In today’s episode, I want to unpackage this idea surrounding boundaries and what it could look like for you to implement in your own family in order to reduce mom guilt. Now I use the word reduce because mom guilt is never just going to disappear, but there are things that you can do to help reduce the guilt and to help navigate it. So if you are ready to have this burden of weight lifted off your shoulders, at least just a little bit, then let’s get right into it.
Today’s topic is one in which I have found to be extremely helpful. There are some days even where I feel like I might be taking it a bit too far. Like I don’t really feel mom guilt sometimes, and then I start to feel guilty that I’m not feeling guilty. Anyone ever been there before? It’s just this perpetual never ending cycle as a mom, we experience the gamut of emotions at all times.
But today I want to help you think of the boundaries in your life that maybe you need to establish a little bit better. Maybe you don’t have boundaries at all and maybe this is going to be extremely eye-opening for you. But I want you to start to step into this clarity and step into this confidence that you can help reduce the mom guilt by simply setting up some expectations and some family rules, which basically are boundaries.
Here are seven boundaries every mama needs to have in place to help reduce mom guilt:
1. Wake Up & Bedtime Boundary
A wake-up boundary is a reasonable, specific time that you decide where your children have to stay in their room until. So for our family, our wake-up boundary is 7:00 AM. So my children are allowed to wake up whenever they want to, but the boundary is that until 7:00 AM, it’s my self-care time. It’s the time that I get to do what I want without interruptions so that I can take care of me first. This might be harder for some of you who have little kids because they have different needs than school-aged children.
However this is still something enforceable at a young age. It’s just going to take a little bit more time and might look a little different. It could mean that when your child wakes up, you take them out of their crib and put them into a pack and play. They’re still nearby, but they have a boundary or separation. They know that you’re there, but you’re not tending to them.
I know this can feel hard when your baby is needy or clingy or maybe hungry. Take care of the hunger at your discretion and maybe you feed them first when they wake up and then they go right into that wake up boundary. So even at a young age, you can still set up a boundary.
I do allow my kids to come downstairs and say, ‘good morning’ to me. Then I give them a quick hug and a kiss and I say, “I missed you while you were sleeping. Did you have sweet dreams?” I just talk to them for a couple of minutes to give them that connection time. And then I say, “Okay, I’m so excited to read to you when it’s 7:00,” or “I can’t wait to come chat with you when it’s 7:00.” I’m just reminding my children of that wake up boundary. Now the same is true with a bedtime boundary, no matter how old your children are, they can have a bedtime boundary. In our house it’s at 7:00 again. We start to get our children ready for bed around seven, and they’re both kind of tucked in around 7:30pm.
And so our boundary is, as soon as we leave your room and put you to bed, it’s time for you to stay in your room. If you don’t fall asleep right away, that’s okay, but the lights have to be off and please do not come downstairs and interrupt us – this is our time to spend together. We let our children know how important it is for us to have that time away from our kids. Especially, you know, when your spouse works long days and they get home and I hear so many stories of people that are like, I never get to spend time alone with my spouse. And I’m like, well, put your kids to bed. Let them play in their rooms; have a bedtime boundary so that you can have that protected time with your spouse.
2. Family Contribution Boundary
I first heard this term from Amy McCready, and I just absolutely love how positive it sounds. Instead of chores, they’re called family contributions. It’s teaching your children what they can do or what you expect them to do, because they’re part of the family. So a family contribution could be hanging their backpack up, unpacking their lunch, packing their lunch, making sure they have clean clothes that are folded and put away every week. Setting up these boundaries with your family tells them what they’re responsible for to help contribute to the family. Now, this is going to eliminate a lot of that mom guilt when you feel like you’re always nagging your kids to clean up, because it’s a boundary – it’s a family rule. It’s not something that is negotiable – it’s a family rule.
When you start to use that language, your children start to understand that mom’s really not budging. This is about laundry, we are responsible for our own things. As a mom, you should not be responsible for your children, especially the messes they make from day one. My children have always known that if they make a mess, that’s okay, I’m not going to be upset, but you do need to clean up the mess. Will I help you? Sure. When you’re nine will I help you? Maybe, but at that point you should know how to do it for yourself. So it’s teaching these boundaries for your children that are setting them up for success when they get older.
