Tess: As a professional in private service I know that keeping clean lines of communication and respect in the home are paramount yet difficult for many. Any long term relationship requires clean communication, interdependence, and self awareness. Structure provides parameters and direction for household employees and surprisingly, creates real freedom and quality of life for employers. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like assistance in customizing a service plan for your home.
My first thought is that I am so aware of boundaries now because I’ve spent much of my life without them. Having lived in a commune in Bolinas California with my hippie mother, Ruth, and my sister, Jeri, in the late 60’s, I learned an existence of no boundaries. Sex, drugs, rock and roll and a lot of naked guitar players sitting around the living room singing Proud Mary was a Freudian field trip for a 5 year old Iowa girl. It imprinted on me at a cellular level.
I navigated through most of my life like an amoeba or the borders of a Rorschach test…no clear definition…just spilling onto everyone and absorbing everyone else.
Referring to this environment as porosity….I have come to appreciate my life long lesson on boundaries, because I can no longer operate in this confusion. Learning healthy boundaries and employing them has been the most refreshing, calming and self respecting step I could have ever taken. It keeps me clean and centered. Others can still trigger reaction from me, but I’m quick to recover.
Boundary devoid interaction confuses everyone involved, blurs emotions, causes upset, and fosters codependence. My sister and I refer to managing boundaries as “staying in your own skin”. Loved ones can get through the security gates easier than anyone because they know which buttons to push.
If you can afford the luxury of employing household staff such as a personal assistant, chef, nanny or housekeeper, you know that having someone in your inner sanctum, day in and day out, lends itself to eventual personal sharing and involvement. At a minimum, you become familiar or friendly. Be cautious of blurring the boundary between principal and employee too much because once you do it is difficult to recover. Disclosing too much of your life or your problems/needs will compromise your staff. One gentleman I worked for developed stage 4 lung cancer and “we” fought it for four years. He became dependent on me and our relationship became almost parent / child at times. This was a wealthy, powerful, brilliant and funny man who had an impenetrable outer crust in the beginning.
It happens slowly and under the radar. Be aware of this. Honor the integrity of your space and the well-being of your domestic staff by nurturing healthy boundaries.
· Provide an office or a workspace away from the central traffic of the home so that she/he has independence and a place to organize and revive. It is challenging to work in a home where you don’t have a workspace that is yours. It makes you feel invisible and almost unwanted as a service provider. Give them space away from the family to work at times. After all, they are in your private domain under your power and this can be very intimidating. The more confident and secure they feel, the better care they will take of you and your family.
· Make requests instead of demands. Demands rob people of their dignity.
· If you find it difficult to ask for what you need. Make a list of action items. Then the “action items” are neutral. I have one client who vascillates between being uncomfortable and timid about asking for my help and then goes to an extreme at times of entitlement and making demands.
· Set time aside once a week to have a review session. What is working, what needs attention, and clarify confusion.
· Identify service expectations. You will be surprised how much you expect your staff to be like you and read your mind and a job description will help you and your household staff to remember the job parameters.
When you have a conflict…and eventually you will...here are some:
Rules for Fair Confrontations
· Remember that sometimes you have to agree to disagree
· 31% of all conflicts are solvable and 69% are unsolvable problems (Gottman, 1999)
Rules for Fair Confrontations
· If possible, arrange to talk when you are feeling good about yourself
· Choose the right time and place
· Get away from the win/lose concept
· Be direct and specific
· Know what you are asking for and what results you desire
· Bring up only one item and stick to it
· Focus on the behavior, not the person
· Do not hit below the belt- don’t bring up topics about which the person is especially sensitive
· Don’t try to mind read. ASK.
· Do not generalize – “you always”, “ you never”.
· Emphasize the positive along with the negative.
What’s in your life is what you choose. Choose consciously and powerfully!