Struggling with Boundaries of "Friends"

I feel like every time I am in a position to set a boundary, someone has a emergency and I end up stepping up to the plate anyway.

Right now I’m buried in 3 projects for a group my son belongs to - 2 of which I had NO intention of taking on…someone had an emergency and the next thing I know it’s “Heather’s a stay-at-home mom - she’ll do it!” and the message is left to me on FB or my answering machine that I’m needed to ______ on this day at that time. Not even a “Hope that’s okay” or “call me if there’s a problem”…and that’s just ONE group.

I have family coming to visit for the holidays, my house is a disaster from trying to keep up with these extra “projects”, I’m 3 weeks into my Catholic journey and in RCIA, my son (also 3 weeks in) is in Sacramental Prep for the year for Reconciliation currently, and I have these projects to button up.

I feel like I’m drowning.

How can I set boundaries against these “emergency” problems without seeming like an uncharitable person? I don’t mind helping when I have the time but just because I’m a stay at home mom doesn’t mean I have to pick up every project other parents need to drop for whatever reason they deem worthy!

I’m terrible at this sort of thing, but I think I’d simply call back or message back: “Wow, I’m so sorry that happened. I wish I could be (xyz) but I’m simply not able to right now.”

I don’t think you need to give a reason, just state that you aren’t able.

Have you ever read the book “Boundaries”? It actually details similar situations like this and how to set appropriate limits for others.

When it comes down to it, it’s okay to say “no” every now and then. There’s also a saying that I’ve seen on the desks of managers a lot “Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

I am sure that these groups and projects had time to think about how to go about accomplishing their goals, and I’m sure they had time to think about how they were going to get the appropriate leadership and delegation to get everything done. It seems to me that this is a last minute thing where they are scrambling and have used you as a default.

I would call these folks back, politely say “I would like to help if I could, however I need to place my son’s activities/RCIA/preparing for family first. Maybe at a different time when I am less busy I can help. Good luck.”

I would suggest reading a book called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Thompson.
My friend gave it to my husband who has issues with the same sort of thing, though his problem is not setting boundaries with family rather than with aquaintances. I flipped through it and it has some great advice.
You really need to learn to say No and that it is okay to say No. There is no way I would agree to take on three projects last minute just because someone said they had an “emergency” that problem really isn’t. You teach people how to treat you. If you always allow people to take advantage of you, they will continue to do it. It is not uncharitable at all to say you cannot take on multiple projects when you are already overwhelmed. In fact, the uncharitable one in that situation is the other person who would dump something in your lap last minute without even asking.
People who have trouble saying no often fear they will upset people if they stop allowing them to take advantage of them. Once you get used to saying it and have more self-confidence, it will get easier. Eventually people will stop making unreasonable demands on you because they can no longer get away with it and you will hardly have to say no any more at all.

Yep. I’ve found the more you give reasons, the more people argue with you.

Leave the following message on your machine, and “live it” face-to-face:

Hi, you’ve reached HAnne please leave a message, but be advised my calendar is full and I am not accepting or taking on any addtional projects or school activities until Jan15th of next year.

To stop saying ‘yes’ to everything is a hard habit to break. And like all bad habits, it will not change without a tremendous amount of suffering.

When people leave a message, call them back and say ‘Sorry but I do not wish to add this project to my list of to-dos’. If they give you a hard time say ‘I need to go now’ and hang up the phone. Yes you will feel awful, yes you will feel guilty and yes you won’t always be polite at first. Pray to God to help you until these feelings pass.

saying no is like building a muscle, it hurts at first but gets stronger


“No” is a full sentece. You don’t need to explain, nor should you. “I’m sorry I can’t” should suffice.
I used to take on everything and then ended up bad mouthing everyone and everything about every project because I was so angry about being pulled into just one more project. I realized how horrible I was behaving and that things needed to change.

Erma Bombeck said it best: “Put your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth and make the ‘O’ sound!”

Everybody has given great advice.

I just want to make something clear. If you say, “No,” then there is a good chance that whatever others want you to do will go undone.

I think a lot of times people accept more responsibility than what they are reasonably able to do because they are unwilling to live without that which we thought others would do for us (and/or our family). This means not only will those outside of our family be disappointed with us but we ourselves and our family will be disappointed too. It may even mean you won’t get your money’s worth out of something you paid for.

But that’s life.

In this case it may be your son who will have to live without whatever the group had planned. It’s hard to live with a disappointed child (especially if you are dealing with your own disappointment) but that is a necessary cost of learning to set boundaries.

You are correct. But what is often the real disappointment is finding out how little it really matters that something doesn’t happen.

But this goes to show that the adults in the group need to start taking responsibility, and not just lump it on HAnne. That’s also part of setting healthy boundaries, is by making others accountable for their actions as well.

I think reading Boundaries will really help.

Agreed completely with the advice.

