Setting healthy boundaries is as easy as using a condom… if you just know how.

Image: Bruno/Germany Pixabay

If you’re anything like me, you prefer to avoid uncomfortable conversations at almost any cost.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been stuck in the house too long without the normal busy-ness of life, which means a lack of decent excuses to not have cringe-worthy conversations.

Three teen girls in my house = a captive audience.

For some reason best explained by boredom, a random thought and a sense of caffeine-fueled urgency, this past weekend seemed to be the perfect time to blurt: So, have you girls been taught how to use a condom in your sex ed classes at school?

Three pairs of bulging eyes stared back at me from different spots around the kitchen island. It was only after it was out of my mouth that I realized maybe a gentler ease-in to this particular topic might have been better.

<I’ve always been a little blunt.>

Thankfully, these teen girls are mostly immune to my lack of lead-in, so the shock and horror in their eyes faded quickly to a shrug and a resounding ‘Nope’.

“They didn’t really tell us anything much, except to expect that our bodies will change.”

Seriously?” I said. “ That’s it? No tough-talk about the biology of sex, no demonstration by an uncomfortable school counselor as she pulls a condom over a banana? Nothing?

Look, I’m not a total prude — but selfishly I really don’t want to have a nuts-and-bolts sex-talk conversation with three teen girls. Of course I will, but I don’t want to.

And I really hate getting reminders of the many (wrong) assumptions I make. Oh, the school wants me to check a box if I want to exempt my kid from sex ed classes? Heck NO! There must be some juicy stuff they’ll be going over (that I won’t have to, thank goodness), right?

Wrong.

How many times have I been reminded: To Assume Makes An A** out of U and Me.

Now, you might have thought this #tuesdaystale was going to be about sex education.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Instead, I simply wanted to let you in on what inspired today’s tale. You guessed it: condoms.

Oh, and Boundaries.

Because healthy boundaries are one of the cornerstones of healthy relationships (including with our kids). And condoms are in themselves a healthy boundary. And a discussion around sex and condoms with my teen girls really had me revisiting my notes and remembering random things about boundaries and relationships, as those uncomfortable conversations usually do.

You see, a number of years ago, I felt a deep need to share what I had learned about healthy boundaries because it was probably one of the toughest of my personal challenges, and something that showed up constantly with my therapy and coaching clients.

The ability to recognize, create, respect or enforce healthy boundaries in relationships is often limited or non-existent for those of us who had poor relationship role models (which is more common than you might think).

Real Life Example:

Them: “Would you like to bake something for the bake sale next week at school?”

Me: “No.”

NO is a complete sentence ~ Anne Lamott

Most of us can think of a thousand situations where we’d like to be able to simply say ‘NO,” while dramatically dropping the mic we happened to be holding and slowly turning to walk away.

Of course, the uncomfortable cringy truth is that many of us are stuck repeating weird patterns of behavior that we learned in reaction to all kinds of other weird patterns to which we were exposed.

Crappy boundaries are often generational problems, and run much, much deeper than an inability to say ‘No’

In my quest to create healthy boundaries in my own life, I made a LOT of mistakes. I practiced saying ‘No’ a lot, but realized that alone, it was a really rigid boundary ( everything was a NO), so then I tried having really lax boundaries ( I’m so cool I don’t care — when of course I really, really did… A LOT), and then I decided that boundaries were a lot of work and so I’d make it everyone else’s responsibility to have healthy boundaries ( it’s not my fault if they don’t know how to say No).

Ultimately, through trial and error, education, experience, some tears and much laughter, I recognized that healthy boundaries are less about the proper words, and more about my ability to say the right words to the right people in an authentic way.

You see, saying ‘No’ authentically means acting in integrity. It’s not a knee-jerk how-dare-you reaction. It’s not a ‘poor-me-here-I-go-again-having-to-be-a-mean-selfish-person’ reaction. It’s not a triggered-by-my-past reaction. And it’s definitely not a you-are-responsible-for-my-feelings reaction.

It’s an ‘I-respect-your-request-and-I-respect-my-energy/resources-and-it-still-has-to-be-a-no’ reaction.

How wonderful it would be to be able to communicate the idea of healthy boundaries in a way that has humor and makes sense, I thought to myself. Not too serious, not too lighthearted.

For what felt like weeks, I struggled to find the perfect words, the perfect analogy or metaphor.

A huge stone wall? Well, its a perfect analogy for stonewalling, which is definitely a boundary but a decidedly unhealthy one. Next.

A picket fence? Nope, the gaps were too wide. And the sticks are pointy <ouch>

A chicken wire fence? Better, but doesn’t allow for much freedom <a bit cagey if you ask me>.

A line in the sand? Good, but over done. Also, easily erased by any passing wave.

So, I did what I do when I’m feeling stuck: I went for a walk.

Now, long walks are my best form of self-care and meditation. On my walks I listen to music, audio-books or the sounds of nature, take pictures of wildlife and flowers, drink in the sights and smells, and generally solve all the worlds problems.

This particular day I decided to walk — and put it out there to the Universe that I’d be open to ideas about how to describe healthy boundaries in a simple, fun, relatable way, should any find their way into my brain. Thank you very much. (Being polite when making requests of the Universe is important, y’all).

Walking along at my flag-flapping pace, it struck me like a bolt of lightening.

Boundaries are like condoms.

<WTAF?>

Really (the thought insisted)… think about it!

Healthy boundaries are just like condoms. They are strong yet flexible, impenetrable (try to say that word three times back-to-back) and respectful to everyone involved.

Simple. Powerful. Relatable.

EUREKA!

Healthy boundaries are EXACTLY LIKE CONDOMS!

You better believe I laughed and laughed and laughed to myself for the rest of my walk. Chuckling away about how I would share this information, and with whom.

This was about four years ago — maybe more — and at the time I was participating in an online group challenge that tasked members with recording a short video of ourselves sharing something useful. While writing this #tuesdaystale, I went to check my abandoned YouTube account and found that the video was still there… So I edited it to a short little clip so you can see me in my cringy glory, sharing my big condom A-ha!

(FYI: There’s a cringy, short video about condoms
and healthy boundaries ❤ on the original post on my website).

Sidennote: I’m most proud of two things in this clip: being able to say impenetrable, and ending it with “period.” Obviously, my teen girls can be proud of their mama.

As always, I’d love to hear how healthy (and unhealthy) boundaries have featured in your life — and what metaphors, teachings or personal techniques have helped you get to a better place.

My boundaries are constantly evolving, nothing is perfect or set in stone.

I still prefer to avoid cringy conversations. But you know that when the moment feels right (even if it isn’t right at all), I’ll probably dive right in… while trying hard to stay flexible, impenetrable and respectful.

Much love and laughter,

PS: Thanks as always for reading and following along with my self-help through humor and real-life shenanigans. If you’re enjoying these tales I’d appreciate you sharing them with the people you care about.

Originally published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on March 31, 2021.

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On a Lifelong Journey to share Dollops of Empowerment * Authenticity Advocate * Mom of Teens * #tuesdaystale Writer

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