setting boundaries with family: letter to my mother, from a non-binary femme

in the past year i renegotiated every single relationship in my life.

i chose the word ‘saturn’ as my word of the year.

i had a lot of letting go to do.
i set new and surprising boundaries.
i learned to grieve with grace.

some say i’m in my saturn return. i’m not: yet. it starts at the upcoming winter solstice, but saturn has been dancing back and forth across my first house, the home of my rising and sun sign: sagittarius.

if you follow my work you know i teach an online class called hawthorn heart: potent protection magic and boundary skills for femme witches and healers. in this course i offer my perspective on magical and practical skills for setting boundaries that can transform trauma into healing, nourishing relationships and creative abundance.

and i need to be honest here: i’m not an expert at setting boundaries.

i’m learning. i always will be. and i choose, in my work and through my creative practice, to share my learning with others.

in this post i share pieces of a letter i recently wrote to my mother.

i want to make clear: i love my mother, truly i do.

and... recently we have been in conflict.

we lived together for a few months while i was in the midst of leaving an abusive relationship and rebuilding my life. through this time she was there to support me, in ways. and we had conflict. conflict that is in many ways typical of our generation gap, as well as the conflicts that come up between someone who is straight and someone who is queer, and non-binary.

this letter was incredibly difficult to write, and: i’ve felt lighter since i sent it.

this letter is long, because i wanted to explain how i felt as completely as i could.
plus i’m a wordy fucker. i generally don't write short letters. it's not my style.

i tried my best in this letter to be clear, honest and compassionate. with these words i'm trying to call in a different and more healing way for my mother and i to relate to each other.

so, here you can witness, not just my theory about boundaries, but how i practice these skills in my life with the people i love.



on the one hand there is so much i want you to understand.

to start here are some pieces that i think would be helpful for you to read:

how to help a friend leave an abusive relationship

*the only piece in this i don’t agree with is about not confront the abuser. i think sometimes this can be a good thing.

and then there are these pieces about gender..

things not to say to non-binary people
beyond the binary, yes non-binary femmes exist

including this one which i wrote, 2 years ago..

coming to femme: unspelling the gender binary in women's only spaces

and this is a link to learn more about pflag


i know that gender and queerness play into the conflicts we are experiencing.

i know you are capable of offering care, and understanding trauma. you do it with literally everyone in our family. and i see you struggling to offer care with me.

i know this because i have seen you be nicer to me when i am asleep or crying. in these moments i feel you are less scared of me. i think in these moments, for you, i feel easier to connect to. maybe i feel more like your little girl and less like the grown up person i am becoming: a person you don’t really know how to relate to and feel confused and frustrated by.

i’ve noticed that when i am able to articulate myself, ask things from you, tell you that the support you are offering me is not working for me: you shut down.

i want to make clear: i know you do offer support.
lots of support.
and sometimes, the way you offer support is harmful.

and there are some key areas in our relationship where you are decidedly, repeatedly choosing to not have my back.

you have said through-out our most recent conflict that my feelings are "too much". that it’s "drama". you say i am "flaunting" that i’m not straight. and that i’m a "bull in a china shop".

i know from your repeated requests that you want me to be nicer to the people who are hurting me. i think you crave this because that is how you cope with conflict.

i know you love me.

i know you support me.

and... you also clearly have desires for me to be different.


here is what i know: this family doesn’t know how to love me.

in a way this is a scary thing to admit. and at this point i’m finding it’s  easier to just get real about it. that way i can grieve, stop placing blame and stop asking for something that is unlikely to happen.

instead, i'm finding a way to heal and move on.

i know you all also struggle to love me because the kind of love i need, is different from how all of you know how to love anyone, not just me.

each person in this family is a mix of choices we’ve made. we're shaped by how we connect, and a certain kind of generational imprint around what we understand love to be.

my imprint, my choices, are in many ways just fundamentally different from the rest of you.

that isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just what is true.


underneath it all, the root of it is this: i want this family to love me more than anything.

i have always wanted you to love and approve of me. you may not see this, but it hurts me so much to feel that i have disappointed you all. part of why i am so edgy around you all is that i can feel how i am consistently not quite able to fit in. not quite able to be the kind of person you all want me to be.

my desire to be loved, my feelings of rejection from this family: these feelings form the foundation of how i understand my worth and value in the world.

i lost almost everything and everyone i loved in the last year.
in a way: that is a kind of dying.

