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Boundaries in Motherhood

As a therapist for moms, the idea of boundaries comes up all the time in my sessions. I love to talk about boundaries- how to set them, why they’re important and, when set right, how they can lead to more freedom and more joy in life.

There are many types of boundaries. The types that I talk about most with the moms I see include:

Physical Boundaries (Space and Touch): There are times that we want to be close to people and times we don’t. We all know what it feels like when our personal space is invaded. We can feel annoyed, frustrated, or even scared when someone gets too close. For many moms, their children- and sometimes their partners-have been invading their personal space for years. Kids touching your face, your hair, your body; attempting to get into the bathroom, your bedroom, your bed. Disturbing your peace with yelling, screaming, tantrums. One of my clients told me there are times she wants to bust out of her skin like the Incredible Hulk and yell “get off me!”.

For some moms, there are times when even being in the house with their kids feels too close, yet they are worried to spend even an hour, an afternoon, or a night away. They worry about what will happen if they aren’t there to take care of everything. They feel stuck.

Material Boundaries (Money and Possessions): When the kids are young, it’s easy to see how the idea of “what’s mine is yours” makes sense. It’s up to us as parents to provide for our children, to make sure that their basic needs are met and to spend the money to make this happen.

Things can get a bit more complicated- and expensive- as kids get older. They may need more things; they certainly want more things.

Society loves to guilt moms into believing that if we work outside the home, the money we earn should be spent on the kids. After all, everything moms do is for the kids, right? Some of the moms I work with feel shaky financially but feel compelled to spend money on expensive tuition, lessons, traveling sports clubs, the latest electronics, etc. Their entire paycheck is spent on household goods and their families. They feel resentful; then they feel guilty that they feel resentful.

Time Boundaries (How we choose to spend our time): For many of the moms I see in my practice, their time is not theirs. They spend every weekend driving their oldest to tennis tournaments and their youngest to fencing competitions. They spend weeknights picking up from practice and dropping off at study dates. They plan retirement parties at work, help out at their parent’s house two times a week and eat lunch at their desk, taking work calls.

There is no time in their schedule for themselves. No time for relaxing, reflecting, spontaneity. No time for doing absolutely nothing. They feel worn out, exhausted. They may even feel depressed and anxious.

Why should I set boundaries?

Setting strong, loving boundaries is a great way to get more of what you want in life. Boundaries give us a chance to practice self-care and self-respect while communicating what we need and want to the people we care about. Setting boundaries frees up our time and energy for positive interactions and joyful experiences and helps us set limits in our relationships in ways that are healthy. [1] Taking action by setting boundaries can help us get un-stuck.

How do I set boundaries?

When we notice that we feel stuck or worse, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed or anxious, a boundary needs to be set. Something needs to change in our life and setting a boundary is the way to make change happen.

The best way to set a boundary is to do the following:

  • Identify the need: You may need to spend a night away from the kids, spend your paycheck on dinner with friends instead of new sports equipment for your kid or opt out of the carpool this weekend (or every weekend). Once you’ve identified the boundary you want to set, decide who you need to communicate your boundary to.

  • Communicate your boundary: Communicate your boundary clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry, or apologize for the boundary you are setting.[1]

  • Know what your responsibility is: You are responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. Your boundary may upset the other person, especially if it is out of character for you to ask for help or decide not to do something you’ve done so many times before. Expect that you may get some pushback.

  • Feel the feelings, do it anyway: When setting a boundary, you may feel a wide range of feelings that include guilt, shame, selfishness, embarrassment. Set the boundary anyway. You have a right to self-care and to have your needs met.

  • Give yourself time: Setting boundaries takes practice. This is something new for you and for the people around you. It takes time to get used to speaking up for what you want and what you need. Be gentle with yourself.

  • Build up support: Surround yourself with people that support your decision to set healthy boundaries in your life. This may include your partner, friends, coworkers, or a therapist.

Are you feeling worn-out, exhausted, overwhelmed? In my practice, I help women set boundaries that lead to changes that enhance their lives.

Let me help you lead a more joyful, balanced life. Contact me today.


[1] Adapted by the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center from, and Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine

Michelle Deely, MFT specializes in helping burned out moms find relief. Michelle offers in-person therapy in San Francisco and online therapy to clients throughout California, Nevada and Florida.


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