Remember the rope in the camp swimming pool? If you were only able to swim in the “shallow” water, you stayed on one side of that rope. The more skilled swimmers who were deemed able to swim in The Deep, ventured out to the other side of the rope.
But everyone – all swimmers – knew the cardinal rule, that when the lifeguard blew the whistle and called “everybody out,” we had to swim to the steps and get out of that pool. Fast. We stuck to that rule like our lives depended on it.
Boundaries. They’re important in raising children, following religious laws, enjoying friendships, keeping to a nutrition or diet program, and relationships.
I don’t always follow every single rule (that’s for another post!) but when I do, they make me feel safe and in control. For example, I feel really great and at peace when my food is in order, and when I pretty much stick to the number of Weight Watcher points that I’m allotted per day.
Okay, I have certain fantasies. Like sometimes I want to just End. My. Day. at 3 pm. Why? Because I’ve basically used up all my points for that day by 2:30 pm. I want to call it a day and go to sleep. No more day. Points used up. Bye.
I’m working on that by spreading my points out over the day that I’m given.
But. And here’s the big but. When I’m in a leadership position such as teaching or some community service, there’s something in me that has a hard time setting limits for other people. And when I do set them, I feel guilty that maybe I am being too harsh.
It was like that for my husband and me (he’s the same!) when my kids were little and we had to be consistent and set rules.
Now, our kids are grown up and setting boundaries for their own kids (surprisingly doing a great job at it!), and I’m pretty darn good with the mother-in-law thing. I have figured out when to intervene, when to keep my mouth shut (the latter is really the way to go most of the time). I get it. I work at it. Because boundaries work both ways in adult-child relationships.
But there’s one area where I continue to struggle.
I run a Gemach out of my home in my spare time. A Gemach is the Hebrew acronym for “Gemilus Chesed” which loosely means doing kindness. Basically, the type of “kindness” that I do from my home is loan baby gear to people in and around our community.
Many people I know run Gemach’s. You can google the word and lots of “free loan” services will pop up, from loaning money interest free to loaning wheelchairs, baby clothing, diapers and anything that someone may need. It’s a common service.
People call me or text me to borrow an item, they arrange a time during my hours to pick up the item(s), use them for as long as they need, and then return the item. There are other details involved in the set-up, but that’s the gist of it. Some of them give an optional donation to a charity cause. It’s win-win. People really appreciate the service.
It works out great and I meet tons of people in the process. I love knowing that I’ve helped people who either have company coming from out-of-town and don’t want to buy and/or store a car seat or small crib. It’s much easier for them to borrow from me, since I do the storing and maintaining of items. Many of the items are donated but some are bought by me using the funds that some people donate. Also, many who find the cost prohibitive (which it is) are able to benefit from borrowing.
My own sons and daughters-in-law borrow from the gemach!
So, what does this have to do with boundaries?
I think the fact that I work with soooo many people from many walks of life that is reason I run into problems with some people. And it all comes down to my not being clear about my boundaries.
You see, about 95 % of people I deal with, are amazing. They inquire about the item, set up a time to pick it up, pick it up, leave, and enjoy the item (hopefully!). Then several weeks or months later, they return it.
All is well. But the other 5 % is the reason I’m writing this post. I’m not complaining about them. I think they are doing the best they can. This is how they are. And this is my personal challenge so that work on my character trait of setting boundaries in a calm manner.
I used to think these people didn’t get it. That they were unappreciative. That they thought I ran a store and sat home all day waiting for people to borrow the items.
But now I know that they are just being who they are. And it’s my job to change. I can’t change others, just myself.
In the early days I had hours 24/6. (not Shabbat). Now I have hours certain days and certain hours set for the Gemach.
I have on my voice mail that people should text or email so that I can streamline the system and answer their questions in writing.
I have a website which I encourage people to go to. All the policies and other information is written clearly on that website.
But still. I still struggle with some stuff – where I feel like I’m not being clear and then I have to make myself clear, and oh no, am I being mean? I don’t want to be mean. I want to do a mitzvah.
For example, someone texts about an item, then forgets to come when they say they will come. In the meantime, another person wanted it, but I had to say no to Person #2.
Or someone texts about an item, with no commitment. Then a few days later, texts about another item. And then continues this serial texting, setting up time to come, cancelling, changing their mind, forgetting to come, their kid gets sick, they live too far to come during my hours….. without once committing to borrowing.
I call them the Serial Inquirers. Checkers. Requesters. And then back-outers. Change-their-minders. Over and over and over.
Or those who have constant “emergencies.” I need an item in 15 minutes. Can I come now? (9 pm at night?).
Of course, I try to be flexible. Emergencies happen, I try to accommodate if I can.
But my job with the ones who kinda-sorta take advantage (remember – they are only 5 % of the folks I deal with!) is to stay clear with my boundaries.
I set my hours, times, and mode of communication. I let them know that I prepare the item they asked for and hold it for X days within my hours, and if they don’t come (or let me know), I free it up for someone else.
Boundaries. Hard to set. Even harder to enforce.
But what’s the alternative? We drown in the pool of relationships. Not fun!
Always good to have those walls of protection — not for the safe swimmers, but for the ones who seem to push the limits.
Now, I think I’m going to have a piece of cake. Whoops. Maybe not.