Several weeks ago, my kids started putting together their Christmas lists. These lists always provide entertainment for me, but this year, my daughter’s list really stood out to me. At the very top of her list, she wrote, “*Please, if you love me, do not give me candy or sugar filled foods/beverages. If you wish to give me food/beverages, please see the ideas below.*”
My daughter is a beautiful, smart, funny 17-year-old who has dealt with some tough stuff over the last 18 months. Last year, she was diagnosed with PCOS, and she spent a lot of time dealing with sinus issues, allergies, recurring illnesses, and extreme fatigue. On top of all that, as a family, we had our lives turned upside down after the loss of our housemate. Needless to say, it’s been rough.
Fast forward to this summer. My daughter finally got an allergy diagnosis, and we found out that she needed sinus surgery. She had a sinus infection that wasn’t going away, and despite treatment with all sorts of medications, she was still just treading water.
In September, she decided that she was going to buckle down and recommit to a ketogenic way of eating. Since she had used keto before when she was spending a lot of time in the gym, she knew that she could feel better with that approach. She also realized though that she’d have to be more strict now because she was changing her eating for health gains, not necessarily weight loss.
I told her I’d do whatever I could to support her, and we talked about strategies for dealing with food choices at school and at work, and off she went! She was doing great! She was feeling better (relatively speaking), and she started seeing changes in her body composition. She was focused, and she was staying on track because she new that healing from sinus surgery would go so much better if she was keto.
But like it does every year in the United States, Halloween happened. There were sweets at work, there were sweets at school, and there were sweets at a Halloween party that she had with her friends. She had originally planned off-plan eating for the night of the Halloween party, but it took her about a week to get back on track. Afterward, she and I talked about it. She saw first hand how hard it was to get that positive momentum, hence her “boundary” at the top of her Christmas list. And to be clear, that request was all her. She was the one who was being mature and responsible enough to assert a boundary that was meant to support her priority of getting healthy.
How many of us have found ourselves in situations where we haven’t wanted to assert boundaries because we were worried about inconveniencing someone or hurting someone’s feelings? Surely, I’m not the only one who’s ever felt like that. Sadly, it took me a long time to realize that I can be assertive without being aggressive, and there are times when I have to put myself first.
Putting ourselves first some of the time is hard, especially if we’ve fallen into a pattern that has us putting others’ needs first at all cost. With the Christmas list example, is the risk of a backslide from gifts that won’t support my daughter’s health goals higher than the risk of hurting folks’ feelings because she doesn’t want junk? Are her goals protected more by putting that boundary out there or by attempting to protect the feelings of folks who might otherwise choose to give her candy that she’s worried she can’t avoid?
Words can’t do justice to the pride I feel in my daughter’s choice to use a simple boundary to advocate for herself and her own best interests. It takes a great deal of maturity to set yourself up for success the way she did. A lot of us adults could learn a thing or two from this young lady. More important than any other lesson though, I think, is the importance of boundary setting as a life skill. Imagine how much more successful we would be in our endeavors if we were more effective in this area.