Love As A Boundary

Many of us were raised to serve and give to others, and this is biblical, but this can become unhealthy when we give so much to others, we lose ourselves in the process. This tendency to give too much, to take on too much responsibility, to own more than we should in relationships, often comes from insecurities rooted in our upbringing and hurts we’ve suffered in the past. Perhaps our experiences taught us that others would reject us or get angry if we said no so we learned to pacify or overcompensate by being too accommodating. After doing this for long enough, we can fail to recognize we are caught in a destructive cycle. Unless we put up guardrails or boundaries, we are sure to implode emotionally, bringing our well-being and our relationships down with us.

Boundaries help us give our best yes
Robert and Kimberley talked with single mom, Elizabeth, about how loving well includes boundaries. Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about other people’s feelings and saying yes to too many things because we’re afraid to disappoint them or have them get angry with us if we say no. While this may appear to be very giving and even seem like love, it really reflects a problem with not loving ourselves or respecting our own needs.
Saying no and having good boundaries can be challenging for those who are Christians because we are taught to put others before ourselves. When we love ourselves well, first and foremost, we are able then to give our best yes to the right things. If we say yes to everything, our yes comes to mean almost nothing. Instead of coming from a place of genuine care and love, saying yes can become a subtle form of control. Too often our yes, our overcompensation, and our overaccommodation, becomes a way to please people and seek man’s approval and not God’s, and often at our own expense. We are not called to please everyone around us. We are called to please God.

Boundaries require new ways of interacting
Boundaries with others are necessary especially after a broken relationship. Boundaries within ourselves are also important. For example, an internal boundary might be drawing a line around your heart that says, “I will no longer receive hurtful words from my ex”. The words may still be spoken but our boundary will be to not take them in.
Another boundary might be to not respond immediately to difficult people in our lives, to not pick up the phone for everyone, and instead intentionally  decide what voices you allow into your life. Sometimes we have friends and family members that we need to set boundaries with too. Maybe we have been playing a role that we no longer are willing to play. Those in our lives who are used to us not having boundary can get upset when we no longer play the role they expect from us. These changes can be very uncomfortable and threatening for the other person. They may not like the boundaries you put in place. They may try to control you by getting angry with you and pushing back at the new relational dynamics. When this happens, part of our internal boundary setting is to develop a thick skin and determined resolve not to crumble under the demands to go back to the way things were. Our ex may want to continue to call on us for things that are no longer our responsibility and we need to stay firm. It can be hard at first but eventually they will recognize the change and final won’t ask anymore. This acceptance of new dynamics is usually not immediate though. It takes time. Emotionally, as we set new boundaries, we need to detach from the desire to “keep the peace” or not rock the boat. Eventually, as we remain steadfast, those around us will begin to accept that things won’t be like they were before.
Accepting our changing circumstances as single parents and drawing healthy boundaries to reflect new roles is necessary. But there can be a real fear in saying no, not doing what we used to do, and withdrawing from a relationship that was once central to our lives. But, loving yourself involves learning to say no even when you are fearful of setting new boundaries

Boundaries are God’s idea
Sometimes fear prevents us from setting and maintaining boundaries but other times it’s guilt. It can be helpful to remember that all of creation is governed by boundaries. Dr. Caroline Leaf talked with Dr. Henry Cloud on her podcast and he shared that, as we’re learning this process, we need to put internal boundaries in place within ourselves. We can decide that we will not take on unnecessary shame about saying no and that we will not engage in a guilt spiral. Boundaries aren’t being selfish or uncaring. Boundaries are biblical. God himself, in the order of the universe, established natural boundaries for us to live within. Boundaries are found in the typical operation of time and space. We can’t add time to our days, and we can’t subtract time. We can’t occupy two different places at once.  In his book, “Changes That Heal”, Dr. Henry Cloud, shares how God established boundaries for himself and for his creation, noting, “God is separate from his creation. He knows what is Him and not Him. He is not a God of pantheism which fuses God with creation. He is a separate person from us. He can have a relationship with us, but he is not us and we are not him. Boundaries exist between our identities, will and responsibilities. He knows where He ends, and we begin.” Boundaries are part of God’s plan in establishing creation. We were created to have boundaries, between God and us, within ourselves, and boundaries between us and others, including our kids.

Boundaries with our kids
Boundaries are also important for us as single parents with our kids. Sometimes as single parents, we overcompensate and meet our kids’ needs by protecting them from uncomfortable things in ways that teach them to become overly dependent on us. Instead of allowing them to learn from their mistakes through natural or enforced consequences, guilt can make us protect them from those things. This sets them up to rely on us too much and not develop their own independent sense of self and worth. Our desire to protect them can go too far, preventing them from growing and being stretched in ways that develop their character. And, of course, we want to protect them, they’ve already been through so much pain and hardship. But we need to be mindful because our overcompensation can result in immaturity when we interrupt lessons they need to learn. There are times our kids have to learn the hard way. This helps them understand where we end and they begin. It helps them develop their own sense of responsibility and boundaries.

Boundaries with others
Just like boundaries with our kids, there will be times as single parents that we also must enforce boundaries with the co-parent in our lives. We will need to confront specific situations when the other parent’s choices or lifestyle may cause harm to our kids. This is our responsibility. But sometimes boundaries frustrate the people in our lives. They want love to be permissive, allowing them to have whatever it is they want from us. But that isn’t what God intends love to look like. Love includes good boundaries. Boundaries are a way to love yourself well. We can’t love our neighbor if we don’t love ourselves first.
As we’re establishing boundaries, it can be helpful to remember that other people’s reactions to them are not our responsibility. We can still care about how others feel but we are not responsible for their anger or frustration. We are only responsible for our actions and feelings. And, we don’t have to meet every demand that comes our way. When someone tries to manipulate you or control you, holding firm to your boundaries teaches them, over time, how to treat you.

Boundaries help us guard our hearts
Over the years as a single mom, Kim says she constantly had to remember to guard her heart. “Guard your heart” is a phrase she repeated hundreds of times to herself. Guarding our hearts is all about boundaries. And God says it’s crucial because everything flows from it! Kim asked God to help her let in only things He wanted in her life and to keep anything else out.
Robert said that is something resonates for him too – the need for internal boundaries as well as external. Boundaries aren’t just something we put in place with other people. They are a way for us to self-regulate and decide for ourselves what we will and will not allow into our hearts. Internal boundaries help us decide whether we will allow harsh words from others to penetrate  our hearts or if we will allow our own guilt or fear to cause us to spiral. Learning to hold firm to our own convictions builds strength and demonstrates compassion for ourselves and for what we need. Both internal and external boundaries provide safety and health

Boundaries are a form of love
Boundaries are a form of love. They define the space between us and another person. They bring clarity to what is our responsibility and what is not. Boundaries can be challenging to put in place but they are essential for healthy relationships and interactions. Love isn’t meeting every need that presents itself, carelessly and without thought or intention. Love is doing the hard work of saying “I love me enough to say no to this” and “I love you enough not to own what is yours”.  Drawing boundaries around who we are and who we are not, around our decisions, responsibilities, and feelings, and letting you do the same is how we develop health and strength. Boundaries help us to love well, saying no as we need to, and giving our best yes to the right things.

Single parents, if you want to explore this idea more, join one of our online groups meeting 6 days a week. As you walk the journey of solo parenting, we want to offer encouragement and hope any way we can. Join our Solo Parent Society community by participating in one of our online groups, Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety). Subscribe to our weekly podcast via AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts and download our Solo Parent app FREE in the app store. We love to connect single parents to resources that offer hope and help. If you want to donate so we can reach more single-parent families, go to Questions? Email us at

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