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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Breaking up is hard to do

By Stacy Turner

Professor and author Brene Brown notes that boundaries are a prerequisite for compassion and empathy.  She explains, “We can’t connect with someone unless we’re clear about where we end, and they begin.”  Compassion and empathy were put to the test recently when our daughter officially broke up with her boyfriend.  Over the time they spent together, she came to realize that when she stopped making him a priority, they simply didn’t see each other.  When she brought it up to him, he explained it away with a litany of excuses.  But she’d finally had enough when he wasn’t available to celebrate her birthday — not with her family and not with her friends. 

When she finally worked up the nerve to break it off, she decided to tell him face-to-face despite the discomfort.  She thought he deserved as much, that it was the right thing to do.  He was completely blindsided, so she gave him time to vent.  Once their conversation was over, she returned home sad but relieved. 

Then the texts began, as he tried to convince her to change her mind via a stream of flowery words meant to appease her.  In later texts, he discounted her thoughts and feelings and admitted little responsibility in what had transpired. He tried to cajole her, challenging her to “not be emotional” about the decision.  His text campaign showed utter lack of regard for her thoughts and feelings, and my husband and I were angry that he would treat her this way.

It was at that point, we began questioning our parenting choices and wondered if we were wrong to teach her to treat others the way she’d want to be treated.  Did we miss sharing the lesson that the people who don’t respond in kind don’t deserve your compassion?  Had we equipped our kindhearted daughter with strength to stand up to people who may mistake her compassion as weakness? 

It was difficult, sitting idle as she learned to figure out what she needs, what she’ll accept, and how far her compassion extends.  These are boundaries we can’t set for her, no matter how much we’d like.  To her credit, she didn’t respond in anger.  She replied to the long-winded texts in the same, brief manner — that her choice was the right choice — for nearly three weeks, which turned out to be the statute of limitations on her compassion toward him.

It’s true that breaking up is hard to do, whether you’re the breaker or the breakee.  Having experienced a few breakups back in the day, both my husband and I had anticipated the negative turn the conversations had taken, although we hoped we were wrong.  After all, being hurt tends to bring out the worst in us.  With previous experience on both sides of that equation, neither of us would have had the patience or compassion to be as gracious as our daughter proved to be.  And who knows, after this experience she may choose to be a little less compassionate in future splits.  Nevertheless, these lessons are necessary for both parties, as each learns to set healthy boundaries and navigate toward future relationships.