3. Work / Play Boundary
I have a whole podcast episode about working with littles at home, I’ll be sure to link it in the show notes. But I just want to talk about this for a quick second, because I think it’s so important. I know a lot of mompreneurs struggle with this. When do I work and when do my children play and when do I spend time with them and when do I play with them? So setting up this expectation and this boundary is going to help reduce that mom guilt, because you have already thought about it in advance. You’ve talked about it with your spouse and said, what do you think is a reasonable amount of time for me to play one-on-one with our kids? What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for me to spend on my work?
I think a lot of us who stay home as moms, we think okay, that’s my primary job – I’m a stay at home mom. But you have this other passion and a business that you want to grow. And so how can you do both and do them well? Well, set up this work play boundary, and I promise you it’s going to make you feel so much better. One of the strategies that I would have for you is to set up little ‘sprints’. Work for 45 minutes and then you go connect and play with your kids for 15, and then you work for 45 and then you spend time with your kids for 15 minutes. And that just gives comfort knowing you’re going to be available in just a little bit.
You’re not expecting them to sit and entertain themselves for three straight hours – that’s not realistic. But you could do those little sprints and then just let your kids know like, Oh, Hey mom has 15 more minutes on my timer and then I’m going to come play it with you. And just having those breaks where they’re like, Oh, mom’s going to be with me is so helpful for them and so I think that is really awesome. As your kids start to get older, they will probably need less and less of your time. And so you might be able to stretch that a little bit. There are times when my kids are on a school break and I get like an hour and a half to two hour chunks because they’re older and they’re way easier to entertain themselves. This will help eliminate a lot of that stress for you is just knowing in advance when you’re going to be working.
4. Calm Down Boundary
This boundary works both ways: you can use it for yourself and you can also use it for your children. And this is a boundary in which you set up that allows your children to understand that if you are flustered or if you are stressed, you advocate for a break. So what I mean by this is if you find yourself in a really heated situation where you are not thinking clearly, you know that you’re about to snap. Enact the calm down boundary and say, “Hey, I’m going to go take a five minute break, I really need some time to myself and I need you to respect that.”
Now this boundary is going to be difficult because there are times when our kids just really need us, but we’re not really equipped to handle that yet. So it could mean that you just walk into the backyard and you take a five minute break. If your kids are little, you might not be able to do that, but you might be able to take them with you outside. Just sometimes changing the scenery can completely change everyone’s mood, attitude, demeanor.
And so just taking that calm down break and saying, Hey, I can sense that I’m not going to say things that I want to say. I know that I’m probably going to do something that I’ll regret, so I am enacting the calm down boundary. And you can say this with your kids too and just say, “Hey, I understand that you and I are not going to agree right now. Why don’t we just take five and let’s regroup in a little bit. Let’s turn on some music and dance, let’s go for a walk around the park. Let’s both put in our earbuds and listen to an audio book.” Whatever it is that works for your child, or that works for you, make it a part of the routine that when you’re upset, you have the power to release this calm down boundary, and just say, you know what? I need this space and I need you to give me this space.
5. Interruption Boundary
How many times are we interrupted by our children every single day?! Their favorite time to interrupt us is when we’re on the phone or when we’re talking to someone. Or when their sibling is talking, that seems like the best time to try to tell us about what they ate lunch that day and what their favorite book is. It’s like they’re pulling whatever they can and just trying to get the attention. So the interruption boundary is teaching your children to wait when they hear someone talking and place their hand on your shoulder or on your arm to let you know that they want to talk.
Also, something that you could do is raising your hand when they want to talk. That is a nonverbal cue to let you know that they want to say something. I also have my children sometimes write down their questions and show them to me. That way, when I find like a small break in the conversation, I can quickly look at their note and see if it’s something that I can answer quickly. This interruption boundary at least gives them the opportunity to let me know they need me. But then it also gives me the opportunity to be like, okay, I acknowledge that you need me, but yes I can answer or no I cannot.