Unfortunately I get looped into the “clean up” part of projects. For example, Boy Scout Popcorn. I’m not the one in charge and had nothing to do with it until last Friday. Someone couldn’t pick it up so we ran and got it because it had to be picked up during a 2 hour window. Well, now I have it so I’m stuck sorting it, getting the parents to pick it up, etc. A genuine emergency prompted the beginning of this project…but nonetheless, here I am.

I end up with the “it HAS to get done” projects that everyone throws away. Believe me, if I could drop the ball on $5000+ worth of popcorn, I would gladly do it. I recently canceled 3 special events for 2 separate organizations due to lack of adult participation to make it happen. I’m not beyond saying no when I can.

I wish everything was as black and white as we’d all like to make it out to be…but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

I think that is where you have to take a step back and stay back. Yes it’s hard to see that things may go out the window, but if you’re not in charge it’s not your responsibility. I know I have to tell that to people at work about last-minute changes and emergencies caused on their part. They have tried to make me feel guilty at times but honestly, I don’t care. And they need to know it’s not acceptable. Maybe it’s time to let go off the “has to be done” this way others can see that you can’t always go in there and clean it up for them?

Trust me, I have an idea of where you are coming from. I was a huge overfunctioner at one time.

were these true emergencies or simply cases of “my convenience outweighs yours and I know you will say yes and don’t mind being dumped on”

an emergency involves broken limbs, blood, emergency vehicles, a child in danger or left unattended. emotional manipulation does not equate to emergency.

the next time leave a voice mail, “I hope you got somebody else to pick up Fifi from the vet because I am not in the area”. or whatever.

Please call the person(s) who did this and put a message on FB telling one and all that you don’t know how they felt they had permission to do that, but the you are not going to respond to similar ultimatuums in the future. Period. You do not need to explain further, because they had no right to do something like that to you in the first place.

If they ask you about it, I would simply say, “I don’t know where you got the idea that this was OK. It is not OK. If you know someone who has told you they appreciate that kind of thing, that is between you and them. If you don’t have that kind of permission, then I have no idea how you’d presume to give it to yourself. It tells me something about what you think my time is worth, compared to yours.”

Can’t say that? Then just say you aren’t available, and leave that bit for those who try to argue with you.

Many people who provide administrative support have a sign over their desk that reads:


You might put that on FB, instead. It is humorous, but it gets the point across.

I am also fond of this quote by John Paul II: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love,and do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.…"

Keep in mind, then, that getting others accustomed to abuse their friendships is not charitable. It teaches them that God put other people in this world to serve them at their whim, which is not true! If you teach other people to take you for granted, be very sure that this habit will carry over into their treatment of others. That is not going to get them closer to Heaven, is it? Rather, instruct others by your example. After all, time they take from you is time for which God has His own plans. If you can’t find the courage to speak up for yourself, or if you think doing so is selfish, it is very likely that you will speak up when you realize your actions also protect others.

Sadly, they are true emergencies. The last three have been prompted by two hunting accidents and a very ill sick child at home who could not be left alone and also could not be transported for the sake of the car’s interior. :o

This is actually on the wall of my schoolroom! I’m a homeschooler and am CONSTANTLY telling my son and the other kids I work with this VERY thing. I try not to be a doormat…I just don’t always succeed!!! :smiley:

Having had to have our car detailed twice in two weeks because of vomit incidents that had the foam of the backseat soaked, I would not feel I’d been taken advantage of if I agreed to these. That is a fate you might well sacrifice to spare others from sharing.

I’m a stay-at-home mom. If the imposition is for the sake of something that was not reasonably foreseeable, I’d probably object only to someone not asking if I was in fact available before bringing a child to my door. Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel I was a doormat for being seen as a dependable possibility, and I’d be willing to take on considerable inconvenience to do so. The difference with me may be that I know the others would do the same for me. You may not feel they would reciprocate…that is, if your youngest got sick early on a Sunday, that your working friends would show up at your house on Sunday morning and see to it that the older ones got breakfast and got to Mass.

I would like to be asked if someone has me on their “emergency” list, though, because there would a limit to the number of families for whom I could promise to be “on call”. If you promise everybody, the day is going to come when you’re going to have to let someone down.

This is actually on the wall of my schoolroom! I’m a homeschooler and am CONSTANTLY telling my son and the other kids I work with this VERY thing. I try not to be a doormat…I just don’t always succeed!!! :smiley:

If it were easy, the secretaries wouldn’t have to have a sign, either. People need reminding to realize they are not the exception to this kind of a rule… because you are so nice and they like you so much, of course. A gentle reminder that “Sorry, but I had to draw the line somewhere, because I have so many friends who work that these things were keeping me from running our home school properly” ought to suffice. If not, “Sorry, but I think you misunderstood. That explanation wasn’t meant to invite a discussion. When I said no, I really did mean no” will suffice.

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