For more than 30 years, my family has been going to Gulf Shores in Alabama every summer. One year when I was a kid, my mom, cousin and I took advantage of the free tennis court amenities on a rainy afternoon. None of us were tennis pros or even tennis amateurs; we’re tennis nobodies. At the most, we were aware of the boundaries on the court marked by white lines. The bright yellow ball found its way over that line countless times during our game of tennis. 

My cousin would yell, “Outta bounce!” every time the ball bounced on the wrong side of the white line, out of bounds. My mom and I thought she was referring to the fact that the ball was out of bounces and had come to a stop. 

That always stuck with me and later in life, whenever I experienced my own kind of “outta bounce.”

The Stay-At-Home Mom Adventure

When my first child was 18 months old, I quit working, convinced staying home was my new life for several years. I felt certain this was the best thing for my family, and I had no plans to return to full-time work while I was raising a family. 

My adventure as a stay-at-home mom lasted less than three years. Joke’s on me, right? 

While pregnant with my second child, the school I previously taught at asked me to come back part-time. I agreed because the position was only 16 hours a week, which felt doable. Five months later, they asked me to teach full-time. Again, I agreed. My kids were able to attend the same school, and it felt like a hybrid between being near my kids but also contributing to the family income. Working full time again presented its common challenges, but my family took things one day at a time. 

The challenges increased when we added a third child to our family. After about a year of working and raising three kids, I started to become anxious, overwhelmed and stressed, and I’m pretty sure my husband wondered where his flexible, easy-going wife had gone. 

Good question. I didn’t know where I was either. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders trying to manage our lives and keep things afloat.  

Building Boundaries

Like the tennis ball, I felt like my life was out of bounce. Not only did I have nothing left to give, I quickly realized I was out of bounds. The lack of boundaries made me vulnerable to allowing my responsibilities to control me, rather than me controlling my responsibilities. Boundaries soon became my best friend.

I needed a boundary on my role as teacher. At school, my work is never done. There is always something to do, and I’m never caught up. Communicating with parents, lesson planning, grading papers, etc. are all aspects of my job that never end. I leave those at school every afternoon. Of course, there are urgent matters for which I excuse this boundary. However, on most days, my work ends when I leave the building. When I’m at work, I’m a teacher. When I’m at home, I’m a wife and mom. 

It’s really that simple. 

Don’t Let Your Phone Run Your Life

Another boundary I created is giving my phone a home base. Remember the days when our phones were wired in a wall and could only go so far? I’m trying to recreate that limited use with my smartphone. Technology has allowed employees the unfortunate ability to work 24/7. As a result, quality family life is being compromised. Throughout the workday, there are missed phone calls, texts, emails and notifications in my personal life that are waiting for my attention. If I’m not careful, responding to these various means of communication can consume my afternoon. 

My phone sits in a basket on the counter in my kitchen when I get home. It is not an extension of me. It is not always in my hand. I am not always responding immediately to notifications. I’m at home, and I’m a wife and mom. I’m unpacking back-packs, cooking dinner, helping with homework, taking kids to and from extracurricular activities, etc. All of those tasks take a lot out of me after a long day at work.

I also learned the hard way that responding to the notifications on my phone overwhelmed me, and I had a hard time prioritizing my tasks. The needs of people physically around me are my focus. Most of the time, their needs warrant my attention more than anything going on in my phone. 

You’re Allowed to Say No

Another boundary I found to be helpful is giving myself the freedom to say no. While it is an honor for my gifts and talents to be recognized and requested, I am free from saying yes to every request to use those gifts and talents. A wise friend once told me to use the five-finger rule. On one hand I can see the space I have in my life to say yes. God must be first, family second and job third, which leaves room for two extras in my life. I am human, and I have limits. Recognizing my capacity keeps me from saying yes to everything presented to me, even good things. Lysa TerKeurst calls this the best yes — having wisdom to say yes to what is best and no to what is good. 

The act of placing boundaries in my life requires discipline to keep things in their place and trust in God who is still at work when I’m not. God is the sustainer, not me. In Him all things are held together. I must trust that when my boundaries keep me from good things while focusing on the best things, it doesn’t mean the good things fall by the wayside. The world keeps spinning whether or not I do all the things available to me. 

Be All There

Jim Elliot, the Christian martyr known for his mission work in Ecuador, once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” His wisdom is a good starting place for creating boundaries at work and home. Ask yourself for each task that begs your attention: “Does this keep me from being fully present where I am?” If it does, you have the freedom to say no, to put your phone down, to let the email wait. 

The world around you will go on while you thrive within your boundaries and keep yourself from getting outta bounce!