It’s one of the B words of motherhood. Boundaries. When I’ve simply thought of the word, I immediately imagined an iron fence with a sign of aggressive red words saying things like “KEEP OUT!” or “BEWARE OF DOG!” But as I’ve learned more about boundaries, specifically with motherhood, I now have a healthier meaning of the word and how it can make me AND my relationships stronger. Say what?! Stronger? Yes, and if you don’t become clear about your own boundaries, and even clearer communicating them to people… it could do the exact opposite.
What are boundaries?
First, let’s get a better definition of the word other than the one I originally had in my head. To put it simply, quoting the incredible Nedra Glover Tawwab, author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace. A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself”, boundaries are “expectations and needs that help you feel confident, safe, respected, and comfortable in your relationships.” Expectations in relationships, and communicating them (that’s the kicker), help your mental health and strengthen your relationships. Learning when to say no and when to say yes is a necessity for navigating through your relationships and finding your own motherhood journey.
Your expectations for yourself, your limits, self-respect, and values are also important, if not more. I want to add that you can also apply what you learn to your boundaries you honor for your OWN INTERNAL SELF. Today you’ll learn about the boundaries with relationships but what’s also important is making sure you honor your inner voice, what fuels you, what depletes you, what is moving you forward and what’s keeping you stuck.
Symptoms you’re not honoring your boundaries
If you’re like me, you may not even know what your boundaries are, much more how to communicate them and honor them. Let’s take this one step at a time and hone in on just a handful of the common signs and symptoms of your boundaries being crossed. Or damn-right ignored:
- Resentment. Which leads to anger if you’re not already there.
- Constant racing thoughts.
- Over-analyzing or replaying a situation, person’s behavior, or reaction of a person.
- Wanting to save someone.
- Guilt if you don’t save them.
- Your sleep is affected.
- You neglect or don’t have any self-care protocol.
- You avoid people, situations, holidays, birthday parties, play dates, and any other situation involving certain people.
Why don’t we have healthy boundaries?
It should be as easy as knowing what works for us, what we want to do, how we want to do it, communicating it clearly to a person, and them saying, “Thanks for telling me, of COURSE I’ll honor your boundaries!” If you’re like most moms, it’s quite the opposite. Not only are we not clear on our own boundaries, but we also assume the other person should know and respect them. In “Set Boundaries, Find Peace”, Nedra also addresses the cold facts that many times we don’t even know we need to set boundaries. We also assume the other person needs to change. On top of that we are afraid of the discomfort of setting boundaries, we think boundaries always mean saying “no”, we give up after one try, and if you’re like me, we focus on the worst-case scenarios. Many times it just seems easier to ignore, move on, and vent to our spouse about it for the fiftieth time. As a result, nothing changes and your relationship with that person suffers along with your mental health.
On Episode 74 of the WriteWay Podcast, hosts Rea and Joe talk about the internal self boundaries I mention above. Why don’t we honor boundaries for the relationship with our own self? It doesn’t help that we are 100% accessible on our smart phones and our world is fueled by instant gratification. We don’t know how to pause and wait. There is a belief that we have to be a YES person in order to be a good person. I had this belief as I constantly neglected things for myself because I felt that if I didn’t say yes to others, I was neglecting the relationship. I used to think that me working one-hundred-hour weeks meant I was successful. That if I answered an email on vacation I was dedicated. If I didn’t work out every day, I was weak. If I gave up sugar for thirty-days and had a cookie, I was a failure. Boundaries are essential for our mental health and our relationship with ourselves.
What boundary violations look like
Below are a select few behaviors that you can experience when your boundaries are being violated. Get out a pen and check off any or all that apply:
- Guilt trips (Good grief, do we need any more guilt?)
- Passive aggressive comments (Oh what fun these are!)
- Oversharing (Gossiping at playdates or at work apply)
- Aggressive responses
- Assuming you’ll do something then punish you if you don’t
- Blatantly ignoring your request and repeating the behavior
How to communicate your boundaries
Repeat after me: 1. There cannot be assumptions that someone knows your boundary. 2. There cannot be any blurred lines with boundaries. 3. You need to assertively communicate your boundaries, be specific and firm.
Rinse, repeat and condition with these: 1. There cannot be assumptions that the person will honor your boundary the first round. 2. You may need to repeat the boundary need and that’s OK. 3. You will know your final straw and the consequence you’ll communicate if the boundary is violated again.
Moms, I hate to break it to you all but this is all on us. I learned from listening to Joe Tower on the WriteWay podcast that we show people how to treat us. This is our responsibility, and we are more in control than we realize or give ourselves credit for.
So you want examples? Here are a few to get you started:
- “When you talk about Dad like that, I feel really uncomfortable. I am asking you to not talk negatively about Dad with me please.” Pretty simple, eh? OK next one…
- “Please don’t tell me what to do when it comes to decisions about my children. I understand you want to help, but as her parent I need to trust my own instincts and decisions. I feel you’re not respecting me as her parent when you do this. If I need advice, know I will come to you and ask you.” See how that goes and know that you may have a few rounds of reminders on this topic.
- “Mommy is in the middle of doing something where I will need you to wait for me to finish please. I will come to you when I am done and then you’ll have my undivided attention.” Kids need to know our boundaries and we are here to teach them theirs are important as well.
Reactions to communicating your boundaries
This is the one area I was, and still am, terrified of. I’m terrible at confrontation. This past year I’ve worked very hard to communicate my boundaries and have had some not-so-fun reactions. I have people that take things very personally and get defensive. “Oh! Well then, I just won’t say anything at all!” No, that’s not what I said to you. Ugh!!! Through Nedra’s book and other sources, I’ve learned that I, too, cannot take these reactions personally. 99% of the time, their reaction is due to their emotional maturity along with their own interpretation that isn’t your fault. Someone that is in a good place, leading with love, will respect what you communicate to them. Even if they don’t agree with it. Those that cut you out, ignore you, ghost you, or treat you poorly after you’re honest with them are in a space you can’t control. But don’t allow this to stop you from honoring and communicating your boundaries. The worst place to be in is counterdependency where you develop rigid boundaries to keep people at an emotional distance. We don’t want to live life avoiding communication, even when the relationship is healthy.
Boundaries don’t mean you’re rigid, selfish, self-centered or don’t care about someone. You’re a good friend even if you can’t drop everything to immediately talk about another breakup. You’re incredible with your career, even if you have to say no to a huge project that would take you away from your family more than you’d like. You’re a wonderful mother even if you don’t go to every single baseball game and one day decide to meet an old friend for lunch instead. Most importantly, you’re an awesome human who is caring, considerate, but also strong to her values and goals with her life and family. Honor all of that.
- Book: “Set Boundaries, Find Peace.” By Nedra Webb. www.nedratawwab.com @nedratawwab on Insagram
- The Honest Mom Podcast with Michelle Mansfield, Episode 7: “Back the F Off: Setting Boundaries in Motherhood.” Listen on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/back-the-f-off-setting-boundaries-in-motherhood/id1596159988?i=1000548489259 @thehonestmompodcast on Instagram
- WriteWay Podcast, Episode 74, “Hold Fast Your Boundaries!” Listen on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/writeway-podcast/id1496521043?i=1000543490085 @writewayco on Instagram