Setting Boundaries, otherwise named ‘Next time I marry an orphan’


“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. “

Brene Brown

When I put the titles of the upcoming posts in my welcome note, I almost immediately got a message from a friend. He said we need to have lunch and talk about “Next Time I Marry an Orphan”, as I have often said the same thing. So I was immediately intrigued to see what he would have to add my story.

So we met with him and his lovely wife of many years, and their story was very insightful. They were met with family resistance at the thought of them getting married. They immigrated to a different country in order to remove themselves from Religious Bigotry. As I listened, I immediately admired how very brave they were to venture off into the unknown to end the cycle of this antiquated belief. They changed their own existence and that of their children.

It made me think about our own experience, and that of many others that I know. Cycles of poverty, Religious bigotry, racial discrimination, unhealthy addictions as coping mechanisms and emotional or physical abuse can be perpetuated simply because it is learned behavior that is not examined.

We had in our marriage; so much judgement and interference that I told my kids that it was just as easy to fall in love with an orphan, as it was to love someone with a family. I also told them that as insurance they should make sure to choose someone with a convenient food allergy in case they needed to execute “Plan B”.

I am surprised that I wasn’t struck by lightning for my bad parenting and coaching, but alas I have changed my tune. In maturity, I have decided that it might be healthier for all concerned to simply set strong boundaries. I know pretty enlightened of me, isn’t it?

So I will use a few quotes that describe succinctly the things I have learned.  

When your mother asks, do you want a piece of advice? It is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway. Erma Bombeck

Some parents believe that parenthood equates to a dictatorship for life, and even though their children are adults they are unable to make that transition.

Siblings too can get stuck in the assigned roles from childhood. You know what I mean, the ‘Caretaker’, ‘The Baby’, ‘The spoilt one’, ‘The Bossy one’.  And sometimes the family dynamic creates unhealthy competitions between the siblings.

Judgements, jealousy and controlling behavior can be carried into adult relationships because it was the normal way of relating within a family.

Judgement always amazed me. It would seem that some families feel they have a free ticket to tell you exactly what they think of every little thing you do.

I hope to model after my Mother in this realm. In thinking about it, I cannot think of one time that she imposed her view on us of what we should be doing or how we should be doing it. She assumed we were adults and conducting our lives as we saw fit. In addition if our children griped about us, she would silently hear them out and then offer, “oh yes dear I see, but you certainly are lucky to have the parents you do”.

In other family relationships however, we were continually dealing with judgement on everything that we did. It got to the point where we were walking into family situations just waiting for the bomb to drop on us. It almost felt preplanned where everyone but you got the memo on what the topic of conversation was going to be. You inevitably walked away from the situation feeling judged, hurt, alienated and misunderstood.

Families aren’t easy to join. They’re like an exclusive country club where membership makes impossible demands and the dues for an outsider are exorbitant.  Erma Bombeck

Just because they are his family doesn’t mean they want you to join the club. Likewise for yours, your own family might think they know better than you who you should be associated with.

We all know the Mother who thinks that the girl is stealing her son away, the movie ‘Monster in Law’ rings true to many for this very reason. Likewise ‘Meet the Parents’ is a good example of the guy that is being judged by her family.

What I know now is that the only way to potentially change this behavior is to show a united front, in all cases.

A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween. Erma Bombeck

The grandparent that can make your child feel like the most important person on earth is truly worth their weight in gold. They can be the soft place to land, and be the true meaning of unconditional love.

If I am blessed to be a grandparent someday, I will welcome the opportunity to ensure my grandchildren know without a doubt that I am in their camp, and that they are important to me and special for exactly the person that they are. I’ll have that little bit of extra time and knowledge that wasn’t available to me as a parent.

On the other hand, if the grandparents can’t spell your children’s name or you have no assurance that they would be able to take your kids to the park and come back with the right ones then perhaps they are not interested in establishing a relationship.

You know what I mean; the Children should be seen and not heard mentality. They wear their badge of honor at being a grandparent, but have no actual relationship with your kids, nor do they work at one.

It was always my feeling that personal choices should be respected, so if the grandparent wasn’t interested I wasn’t about to force my kids to establish a relationship that was unwanted.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s lives. Unknown

Our first home was in a neighborhood that was surrounded by other young parents like us. The streets were filled with kids playing together, and parents visiting with one another. There was the most amazing sense of community, and even though none of us live there anymore, many of these people remain our friends to this day. This was part of our ‘Chosen family’.

Likewise with the friends that we have chosen that love, support and respect us as we do them.

As my Mother’s family was spread across the country, there was little ability to connect with cousins during our childhood. A number of years ago, the family decided to have a family reunion in Prince Edward Island. I watched with amazement as my children connected immediately with my cousin’s children just as though they had known each other for years. I felt the same way with my cousins who I had barely met over the years. There was an immediate sense of family and connectedness.

We experienced this again last summer, when some cousins of my husband’s came to visit from the UK.  There was again that immediate sense of family established.

I am thankful for these opportunities, and especially now that our parents are gone. It makes it all more the important to carry on the positive connections from one generation to the next. I am equally thankful for our ‘chosen family’.

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs, the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. So be thankful for what you have. Don’t wait until it’s too late to tell someone how much you love them and how much you care about them, because when they’re gone, no matter how loud you shout and cry, they won’t hear you anymore. Unknown

We think that our families have our best interests at heart, and that it is our responsibility to ensure we maintain a relationship with them.  Friends you can choose but family you cannot. But this is in fact not true, the reality is that relationships are two-way streets they have to work for all parties concerned. The people in our lives are here to teach us things, and we to teach them.

If it is our role to teach others how to treat us, then we have every right to clearly define what that looks like for us. And if it is not respected then we also have the right to take a break from the relationship, if that needs to be.

We choose friends that make us feel supported and respected, why shouldn’t it be the same for family.

I have great admiration for those that examine the belief systems of their families and put boundaries in place to change the cycle. They end the cycles of poverty, addictions, abuse, religious bigotry, emotional detachment, and racial discrimination.

It is brave and changes the world, one person and family at a time.

So Kudos to my friend, and all the other brave souls that work to change the world.



3 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries, otherwise named ‘Next time I marry an orphan’

  1. JohnR says:

    Follow up:
    We realized we had been successful in our evasion of religious bigotry when our oldest asked during dinner “Dad, what is a catholic?” I explained his mother was a catholic and the difference between Catholics and Protestants, much to the interest of the other siblings at the table. His response was “Oh, is that all!”

    Their Mum and I sat grinning at each other across the kitchen table about this conversation, we would never have had this conversation if had we not emigrated, our decision to leave our homeland was 100 percent validated, we had bigotry free kids….success was very sweet!

    Liked by 1 person

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