My Cat is Teaching Me to Set Boundaries

Last July, my husband and I took in a scrawny, flea-infested two-pound kitten that showed up on our back porch. Mr. Darcy is now a healthy 12-pound cat who thinks he’s lord of the manor. While he is quite dashing, my Mr. Darcy lacks the refinement of his namesake from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One thing this endearingly aloof cat has taught me is how to set boundaries.

Setting boundaries wasn’t a phrase I heard until the past couple of years. According to the Wellness Center at the University of Illinois Chicago, boundaries are an invisible line that defines what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable to us. Setting boundaries is a way to create clear guidelines about how we expect to be treated. Setting boundaries is a form of self-care, and though it may not always be simple to do, it will simplify our relationships and our lives.

We all know people who test our boundaries by crossing the line time and again. These people may be may our children, spouse, friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, boss or even strangers. As a lifelong people-pleaser, I’m not great at setting boundaries, but my cat has offered me some good practice.

A few of Mr. Darcy’s boundary-crossing behaviors include grabbing my pen while I’m writing, pouncing on the sheets while I’m making the bed, attacking my leg as I pass by, and pulling the hair tie out of my pony tail. At first, I endured his antics because they were kind of cute. Stopping them brought up some familiar fears. What if he thinks I’m mean? What if I hurt his feelings? What if he stops liking me? What if he leaves me for a more tolerant human? I know you think this ridiculous, unless you, too, struggle with setting boundaries.

I realized my inability to set boundaries with my cat indicated a need to improve this skill in general. In her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace, Nedra Glover Tawwab says setting healthy boundaries requires self-awareness, good communication skills and assertiveness.

Tawwab outlines these three steps to setting healthy boundaries:
1. Be as clear and as straightforward as possible. Do not raise your voice.
2. State your need or request directly in terms of what you’d like, rather than what you don’t want or like.
3. Accept any discomfort that arises as a result, whether it’s guilt, shame or remorse.

My cat is highly intelligent, but when he doesn’t seem to understand steps one and two, I gently pick him up, put him in his room and shut the door. Even if he meows pitifully and looks at me with those big green eyes, I leave him there until I am able to give him my attention. Setting boundaries with my favorite four-legged friend is teaching me to do the same with the two-legged variety.

Setting boundaries is a serious and important interpersonal skill that can improve our relationships and our well-being. Author Brené Brown said, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”

As for my cat, Mr. Darcy, I do believe he is beginning to behave in a more gentlemanly manner that would even please Miss Bennett.

Late-Blooming Roses ~ Accepting Joy as it Appears

Copy of Copy of Copy of cheerful graphic

My rose bushes disappointed this year. I waited all summer for them to explode into a riotous celebration of yellow, but they never did. I watered them, fed them, sprayed them, pruned them, and pleaded with them, but throughout the hot dry summer, they only produced a few wimpy flowers.

By summer’s end I’d stopped paying attention to the leggy bushes and never even got around to cutting them back this fall. Halloween came and went, and the calendar turned to November. Imagine my surprise when, without any help or encouragement from me, the bushes suddenly produced a bounty of beautiful yellow roses!

At first, I admit to being slightly annoyed. “Oh, great, now you decide to bloom.” And then it dawned on me those roses might be teaching me a few things. Stop trying so hard. Good things take time. You’re not in control. Beauty is spontaneous. Stay present. Be open to joy whenever it appears.

I rejoiced in the late-blooming roses for a couple of weeks as I watched an abundance of sweet yellow buds slowly unfurl into big silky soft flowers. The prolific rose bushes looked so odd surrounded by bare trees and covered in crispy brown leaves. Alas, it seemed our unusually warm weather had come to an end, and with a forecast of snow flurries, I cut the roses and took them inside.

As any flower-lover knows, the process of arranging them is part of the delight. I set the roses by the kitchen sink, carefully removed excess leaves, and delicately cut each stem to the right height. It was a ritual I performed slowly and mindfully, knowing it would be the last time for many months.  As I placed the roses in vases of water, I couldn’t help but thank them and apologize for my impatience, my pushiness, and my lack of faith.

I ceremoniously set a vase in the living room where a shaft of autumn light came through the window. My curious kitten hopped on the table and pressed his heart-shaped nose into the yellow flowers. “Yes, Mr. Darcy, you’re right. Stop and smell the roses, especially when you least expect them.” §


“The earth laughs in flowers.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson