A lot of us struggle with setting boundaries with our kids. We internalized some of the shame-based instructions we got from society about our role as mothers, and now we believe we are supposed to be martyrs for our kids. We think we are not allowed to expect our kids to treat us like we’re human beings. So, let me share with you some boundaries I’ve been working on setting with my kids, who are 5 and 7. I’ll be honest, I’m still working on enforcing them. It doesn’t come naturally to set and hold boundaries with my kids. But, it’s something I have to do if I’m going to be the best mom I can be.
1. I love spending time with you, but I also like being alone. I’m going to take some time for myself now so that we can play better together later.
My kids need to understand that, no matter how much I love them, I will always need alone time. They will survive if I take 20-30 minutes to myself, and they are perfectly capable of giving me space during that time.
2. My responsibilities don’t end when you’re out of school for breaks. You’ll have to keep yourself busy until my work is done.
For the parents who work from home, this may be the most important one you set with your kids this summer. It sucks to tell the kids to keep themselves busy while you work, but you may not have any other choice. You’ll be surprised by how resilient they are, once they realize your boundaries are firm. They are perfectly capable of keeping themselves busy for awhile.
3. People deserve privacy in the bathroom. Let’s all make sure we’re giving each other that respect.
This one is important for many reasons. First of all, I don’t need my kids barging in on me when I’m in the bathroom. I’m a mom, but I’m still a human who deserves dignity. More importantly, I need my children to understand that they deserve privacy in the bathroom.
4. I need time to drink my coffee and read in the morning before I am ready to start my day.
Maybe it’s just a “me” thing, but I can’t get my day started on the right foot if I don’t have at least a few minutes to drink my coffee — preferably with a book. My kids are gradually learning that if they can give me just 15 minutes to drink a hot cup of coffee and read a chapter, I am so much more fun when I’m done.
5. Parents need time together so that they can be healthy for each other and for you. Saturday nights you’ll have a babysitter.
We spent the first 5 years of new parenthood rarely taking time for ourselves as a couple, and it was a mistake. My husband and I are better partners and better parents when we have alone time to reconnect, and to be without the responsibilities of parenting for a little while.
6. I am not available to help you when you shout demands at me.
I mean honestly this should be a boundary you set with everyone.
7. I’m learning how to be a mom just like you’re learning how to be a little kid. We’re both going to make mistakes. Let’s be patient with each other.
It’s okay for our kids to understand that we’re learning, too. Reminding them to be patient with me when I make mistakes is a way to teach them empathy. And when I am patient with them, I show them that it is safe to make mistakes sometimes.
8. I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve finished this task.
I try my best to be available to my kids, since they there are still a lot of things they can’t do for themselves yet. But when I am doing something that takes concentration, or that is time-dependent, they can wait.
9. Everyone deserves time for themselves and being alone isn’t a bad thing.
At 5 and 7, my kids are starting to learn that being alone is actually really nice! They seemed afraid of being alone for a long time, thinking that they needed to be around me at all times. I’ve modeled for them that it is safe and healthy to be alone sometimes, and as a result, they are beginning to seek out alone time on their own. That’s healthy for all of us!
10. It’s my job to keep you safe. That means sometimes I have to say no to something dangerous, even if it sounds fun to you.
I absolutely refuse to argue with my kids when I have said no to something unsafe. They are allowed to disagree with me, but not on things like that.
11. Exercise is how I keep myself healthy. You can do it with me if you want. If not, I’ll be with you when I’m done.
Unless I’m on my Peloton, my kids are always invited to exercise with me. If they don’t want to exercise with me, then they have to respect my workout and be patient until I’m done.
12. I don’t like the way you spoke to me just now.
Again, something we should all be comfortable saying to anyone who speaks badly to us.
13. You’re allowed to disagree with me, but we will both treat each other with respect.
It’s really important to me that my kids know they can disagree with me. I’m not running a military operation here. I just need them to understand that they need to be respectful, and I have to be respectful to them in return.
Give some of these boundaries a try and see how your mental health and your relationship with your kids begin to blossom. Boundaries are healthy. You are not selfish for having them. In fact, you’re protecting your relationship with your kids and modeling healthy boundary-setting for them.
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