Here is a way to figure out what your healthy boundaries are in motherhood and how to use them to create family rules that work.
We like to think of our energy, moods, mental health, and emotions like fountains.
We take for granted that our well-being has a continuous reservoir from which to draw. It seems like we should be able to keep moving, shaking, and going like a fountain.
The water keeps going up then down and in and out and it’s never empty. It’s a 24 hour self-replenishing system that brings nourishment or enjoyment to others.
We imagine ourselves like this.
That feels beautiful and encouraging and uplifting. But I’ve found that we’re much less like fountains, and much more like something a lot more mundane. Boring. And finite.
- pinpoint an issue
- draw out how it’s affecting you
- label what you don’t like about it
- determine areas of responsibility
- figure out how it’s showing up
- say what you’d rather happen
- brainstorm solutions
I think our well-being and “okay-ness” (as I like to refer to it) are much more like bank accounts than fountains.
Bank accounts reflect what you put in, they don’t fill themselves.
Bank accounts have money to spend, but when the money runs out, they are empty.
And, when you spend money that isn’t there, bank accounts become overdrawn.
This is how the mom life is…
We don’t check our balances, we stop depositing into our account, and keep spending money (and ourselves) like we got an invisible Sugar Daddy.
Then we’re surprised and upset when we crash and burn. We don’t know what our emotional bank balance is… so we overdraw. The funds aren’t there, but we keep acting like they are.
➡️ So what keeps us from writing checks we can’t cash? Knowing (and living within) our boundaries and limits.
Without being mindful of your limits, it’s like you’re spending $21 on Reese’s when you only had $5.36 in the bank. You’re overdrawn and now you’ve got a deficit.
When you are overdrawn (yet keep drawing) what happens? Your bank attaches fees to these transactions. You end up paying EXTRA for these overdrafts.
⭐It’s like committing to an activity or responsibility you don’t have the lifespace for. You have no energy to do this well and the “fees” are bitterness, resentment, and exhaustion.
So that brings us to the obvious question…
How Do You Figure Our Your Boundaries & Limits In Motherhood?
Luckily, what you are going to do here is figure out what your boundaries are, NOT try to create some that seem reasonable.
You don’t need to create boundaries because they are already inside you. Sure, you may need to create habits and routines that help you stay within your boundaries, but your boundaries are already there.
Before we go much further, let’s address what we actually mean by boundaries. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my Language of Listening® group as we explore boundaries with kids. But before we even go there… we need to know our own.
Read: My “Daily Escape” to a Quiet Place & Why It’s Necessary
For the purposes of this post, boundaries are:
- Routines, habits, and limits that (when respected and kept) guard our hearts (alla Prov. 4, in my opinion)
- Deep beliefs about what is Okay and what is Not Okay
- Likes and dislikes
- Preferences that are (more or less) unchanging
- Points at which you hit a “wall” and start behaving in ways you don’t like
- Lines and limits that – when held firm – contribute to feelings of safety and well-being
A boundary says, “I can spend up to X amount of dollars before I am overdrawn and start collecting fees. Once we’re over that limit, I’ve got to somehow replenish my funds and make a plan for the future to stay within them.”
Neglecting your own physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs for so long―in an effort to be a selfless mother―leaves you depleted. Being well blesses your family! Learn WIN WIN strategies in my upcoming book!Learn More
Note: You don’t need to try and make a list of boundaries all at once. You’ll notice they will start becoming obvious to you now that they’re on your radar!
Read: Mom Morning Routines That Bring Sanity & Order To Your Days
Read: Mom Burnout: A Hard But Freeing Truth
What we believe deep down about things is very powerful.
It affects every aspect of our lives.
If you believe that family is the most important thing in this world then you will behave accordingly. You’ll sacrifice other pursuits and focus on your family. You’ll spend more money for the family than for anything else.
You’ll also probably not like if individual family members try to do their own thing too often, because this goes against your deep belief that Family Is The Most Important Thing.
If this is you, then prioritizing family is a boundary.
How This Looks In Real Life
You have 3 kids who are all into sports. Initially, you are cool with this because you value fitness, team building, and challenges. It happened gradually, but now it feels like all you do is pick up and drop off and take kids to practices. You eat out of the car a lot and are often out until late in the evenings. There are few family meals together and the schedule is so packed there is little down time.
You start feeling overwhelmed and resentful about the chauffeur role. Your child asks to go to a friend’s house and you feel almost rejected because – for goodness’ sake – you already barely see him! On the nights everyone is home, they don’t want to eat dinner together at the table and opt to hang out in their rooms a lot.
This makes you angry and defensive.
After all you do for them, they barely have time for you! I could go on, but this illustration shows…
⭐When your real life doesn’t seem to line up with what you believe deep inside, you become unsettled, uneasy, discontent, discouraged, angry, overdrawn, and or lots of other adjectives you don’t want to be described as.
