Quick and Dirty: What’s Yours is Yours … Boundaries.


One of the worst things we as parents or leaders or teachers can do is foist our success (and ultimately failure) onto a child or a subordinate.

What’s yours to do is yours to do.

I was on the phone one time with my therapist years ago and he heard me say to my oldest son, “Please put your toys away, that will make Mommy so happy, when you do that…” and I think, that if my therapist were able to reach through the phone and throttle me, he would’ve.

“No. No. No. No. No.” he said, instead.

“What? Why? I want him to put away his toys. It pleases me when he does that. I’m being honest with him. I thought that’s what this is all about…” I protested.

“It’s not his JOB, EVER, to make you happy. You phrased it wrong; you phrased it in a way the creates one of the worst and most classic and textbook examples of codependence ever: that your very existence and happiness hinges on his DEVOTION to you; to your needs, to your happiness…..” He intoned.

“But…” (“Isn’t my happiness the ultimate goal here? Isn’t what I need to have happen what we’re doing this for?” is what I wanted to say, and actually meant.)

“No. He will ultimately fail. It’s in his life’s path to fail. He’s supposed to fail. Failure is what makes us win, in the end…. but that’s his. What about when you’re in a foul mood… with your programming him the way you are right now, he will take it upon himself to be the jester, the fool, the clown in order to bring you back up. So in thirty years from now, if you’re having a bad day, he will feel responsible for it. And when he fails, then what? Who’s going to pick him up? You? But he ‘lives’ for your happiness. His compliance, performance, good moods… it all has meaning –to him– only if it PLEASES you. Do you want that?”

“No. I don’t want that. My mother says stuff like that to me all the time… ‘if it weren’t for you, I don’t know what I’d do…’ and ‘you’re the reason I’m still here… ‘ and ‘You’re the mother I always wanted to be…’ shit like that. It really hurts, because I just desperately want her to be her own person; to own her stuff and make her own life better. It feels claustrophobic after awhile, all that mine and ours stuff…” I said.

I was on to something. Usually my therapist would let me read the tea leaves, come to my own conclusions, but I think when we were dealing with an innocent three-year-old, time was of the essence.

“So instead of saying to him that it makes you so happy when he puts away his toys, you can say, ‘What a good boy you are! You’re putting away your own toys! Doesn’t that feel good when you do the right thing?'” he explained.

It was like the clouds parted. “Oh,” was likely all I could utter.

Suddenly everything seemed to make more sense. Codependence is insidious. It exists on the very basis that you somehow garner your worth based on someone else’s performance, either by implicit statements to the effect or by conditioning through manipulation. When you DON’T do the right thing by someone else, with whom you’re codependent, YIKES:  you hear about it real quick. When you do, the quiet grows to a point where all you’re doing is performing so as to NOT upset the balance; you tip-toe around, fearful of cracking the eggshells because that other person has got you exactly where he wants you: enabling him.

The cycle which inevitably develops is another equally toxic side effect. Suddenly one person is unable to meet the expectations of the other person, and then that disappoints the other person and then guilt ensues and then resentment, dysfunction and all sort of cycles take shape. One person can never be happy enough or quiet enough or sober enough. No one is ever honest.

It is impossible to live inside someone else’s head. And trying to is a shitty way to live. No one else gets blamed or credit (sometimes they’re the same thing) for your good mood or sobriety or mania or addiction. They just don’t.

Here’s one for you: “You Are My Sunshine” — read those lyrics and then tell me that’s not a steaming, heaping serving of codependence stew. Did I ruin that song for you? Did you sing it to your kid all the time? Was it sung to you constantly? Yeah. It’s subtle. Until it’s not. Then you see it everywhere.

I had a boss who did this. When I did what she wanted, she gave me tootsie rolls and called me by a nickname. When I apparently didn’t, when I chose for myself, the tootsie rolls ended and I was given the silent treatment. She was cruel. I knew something was amiss, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Being raised the way I was meant I was a prime candidate for further ruin, but I eventually figured it out, thanks to neutral third parties.

Our intentions to get people to know how much we value them can be misinterpreted all the time. When we place ourselves in a position of self-worth and self-value, the sense of contentment and satisfaction, at putting away our own toys, will speak for itself. Don’t ever tell anyone your happiness, survival, endurance, humor has anything to do with that person. Because it doesn’t. Their presence might make life easier for you, or more enjoyable, or their perspective might help you see the sun in a different way, but it’s your eyes that you choose to open, it’s your feet you choose to move.

Because here’s the alternative: what about the people who choose to not progress, who choose self-harm, who choose to stay where they are? Is that your doing too?

No. Get yourself out of the way. The goal, my friends, is to have you be your person and the other person be its person and then you have two distinct and perhaps close-to-whole people walking in the same direction.

What’s yours is yours.

Thank you.

4 responses »

  1. This is so insightful/to the point/and dead on. I printed this so I can re-read and remind myself, both as a mother and as an individual working on figuring out where I am in my relationships (personal, professional….) THANK YOU!

    • my pleasure, Kim. let me spare you a few hundred on the couch anytime! lol.

      it’s amazing once we figure it out. we become pros at spotting codependence and backing away, slowly.

      while we can be happy together with another person, it’s never right to have our / their happiness hinge on the other person. it’s not teamwork at all. teamwork thrives when we work in concert with the same goal in mind. often in codependency, the goal of one person is SELDOM the other person’s goal.


  2. Whoa. Now I’m sitting here thinking about how I talk to the kids. I’m positive I say, “That makes me happy,” and “I’m so proud of you.” I never considered this angle before. But I know I’m a people pleaser, and I was very conflicted when it came to what made my mom content/not content, so now I’m wondering how much this played into it.

    Why do you do this shit to me, Molly?

    • whatever i say, dearest Tammy, i say with love and the best intentions. 😀

      i think we as a people, especially as a culture of kids raised by Mad Men or post-MM parents have been conditioned to think that we are all powerful and that we are responsible for other peoples’ happiness or rage, which has never been the truth. it’s hard to undo this stuff for ourselves, because it’s SO subtle, but the effects can be lasting.

      saying you’re proud of your kid is ok, i think they want that. BUT what they likely want more (and probably don’t know it even themselves) is to be proud of themselves. my son did really well on a math test today; he’s been struggling with it and the first thing i WANTED to say was “WOOT I’m SO PROUD of you!” but instead i took a breath and I said, “SMARTY PANTS! YOU ROCK!” and left it at that. he said he was proud of himself and then I said, “that’s because you worked hard and you earned that grade. that’s a nice feeling…” (desperately wanting to add myself to the heap of pride…) and he nodded and said, “yeah. i did.” and THEN i said, “i’m proud WITH you too…”

      IT’S HARD… this active listening and affirming their actions and behaviors. we don’t have to like any of it, but we have to say “yes” to it in that we accept it as part of the reality we are witnessing and trying DESPERATELY not to influence too much. ugh.

      it’s important stuff. you’ve opened the gates, the rest will come to you now on its own.


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