and now, i am almost 30 and figuring out how to stay alive.
that is why i shaved my head. that is why everything in my world shifted and i couldn’t get out of bed, feed myself or do anything other than grieve: because i died.

i died while still being awake. and i wanted the waking part to be over, desperately. and when i slept all i could do was dream about what i lost. i talked to the baby. i touched the goats. i was followed around by something i couldn’t quite see, but i knew it caught up with me it would hurt me.

over and over again: i died.

and i’ve realized that, in coming back to life, i need to find a way to love myself whether or not i get the love that i need from anyone else.

so that’s what i am trying to do now.

i’m turning all the energy i have left in towards myself. i’m not trying to be numb anymore. i’m letting myself feel each moment again. i’m finding ways to take care of myself.

right now that care is tenuous, like learning a basic skill anew.

i am learning how to be alive again: how to be a person whose sense of love and belonging is self generative.

and because of how tender and transformative this process is i don’t actually have that much to give to other people right now. i know at some point i will fill my cup and be able to offer its contents to others, but right now i need to offer my cup almost exclusively to myself.


and then there comes what is held by the other hand which is that i know i need to accept your limitations: the ways you just can't show up to care for me.

in a way i feel entitled to you taking care of me because i am your child. i deeply crave, i think understandably, feeling cared for and protected by my mother. and at the same time i also understand in some ways probably better than anyone, why you can’t be someone who supports and protects me right now.

please know: i’m not judging you.

sure, there are ways that these patterns hurt me and i would like them to change, but also i have compassion for you because i have compassion for myself.

i have your habits and tendencies etched into my bones and my dreams and my ways of coping. the foundation of what i understand about the world came from you. and now i am doing work to protect the pieces of that foundation that bolster my wellness and release the pieces that don’t.

i believe that my fierceness, my demands for your love, my boundaries all challenge you because we have the same work to do.

and we will come to the work in different ways, with different medicines.

i believe that the medicines we have to offer each other are profound.

 and i believe we don’t have medicine to offer to each other right now because we don’t have anything left to give. me to you. or you to me.

this is why i think we need to take a break. not from loving each other in feeling, but from loving each other in action.

for me this will look like not checking in on how you are doing and offering lengthy amounts of time to process your feelings and challenges.

it will mean i don’t give you advice or spend lots of time validating or helping you process your feelings.

it will mean i don’t call you and we are both allowed to miss each other and feel relief about this pause.

it will also mean i will take the energy i am not giving you and put it into things like setting up my camper so i can have housing security. 

it will mean i continue working on my business so i can have financial security.

hopefully all of this will lead to me leaning on you less because i am able to care for myself more.

one of the pieces of this that i want you to understand is that worrying about upsetting you holds me back from living my most authentic life.

it holds me back from taking care of myself and being honest with you because in lots of ways i am prioritizing wanting you to approve of me so i can feel safe in the world: so that i can feel like i still have a safety net if my life falls apart.

this is codependent and i don’t think it leads to good feelings for either of us. and so now, i’m doing my best to be honest instead of seeking approval.

in many ways i am still that little girl begging incessantly for you to watch me dance and sing in the living room. i want you to see me and i want you to love what you see.


i know the time where i need to show up to care for you and dad is coming. in some ways it is already here.

and the truth is: i am not ready.

my cup is not full enough to share around. my heart is not full enough to grieve more than i already have.

and yet often life doesn't care about our readiness, it just unfolds.

so now, while i have the time and support, i am going to do my best to fill my cup. and i hope you can do the same.

and when i reappear in your life with a deeper capacity to care for you: i will do just that. i will care for you with all the love and gentleness you deserve, because you did that for me to the best of your ability.

you always have, even if it was imperfect and hurt me: you always tried.

and when i return to care for you i will have boundaries that make it so, hopefully, i don’t empty my cup this deeply ever again. and i hope you can have those boundaries too.

because you deserve them.

you deserve a life where you feel full and healed and held and seen and cherished. and while i am taking time away from caring directly for you i’ll be praying and wishing that for you.

and i’ll be praying and wishing that for me too.




the next round of hawthorn heart begins on july 22, 2017. you can sign up for this round here. if you missed this round, no worries. there will be another round in the future. you can keep up-to-date with all the witch cabinet's offerings by joining our newsletter at the bottom of the homepage of this site.

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