Moms Need Boundaries, Too
Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Boundaries in Motherhood
"What should I say?"
"Should I say something?"
"I don't like that."
"I wish he would do that more."
"I'm feeling burnt out."
"Ahh! Stop asking me!"
"I know what I am doing, can't you see that?"
"I don't have the budget for that, but I still want it."
You may have said these words or asked these questions in your mind many times throughout your life, and particularly in motherhood. These types of thoughts and questions are your mind's way of setting boundaries for yourself and others. Distressing thoughts and feelings can be an indication that a boundary may be needed or has not been communicated thoroughly.
In motherhood, an added layer of growth in your ability to set and maintain boundaries begins. You no longer are just creating boundaries in adult relationships, you are developing a healthy path for your children to walk by creating containment, safety, and nurturance. This means your relationship with yourself, others, and your environment changes and what didn't seem to matter to you before is now important. This is natural development but it can be confusing, maddening, and difficult.
In this article, we will discuss the anatomy of boundaries, how to set and communicate them, and when to accept or lovingly distance yourself when boundaries are not honored.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the parameters you set for yourself, others, and your environment. A common misconception is that boundaries are finite and immovable. In fact, boundaries are on a continuum. They can range from rigid to permeable, non-negotiable to preferred. You get to decide where you are on that continuum for each boundary.
Boundaries are based on your values and priorities. Having boundaries creates a safe container for you to exist peacefully. Think of boundaries as fences around your sensitivities and values. You control the access, width, height, and closeness.
Boundaries are not there to disconnect you, rather, they are there to connect you and bring you closer to self and others. They influence trust and respect by developing safety within each relationship. Think of a baby and their startle reflex. Right out of the womb they want to be swaddled tight and held close to mother's chest. When they are put down and begin to fall asleep, their arms will flail and they will startle themselves awake. They do this because they feel like they are falling. When they are swaddled and held, they know where their edges are and they relax. Their nervous system is calm and they feel safe. Much like a baby, you need to know where your edges are so you can relax. When you are familiar with your containers, you can communicate easily to others, as well as be receptive to their boundaries.
Boundaries can feel vulnerable and raw. They feel that way because there is always risk of someone rejecting your boundaries. Because boundaires are based on your values, it's easy to take it personally and make it mean that the other person doesnt respect you or what matters to you. In fact, we all have our own perspective. How you behave, including whether or not you honor others boundaries, is dependent on the meaning you give to any situation. This means that if someone doesn't honor your boundaies and you have directly explained what they are, don't take it personally, rather, repeat your boundary or distance yourself from that person either emotionally or physically.
Boundaries come in many forms. Here are 5 types of boundaries that are important to motherhood.
1. Physical Boundaries
This is literally the physical proximity of yourself to a person or object. If you feel comfortable and safe, you physically move closer or be in the environment as much as is fruitful. If you feel uncomfortable, you physically move yourself away or out. Listening to your body and its cues of when something is ok or not ok will give you an indication of where you need to set boundaries physically. You are in charge of your body and can assert yourself when you are uncomfortable.
2. Emotional Boundaries
Sometimes a field of protection is needed for emotions to feel free to be expressed, peaceful, and content. It is possible to feel at ease even amongst chaos by protecting and nurturing your emotions. You may need to limit certain types of conversations or discern what you express to certain people. One of the things that was a crucial turning point in my ability to set boundaries was to discern with whom and where I would share my feelings. I realized that not everyone can share emotional space when I need it so I decided to share only with a few people that I knew could be there in the way I needed. In doing this, some of my relationships have become more surface and that is ok because I set the boundary of protecting my emotions. The relationships whereby I share more freely have deepened significantly.
