own brother, that if I submitted to my alpha husband God would restore my marriage. Another uncle sent me a weekend retreat I could attend to learn my place in my marriage. Another cousin even went as far as to state, “he didn’t hit her, it’s not abuse, what’s next she’s going to say he raped her? Husbands cannot rape their wives.”
I did not and do not have words for the belief system that was exposed. As I let go of a family I thought I had, but never really did, I wailed to the skies, “What?! I am losing my family because I am a woman with a voice? Because I refuse to be abused?” I cannot tell you the pain and relief that came due to the separation from this side of my family. As I chose to set the boundary of, “I will not be in relationship with those who support my abuser or use religion to oppress women,” I set a precedent for my nieces. I cannot imagine a world, Goddess forbid, that Grace or Emma find themselves being mistreated and told how to act, or else, because they are women.
Over the course of the last year not only have I been discriminated against by my family but questioned time and time again in the court system. To this day my legal team is fighting against that stereotype that because I am a successful business owner I must be a bitch. For a year now, when I have brought forth true concerns of safety for myself and my sons we have to fight this narrative. Time and time again I have been told I cannot fly my feminist flag in court.
What if it’s not a feminist flag? What if I am a human being who is just asking to be considered equally within the court system? What if I am not trying to control but instead a frightened, concerned mother? What if I am not a bitch but instead an excellent, caring leader? And what if I am just a person being brave and trying to call for justice, as well as create hope, through my talents in business?
I do not want this for myself yet more than that I do not want to ever see my nieces treated as less because they are women. I want a world in which when my nieces speak, they are heard and believed. A world where when they wish, dream, desire, lust, and wonder they are free to pursue what lights the fires in their souls. A world where when injustice comes it’s met with justice, not discrimination. I never want my nieces to even consider being a woman a limitation. It is not. We have a long way to go in building a world where the world does not default to limiting them. Unfortunately, it took a divorce for me to see exactly what is still happening in our world.
Grace & Emma, be thirsty my loves. Be brave. Be fearless. Your Aunt Jessie? I’m trying, my darlings, to create a small but carefully laid path of hope and justice in our family and world so you may walk a little easier than me.
Last week I wrote to you about celebrating my 10 year anniversary as a Board Certified Behavior Analysis. In that blog, I took you through the journey of my early career which led to the conception of Instructional ABA Consultants. This week I’d like to share the reason that I’m still waking up with a passion for my company after almost a decade into entrepreneurship.
Starting a Business You Care About
To start, you might be wondering why I wouldn’t wake up with a passion for my company right? I mean, after all, it is my company. I’ll have to explain this by looking at the very start of my business. While I had extensive training and experience as a clinician I had zero experience as a business owner nine years ago; I just had the fire.
I started Instructional ABA Consultants because I was fiercely angry about the lack of care my clients on the crisis team received due to their funding or lack of quality care because of a lackluster BCBA. As a clinician and humanitarian these two things did not sit well with me. Each time I met a family who could not access ABA I was furious for them. Each time I met a BCBA who was not clinically treating a client with quality ABA I was disheartened. ABA helped show me a scientific approach to helping the people who needed it most (my crisis clients with autism); clients who were, at the time, getting the runaround.
In starting Instructional ABA Consultants I took a chance that my scientific and mathematical mind could in fact build a business. I did not have any experience but I was thirsty for change. Using science and math as the foundation of my business proved easy. I could easily create systems to support multiple funding sources and replicate applied behavior analysis services. To this day I can run spreadsheets and treatment plans in my sleep. What I did not know how to do was manage people. I also did not know how to hold boundaries (personally or professionally). This created quite a ride over the first several years of business.
Learning to Manage People
I have this problem (I believe it’s because I’m a woman) where I feel like when I ask someone to do something and they become uncomfortable somehow it’s my role to make them comfortable. I also have a tendency to see the good in people which means (to this day) I am not the best person to interview new employees. As an empathic person, I will quickly absorb all of their good and potential then digress from the role we need to be filled. While being an empath is often my superpower it’s an incredibly hard personality trait to hone as a business owner. Specifically, a woman in business.
Over the past decade, I have had to become very clear on what my own professional boundaries are, what the boundaries of my business are, and create incredibly clear expectations for my employees. I have met many incredible people over the years, but I have also met various people who are willing to take advantage of me and my business. Learning to navigate these employee relationships to ensure the mission of my business is upheld has been a learning curve for me. To this day I tell myself walking into any meeting, “don’t puff up, don’t shrink down, stand your sacred ground.”
There are so many variables at play in a business, so having a team that is behind them, a team that implements accountability and compassion is key to my success. I had no idea that dismantling a scientific, social service agency would involve this level of leadership!
The Challenges of Starting a New Business
Once my business was up and running it felt like new challenges would never stop coming in (spoiler alert: I was right). My team and I were constantly analyzing our work in order to create quality outcomes keeping our doors open to all funding sources. My small paragraph on the challenges of learning to lead my employees is but a match to the number of fires I have put out over the years.
It’s not in my natural skill set to manage other humans. Lead? Sure. Mentor? You bet. Manage other people? Nope. I’ve been fine-tuning this skill because I believe in what I have created. I believe that children and parents have a right to the wonders of applied behavior analysis. I believe that funding should never be a factor in access to care. If a human being needs access to essential services it should be provided. Applied behavior analysis is currently the only evidence-based, medical treatment for autism.
Running my company and keeping it in alignment with our mission always makes me feel at home in my own heart. Throughout the trials and tribulations of business ownership (that is not as easy as math and science) I still wake up every morning excited to log into work. Knowing that we’re not just creating but sustaining change is an amazing thing.
Last week, after a decade of working to help everyone in need, we learned we may finally be able to accept Medicaid funding in Illinois. I strapped my running shoes on alongside my staff while smiling at the sky. We’re good at this. We’re good at providing care to the “underserved.” The “underserved?” Those are the people I love.