Likes, Dislikes, & Preferences That Are (More Or Less) Unchanging
Many of us naturally ignore what we like and don’t like in favor of what we think we “should” like or not like.
This catches up with us.
What we like or don’t like aligns closely with what we believe. If we are living in the middle of numerous situations we don’t like we become discouraged. We feel powerless. Worry and anxiety set in.
We fill out gratitude journals until we’re blue in the face and pray that God would deliver us from our circumstances, but we’re still Ill At Ease because we don’t like what’s happening in our life. Or because what we DO like is NOT happening.
Do you forget to sleep, bathe, eat, relax, etc.? NO MORE. This tracker will help you consistently live within your limits so you have more love to give to your family.
You like things neat and tidy, and do not like big messes.
How This Looks In Real Life
The kids run around and make messes and at first you do well tidying up behind them. But this gets harder as you have more kids.
You buy that wooden sign that says “Never mind the mess my kids are making memories” so you can try to tame the cleaning beast inside, but it doesn’t work. You start getting moody when they leave toys everywhere. Your husband’s stray socks are all it takes for you to bite his head off.
These messes trigger you to yell, go into fight or flight, or explode.
You literally feel like everyone in the house is taking you for granted and purposefully trying to make you insane with their mess. You are now an *Enraged Cleaner* because even just going from room to room tidying MAKES YOU MAD because you just hate a mess. You are not going to be okay with it.
⭐When you feel like you are forced to live with something you Do Not Like, there is no peace.
Points at which you hit a “wall” and start behaving in ways you don’t like
This is the easy way to see that some of your boundaries have been crossed or your limits not honored:
You get Uptight and Out Of Sorts.
It’s that simple.
Think about the things that make you nuts throughout your day. When you find them, you’ll find your likes and dislikes and your boundaries.
How This Looks In Real Life
➡️ Your child stays up until 10:30 p.m. each night and you get so annoyed and angry at bedtime.
⭐ Your boundary: you’re not okay with them staying up that late.
➡️ You hate dragging your kids to that weeknight commitment. You complain about it each week and wish it would just be cancelled or gone.
⭐ Your boundary: you want this time to be your own and you actually don’t like this commitment, but feel like you “shouldn’t” quit.
➡️ You yell at your kids because you’ve told them 5 times to come back to the table and they’ve ignored you.
⭐ You are 0% okay with the kids not listening to you.
So now we’ve done the hard work…
By this point, you are getting a better understanding of what your boundaries are. They are about what helps keep you okay. Sane. Not overwhelmed. Without intense feelings of anxiety and worry.
Boundaries are what help you carry out Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the wellspring of life.”
In this post I talk about… how to hold your boundaries.
I find your boundaries discussion interesting. I wondered if you’ve read any Townsend and Cloud? They write about boundaries, and the consequences of allowing your boundaries to be breached as being anger and resentment, but define boundaries a little differently. I also read their ‘Boundaries with Kids’ and found it really helpful.
I’m really liking this series! Thanks so much!
Yes, to all points. Thank you! I’ve bookmarked this and am already looking forward to the next post.
Rachel! Thank you for this post. It’s so helpful!! I’ve been struggling with this lately…feeling overwhelmed and past my limit. I have 4 kids ages 6 and under. I stay home with them and homeschool and my husband just recently started a job that takes him away sometimes overnight during the week. I’ve been exhausted and have felt powerless to change anything. Can’t wait to read more about this!
Is there a link to the article on how to actually hold your boundaries or has that yet to be posted?
That sign is hilarious, and totally me. I read one of your articles which also talked about boundaries the other day, and while I was playing the piano and my kids kept trying to “play” with me I realized one of my boundaries was that I did NOT want kids touching the piano while I played. So we communicated about that and now it’s something I’m a lot more consistent about not letting them do. Yay!
Gemma K. says
Thank you so much for writing this! I felt like I was going insane being so angry and distant all the time.. where in reality I’m surrounded by personal boundaries that are always being pushed too far by 2 boys and a messy partner. I’m going to read this to my partner, hopefully he will stay understanding meh boundary limits and start voicing his own too instead of shutting down and becoming moody.. thanks again for another wonderful article!
Gosh this is so good and so true!! God has given you revelation girl! Thank you for sharing!
Rachel Norman says
Wow, Ashley, what an encouragement!
thank you. this makes me feel not so alone because i often do become very angry (especially at bedtime!) i have 2 kids under 2. glad to know that i am human just like the rest of you, and not a monster after all.
Rachel Norman says
Oh you’re not a monster, only human :)
Thank you for your post! It gave words to things I have been feeling but couldn’t quite place. I want my husband to read this too because it expresses so well what I feel. Thank you!
Rachel Norman says
Oh Stefanie, I’m so glad to hear it encouraged you :)