If Setting Better Boundaries Can Improve Your Life, Why Don’t You?

“I think part of the problem is that I hardly have any boundaries. I’ve given up eating, sleeping, showering on a regular basis just to maintain work and family. Forget self-care, tv, movies, reading or seeing friends. No time!”

“I’m not sure what to say about this… I don’t know that I have rules for myself at home, other than the ‘alone time’ trigger, which is less a rule than an escape clause…”

What rules do you set to protect your time? What routines help you keep commitments, to yourself, and others? In an anonymous survey, nearly 200 Moms shared their experiences setting, modifying (and yes, ignoring) their personal boundaries. We spend so much energy navigating external boundaries, the barriers between what we have and want, that we forget to erect our own. Protective ones.

Strong personal boundaries are the answer to over-do and never-done. The tenuous states of anxiety most Moms call home. We fritter from must-do to have-to and rarely make space to think. Practicing regular self-care, or just relaxing, begins to feel impossible. It’s scary when the life we wanted doesn’t leave room for what we need. We do it for our children, partners and communities. We do it because it’s expected of us…and we probably  saw our mothers and grandmothers do it. However the weight from everyone else’s priorities, eventually, bends us. Sometimes it breaks us.

Managing obligations across roles (mother, wife, employee or owner, friend, daughter, sister) and uneven responsibility for the mental load at home, contributes to epic stress levels. We push concerns, about our own decline aside, while watching our families flourish. Can thoughtful boundaries make it all better?

Boundaries Versus Priorities

Yes. However, it’s complicated. Setting boundaries goes beyond prioritization. It’s the logical next step, when we create barriers, to protect the energy needed for our goals. Surveyed Moms, even those who consider themselves varsity-boundary-keepers, were candid about how hard making good choices is. Moms lack predictable discretionary time. This already invites a certain amount of daily serendipity. With awareness and intention, however, there is room for improvement.

Your Relationships Carry Invisible Rules

Although it’s not surprising Moms extend themselves for people they love, what may be, is how differently that connection affects boundary setting. Whereas about half (51%) feel more comfortable asserting themselves in close relationships, a large group (40%) feel more confident enforcing boundaries with people they don’t know. Relationships hold a lot of intricate history that can affect boundary setting. Surveyed Moms also shared, they are least likely to cross personal boundaries with their children (65%) or romantic partner (62%,) and most likely to ignore the rules they’ve set for themselves with their families of origin (45%) and within their professional relationships (40%.)

“(It’s hardest to set boundaries) when it impacts time with my children and husband. Putting myself ahead of them (occasionally) is a challenge to overcome. However, ultimately, this time and focus for myself has helped me be a better mom and wife.”

“(It’s) definitely (hardest) around my husband’s family. I don’t have a close enough relationship to be blunt and they have very different beliefs than I do. There’s some extent of just sucking it up for the day or two we see them, where it’s not really worth it to make a big deal, because we see them so rarely. If things get stressful, I usually just remove myself from the situation as politely as possible rather than try to explain my own beliefs or boundaries.”

Top 10 Hardest Times for Moms to Keep Boundaries

When feeling tired &/or overwhelmed 22%
When the choice affects my kids &/or spouse 20%
When I feel guilty about not meeting expectations or pleasing others 12%
When it conflicts with work obligations or opportunities 10%
When under time pressure 4%
When dealing with in-laws or extended family 4%
When dealing with family of origin 4%
When there is a values conflict for an issue/opportunity I feel strongly about 3%
When I feel scared, anxious or depressed 3%
Other (Sex/intimacy expectations with partner, Maintaining a diet, Keeping a budget, Feeling Unfamiliar with an environment or topic) 18%

Born to Please

Pleasing others feels like sunshine. It helps us to be seen. Heard. Sometimes it even opens doors. However, pleasing others in a way that limits our own growth is temporary. In Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he succinctly states the challenge, “In our society we’re punished for good behavior, for saying no. And rewarded for bad behavior, for saying yes. The former is often awkward in the moment and the latter is often celebrated in the moment.” Surveyed Moms shared how managing expectations from others can feed our inner-martyr and lead straight to guilt.

“(l cross my personal boundaries) …in order to avoid awkwardness, i.e., stepping out of the way as someone goes to hug me. It’s not like they ask first! (For example) if someone cooks something, even if I don’t want to eat dairy, I’ll eat it to be polite. Or for convenience. Sometimes it’s just easier and takes less energy to go with the flow even if someone is asking something of you that isn’t your first choice.”

“When… I want to do something — volunteer at the school or take on another student, but this conflicts with what I have the time and energy to actually do. (I feel) so guilty that I don’t have the energy to do the things that I feel should be done, so I will forgo exercise or self-care to be able to do the thing that I feel should be done.”

Momflicts and Permission to Please Yourself

Not all challenges to personal boundaries are external. Although many surveyed Moms expressed difficulty with work and family expectations, Moms also want to keep the promises they make themselves. One Mom coined the term Momflicts!

“When two or more things (or requests) I care deeply about are happening simultaneously and I want to do both. If I’m in a work crunch, then I have to stick to my guns. If it’s a request from a child…and I am able to drop my work, then I will oblige. A lot of times there is grey area. Often my exercise regime gets truncated when I encounter Momflicts.”

Keeping boundaries can create much needed structure to thrive with our health, learning or life goals.

 No is a Complete Sentence

“Essentialists recognize boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of saying no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own.” Another wise observation from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. Let’s absorb that for a moment. What if better boundaries make saying no easier and less awkward? Some surveyed Moms are doing exactly this. In several cases, Moms stated evolving to this point, of conditioning others to respect what they will and won’t do, after years of frustration or a major life change.

“…I have been working on becoming more aware of when I am tired and then making intentional choices to pause and either get rest or pause and be more deliberate than usual so that I can be my most effective self. As a parent, I often try to share with my children when that is happening so that they can be aware of whatever my limitations are, but also so they can have a role model on how to best manage fatigue and overwhelm.”

There are lots of ways to put boundaries in place. Enforcing them is harder, but like any skill, it can be developed with inspiration and practice. As one surveyed Mom wisely states about setting boundaries, “This has been a focus of mine for the last 5 years since ending my first marriage and coming to learn my true identity. I know I am worth advocating for myself.” Brilliant! Isn’t that at the heart of creating personal boundaries, self-protection to support self-care?

Many thanks to the 189 AMAZING Moms who made this possible by sharing thoughtful feedback. This is just the beginning, please stay tuned for more results from this survey. We will dive deeply into how boundaries can work for Moms across the many areas of our lives and consult with experts on solutions to better boundary setting.

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