Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Controlled Losing

There's something ugly in the air.  Let's start with the weather: it sucks.  We're deep into fall/winter (fall actually having been outlawed by the state of PA), which means it's cloudy and cold.  In the summer, it's cloudy and hot.  It's always humid, but I digress (usually).

Today I'd like to talk about boundaries, consequences and mental health.

Whenever you are in any relationship, including friends, you need boundaries.  One puts up boundaries so as not to get walked upon.  It's not always easy or intuitive; sometimes you need to learn the hard way.  In my family, we practically insist upon learning the hard way.  Again and again.

Consider a boundary like a see-through wall, which you erect to keep yourself safe.  One example would be telling your drug-addicted cousin that he can come over, but not do drugs in your home.  You can't control the drug use but you can control who you let in your house and what goes on inside.  After you put up the boundaries, you may be called upon to defend them.

This is actually a very basic, accepted principle of psychology, which I insisted upon learning the hard way when I met my wife.  Being the observant type, I noticed that boundaries, although healthy, come with their own downside.  I refer to this as Controlled Losing.  This is where our actual tale begins (continues?).


My parents move a lot.  Some older folks take up hobbies like knitting, stamp collecting or doting over their grandkids (or grandpets); my parents move.  We don't have the time or willingness to diagnose this, although we certainly have our suspicions.

At first it was enough to lift an eyebrow.  Then we started noticing patterns.  Now we watch in horror, as they seem to fall into semi-yearly cycles.  I jokingly suggested they affix wheels to all of their furniture and invest in their own warehouse full of boxes and packing material to save costs.  Ok, half jokingly.

Here's where the boundaries thing kicks in....  
I'm a middle-aged guy with a back that gives me grief.  One brother lives on the other side of the country and another is local.  We don't have a lot of difference in age.  So this moving thing gets not only tiresome, it flipping hurts.  Every child helps their parents move, right?

Well, unless they get a moving company.  
We're not entirely sure why they don't get a moving company.  We're only talking small apartment here.  I suspect Mom thinks Dad is a moving department.  Judging by his newly-acquired limp (from bad knees), Dad is no longer the moving department Mom thinks he is.

So the last time we helped them move, as I was walking out the door, I set a boundary.

Mom, I hope you like this place, because it will be the last one.  I can't do this anymore.

My wife backed me one-hundred percent.

Fast forward a year or two, when the wife walks in with that look.  Guess what your parents are doing.....

Then, I enforced my boundary.

No.  I am not doing it.

Doctors, therapists and fellow inmates assure me this is a very healthy move on my part.

As if on cue, the wife says she has to help them.

I tried the Boundary Talk with her.

We already told them NO.  We have to enforce that.

If you're married, you will understand that I was overruled.
But I then had to defend my boundaries with the wife and the parents.

Fine but I'm still not doing it.  And you're going to hurt yourself trying. 

Now here we are at Moving Week.  My boundaries are holding strong.  I'm doing the right thing.
The only problem is that the right thing is coming back to bite me in the nether regions.  Let's tally the score, shall we?

  • I told my parents I would not help them move after the last time.  Now they're upset and they're not getting a lot of help, so it's slow going and physically painful.
  • I told my wife to defend her boundaries.  She hasn't.  Now the lady who needs a cane sometimes is helping her in-laws move.  She is bent over in agony now.  She is also quite crabby as a result.

If I had not defended my boundaries, I would be bent over in agony.  Since I allegedly did the healthy thing, there are a bunch of crippled, angry people, slowly moving an apartment.  And I'm lucky to still be married.

This is why I call this exercise Controlled Losing.

P.S.  Happy birthday to our spiritual leader, Jimi Hendrix!


  1. Lefty,

    This is you mother writing here. Didn't think I'd read this, did you? Well, I did. Your father and I have one thing to say about this...

    If you don't quit your bitching, the next time we move, it may very well be into YOUR home.

    Love you, dear! :)

  2. Aw Mom, I never should have underestimated your computer literacy. Or your delightful evil streak, which seems to have been passed down the generations.

    P.S. Dad's calling a lawyer - I'd be nice to him if I were you :)