Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Teaching and Learning About Boundaries

Nov 30, 2023 4:28:15 PM / by Tim McCarthy

Over the holiday, our granddaughter asked Alice and me if we could reject her “new cousins” who will enter the family upon her aunt’s marriage - two girls with whom she had formed a very close bond over the last few years.

“Why?”, I asked.  “They are mean”, she told me then stated several recent incidents to demonstrate their cruelty.  Then she rested her case for expelling them from our happy family.


Luckily her father’s brother was at the table who informed her of the many times her dad and he have been unhappy with each other.  I then brought up several of my siblings who she knows and loves to make the same point.  No one in our family, including me, is easy to get along with.

We asked if she really wanted to give up all the great times with her new cousins and she said, “yes, because they hurt me”.  That seemed a good time to remind her of all the times they swim, bowl, do gymnastics, dance, and make each other laugh.   

That seemed to get through to her a bit but still confused she asked, “well, then how can I get them to stop hurting my feelings?”

“Have you shared your feelings with them?” 

“No, they know how I feel because I don’t talk to them for a long time when they act like that.”

“How about telling them that they’ve hurt your feelings?”

“It wouldn’t matter…they’ll still be mean.”

Which led us to a conversation about setting boundaries. I told her that I grew up with very few boundaries. As I grew older, that experience made building and maintaining friendships very difficult for me. We then suggested to our super sensitive granddaughter that she can’t prevent friends or family from hurting her, because she can only control her own actions.

“You need to set your own boundaries, Rose, then work to keep them”.      

“But what if that doesn’t stop them from hurting me”?

Ah, my darling, that’s another hard part of growing up.  You can never set someone else’s boundaries, and some people don’t have any.  They either don’t know or don’t care if they are crossing yours.  All we can do is set and share our own boundaries then hope for the best.       

Reflecting on that conversation I prayed that my smart, lovely 10-year-old heard us and might take our advice to heart.  Then my own learning began by remembering these words from the Tao Te Ching: “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.         

For both the young and old, the illusion of control dies very slowly.


Tim McCarthy

Tags: Monthly Newsletter

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Listen to Tim's Monthly Favorites on Spotify

See Tim's Library at GoodReads