3. Energetic Boundaries
We all have people and environments where you just energetically feel better or worse. If you are a particularly sensitive person, you may need to really focus on this one and become aware when your energy is being zapped. Sometimes the emotional energy of being a parent is more taxing than physically running after your kiddos all day. You need to protect your energy expenditure by creating self nourishment rituals that feel good for you. This means taking frequent breaks, eating well, resting, and hydrating properly, letting go of negative energy you have absorbed, and allowing for stillness so you can recharge.
4. Relationship Boundaries
Relationship boundaries are tested significantly in motherhood. You build boundaries with your children, partner, parents, in-laws, and friends. You are now responsible for another person (or people) and can decide what is in your family's environment. This means relationships change. You may find that relationships that were once distanced become closer, and ones that felt close now become distant. Being open to these adjustments and making empowered choices throughout motherhood means being aware of these relationships and how they are affecting you and your family.
5. Time Boundaries
Time becomes a hot commodity once you enter motherhood. Suddenly, things seem to be on a clock and there are never enough hours in the day. Setting boundaries on how much time you spend doing/not doing something is helpful so you can feel balanced. Taking time to understand what is truely important to you now can help you develop time boundaries. You may find you need to delegate or lower high expectations for the less fundamental things in your life. Remembering that you and your needs are unique and your time boundaries will look different can help if you find yourself comparing to others.
Why are Boundaries Important?
Boundaries are crucial for well-being and fundamental in healthy relationships. Without them, the line in which you end and another person begins may be blurry and confusing. You may notice that you feel others' feelings strongly or internalize others' actions. Conversely, you may exert rigid boundaries and feel disconnected and alone. Having a healthy relationship with boundaries can make life easier and free you to focus on your values and priorities. Additionally, knowing and asserting your boundaries can create feelings of peace and contentment, even if there is chaos around you.
In terms of relationships, boundaries are the way in which we communicate how we want to be treated. Boundaries are not just reserved for adult relationships, they are needed in the relationship with your children and most importantly, yourself.
How You Develop Your Relationship with Boundaries
Everyone carries a story of what it means to have boundaries in your life. For the most part, these stories have a foundation in childhood, what was modeled, and how others responded when we are ourselves tried to communicate what our boundaries were. For some, boundaries were respected and honored. For others, boundaries created conflict with people we loved and cared about or were not revered as important and valuable. Look at what you learned about boundaires as a young person and see if there are any connections to how you perceive boundaries now.
Here are some helpful questions for discovery:
1. I learned BLANK about boundaries from my mother.
2. I learned BLANK about boundaries from my father.
3. I learned BLANK about boundaries from peers/friends.
4. I learned BLANK about boundaries from my extended family.
5. I learned BLANK about boundaries from society.
How to Set and Maintain Boundaries
Boundaries need to be DIRECT. If they are vague, it is hard for the other person to really honor your needs because they don't have a clear idea of what you want. Direct communication may be a good friend to you, but if it is not, it might feel awkward to be forward and blunt.
The simpler the better. "I need XYZ because XYZ." "I like/don't like XYZ, please continue/stop doing XYZ." You do not need to sugar coat, tip toe, or be obtuse. Your voice matters. You teach people how to treat you, not the other way around. It is your responsibility to set these boundaries, no one will set them for you.
Setting a boundary is one thing, but the work does not end here. Maintaining boundaries and deciding how flexible you want to be is an ongoing process that requires self awareness and consistency. You may find that you need to repeat your boundaries to self or others many times before changes occur. That is OK! Rome was not built in a day my friends.
When you begin communicating your boundaries, a loose script can be helpful if you need some structure. I LOVE the concept of care-frontation and it goes as follows...
"I see" (state what you observe)
"I think" (state what you think/opinion about the situation)
"I feel" (honor your emotions)
"I want/need/expect" (state your boundary)
"How does that sound to you?" (this part is important to keep the relationship reciprocal-you may leave this part off if safety is a concern or if it does not feel appropriate)
You are worthy and deserve boundaries in your life, mama. They will help shape and create ease in your relationships. They will give some edges to work with and help you feel safe.