Have you ever experienced “mom guilt”?
Do you try to get it all done and then feel like you’re failing in one area or another (or all of them)?
Does it feel like everything will fall apart if you take five minutes for yourself?
If you are nodding your head, you are not alone. “Mom guilt” is a common experience. But as I’ve seen with many therapy clients, healthy boundaries can help mitigate this experience.
It is time to stop feeling bad about being human (which is really what “mom guilt” is about). In this episode, I give you the top five essential boundaries for empowered motherhood to lessen mom guilt.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Boundary #1: Prioritize Self-Care
I find most moms lack personal boundaries around self-care.
Motherhood is often all-consuming, and prioritizing time to care for yourself can be challenging. (Like, struggling-to-find-time-to-shower challenging.)
This is especially true when you feel like everyone’s needs are more important than yours.
When moms lack healthy personal boundaries around self-care, they become angry, resentful, sad, or feel misused and abused by their family and kids.
It is crucial to carve out personal time to take a break, get a massage (if you can afford to), take a tub, or get help.
I know it can be hard to ask for help, but as mothers, we cannot take everything on all of the time. Our well-being is directly connected to carving out time to fill our own cups.
In my therapy practice, I’ve seen clients exchange childcare with other moms. One might watch the kids one Wednesday while the other mom watches the kids the following Wednesday. This exchange gives both moms some personal time throughout the month.
You might feel fulfilled as a mother, have a good relationship, or love what you do for a living (if you work), but none of these qualify as self-care. We need to rest and restore.
Boundary #2: Define What “Good Mothering” Is For You
You need to have a straight-up boundary with the notion of mom guilt, which begins with grasping you are one person and there is no way in hell you can get everything done perfectly by yourself. It is impossible.
Much of this guilt comes from society’s idea of the “perfect” mother. There is both mother adoration and dismissing or diminishing the emotional labor many mothers do.
We have to get rid of the unrealistic idea of being any kind of a “perfect” mother.
Instead, I encourage you to create your own idea of good mothering.
In psychotherapy, we talk about “good enough mothering,” which was coined by Donald Winnicott. Studies show kids are resilient when they know they are loved, so there is no need for perfection. They just need present parenting.
When we try to do it all, we sacrifice being present. I am positive it is better to focus on being present with your kids, even if it means spending slightly less time with them. Being present will do more for them than checking the “Wednesday afternoon at the park” box and being on a call the whole time.
I suggest rejecting the perfect mothering archetype because it does not exist and focusing on setting boundaries around negative self-talk while prioritizing self-compassion and self-care.
Boundary #3: Decide What You Need For Work-Life Harmony
What I see in my therapy practice are moms who want to do it all and feel like they can. Many successful women in my practice have become mothers who then return to work with zero balance. They burn the candle at both ends and are completely exhausted every day. Suddenly, everything becomes a box to check.
Without work-life harmony (especially if you have disordered boundaries), everything becomes obligatory. The last thing you want when it comes to anything you are passionate about (motherhood, your career, hobbies), is for it to feel like an obligation. When this happens, we cannot give our best in any of our roles because we end up resentful. We resent our kids, our partners, and our work.
To help mitigate or avoid resentment, think about what you are realistically capable of. What can you do lovingly, happily? What don’t you want to do?
You might negotiate a flexible or reduced work schedule if you can afford to do so. You might want to get help if you can afford it. Or you might ask people to pitch in with household tasks (especially if your kids are old enough).
As I mentioned, my therapy clients who had big jobs often returned to work expecting to continue as it was before. They had a rude awakening when they realized how exhausted they were from parenting an infant.
Tons of emotional bandwidth goes into parenting little kids who do not yet have the words to express their needs. You are constantly guessing what is wrong. They might be tired, have a dirty diaper, need sleep, or need food. You figure it out as you go, but in the beginning, this can be incredibly stressful.
When you have better work-life harmony, you have more time to master the art of parenting and understanding your particular kid.
Boundary #4: Navigating Co-Parenting
Whether you are still in a relationship with a co-parent, divorced, or separated, there is a lot to negotiate when it comes to parenting.
This is where emotional labor and keeping the ship of the family afloat comes in. Many invisible tasks go unpaid, and between you and a co-parent, those tasks must be visible because they take bandwidth and time.
You cannot be the only one keeping the ship afloat because eventually, you won’t be able to – not without sacrificing your happiness. Nothing makes us more angry or bitter than doing unrecognized emotional labor.
Many of you write to me and tell me how exhausted you are. And co-parenting can be a major source of conflict and stress, especially if you are not aligned.
I suggest having conversations about the division of labor upfront. Establish clear boundaries around parenting roles, communication, and decision-making.
Your child truly benefits when you have healthy boundaries and a clear understanding of who’s responsible for what.
If you separate or divorce through the court system, the responsibility of who pays for what is often determined. But when you stay together, this responsibility may remain unclear, leading you to assume you are on the same page.
This happens with positive projection, where we project our positive attributes of nurturing or fairness onto others as if everyone is like us. But this is often untrue – we cannot assume others will think or act like us.
Establishing boundaries and an equitable division of labor is helpful for everyone involved.
Whether you are pregnant, thinking about having kids, or have kids but aren’t explicitly on the same page as your co-parent, I invite you to be proactive and talk about this.
Think of it this way: every phase of child development requires different boundaries and interactions from the parents. You wouldn’t parent a 15-year-old the same way you parent a 5-year-old because it is inappropriate.
How do you see parenting changing over the years? What will be important to you? This will help you establish what being on the same page looks like, rather than making an assumption you are on the same page.
Boundary #5: Handling Extended Family + Friends
It is often difficult for mothers to have boundaries with extended family, friends, neighbors, and others.
As a mother, you might feel pressured to meet the expectations of your extended family. For example, you might not force your kid to be physical with other people. If someone tells your child to kiss grandma, you need to be comfortable holding your boundary.
This can be difficult, but it is your job to protect the sovereignty of your child.
It is also worth setting boundaries around involvement, communication, and visitation. You may have grandparents who feel like mi casa es su casa, where they visit and parent the kid the way they would parent, which may not align with your idea of parenting.
I give you scripts and ideas of what you can say in these scenarios in the guide. Of course, we don’t want to blast someone, especially if it is a first-time boundary offense. This is not about rejection. But how you feel and what is important to you as a parent has to be more important.
You can get other people to respect your boundaries around your child – it is not impossible. In the beginning, people might be slightly uncomfortable with you asserting yourself, but you will be more uncomfortable if you do not stand up for what you think is right for your kid.
Setting these boundaries as a mom can be complicated, but you can do it, and it is your right and your obligation to do what you think is right in all of these situations.
Sometimes you just need a good coach, and I am here for you. Sometimes you just need good scripts or sentence starters to move in the right direction (which you can get in the guide here).
I hope this episode added value to your life and gave you the confidence to know how you feel, what you want, and what you think should matter to you more than what anyone else thinks, feels, and wants.
Have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Thank you for this. You are right, I am angry and I didn’t even know why. I am a widow in a few state, neighborhood and school for the kids. It all just seems overwhelming to figure out and set new boundaries again. Also, putting myself first when kids are grieving is sooo difficult. Any suggestions with grief?
Hi Nic- I am so sorry for your loss, and am witnessing you with compassion. ❤️ I have a few interview episodes that focus on grief with my pal Christina Rasmussen, who lost her husband:
And in case it is helpful, I’ve also done an episode with boundary scripts when grieving: https://www.terricole.com/boundary-scripts-strategies-for-grieving/