Basically it’s teaching your children how to wait when it’s not their turn to speak. I think this can be so impactful and it’s frustrating as a parent. Because so often we find ourselves saying like how many times do I have to tell you this? And I want to share this with you because this is something that I think every parent struggles with, but I’m going to give you the answer to that question. So you want to know how many times do you have to tell your children X, Y, Z? And I’m going to say as many times as it takes. I know that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but honestly, our number one job as a parent is to lovingly guide our children on the right path. And that means repeating ourselves until the lesson sinks in and until they understand.
6. Food Boundary
I know this is one that we struggle with sometimes because our kids go to school and so we really can’t monitor or police all the food that they eat. When someone brings in a snack for a birthday party, I can’t be there saying, no, you can’t have that cupcake, you already had one yesterday. So I think for this food boundary, what I really want you to understand and unpackage is, we can control what we can while our kids are at home. It’s important to have an idea of how often your kids can have certain foods. Maybe you don’t have a boundary around this at all, and this is something that you really want to start implementing.
I have a friend who has three boys, and I remember her telling me once that she would go to Costco and spend hundreds of dollars on snacks and then the next week they’d all be gone. And I’m like, well, do you have a boundary around how many snacks are allowed to have? And she’s like, well no, they just go in and grab them and then I cannot keep track. So a strategy that I have for you is don’t put all the snacks out, just put a few out, or put their snack options in a bin. And when they’re gone for each child, then they don’t get any more.
I mean it’s seriously as simple as that, if our children are overly snacking, it’s because we’ve allowed them to do that. If our children are choosing unhealthy options, it’s because we’ve brought unhealthy options into our home. And so it’s really important that we start to set these food boundaries and these expectations for our children, in order for them to grow up with healthy habits.
And as mentioned earlier in the episode, when I talk about kind of creating these family rules, they just become a part of the family culture and then your children start to understand it. They start to recognize these boundaries and they start to say, okay, that’s just how our family operates. One thing that my children love to say, and I’m sure yours do too, is well at Tommy’s house they do this. Or why don’t we ever have Gatorade in our fridge or they compare themselves to their friends. And my response is always, different families have different rules, and that’s all I say. And so setting up these boundaries are so important, but especially for food, because we don’t want our children to grow up with the wrong idea of food.
I don’t think that you should overly eliminate all types of food, because I think that can backfire in the future. My motto is to just be aware and set up expectations and guidelines around moderation and what is expected. It gives your children something to look forward to and understand, Oh, okay, well, we only have treats on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or, Oh, we only have treats at special occasions and mom makes homemade brownies on Fridays. Or whatever it is, like set up something that they can kind of always expect and look forward to, That will definitely help reduce the mom guilt for always feeling like you’re giving your kids junk food or always feeling like you’re never allowing them to have anything sweet or fun.
7. Screen Time Boundary
This is one of the hot button topics that I hear a lot of mamas struggling with. Because you hear the range, you hear the families that don’t even have TVs and never allow their children to touch a screen. And then we hear about these families who allow their children to be on screens 24/7 and it just feels like there’s no happy medium and there’s no balance. It feels like there’s so much judgment and guilt surrounding how much screen time we allow. I think what’s really important is to actually do some research about screen time and its effects on children.
I kind of shied away from this for a while because I didn’t want to know. I used to think screens were fabulous because keep my children entertained and there’s no yelling! I kind of just used it as a fallback and I used it as an excuse. Like, Oh, I don’t know how bad it is because I didn’t really look. But I actually, now that my eyes are opened and I know more about the effects of screen time, I think it’s super important that you do the research and you figure out what you’re comfortable with. Then, you need to have a conversation with your spouse to discuss your research and decide what you are comfortable with so you are on the same page.
If you guys heard my episode with Tessa Stuckey about the dangers of screen time. She talks about how there is passive screen time, which is like watching TV and then there’s like more interactive screen time when you’re doing video games and it affects you in a different way. Doing that research and figuring out what screen time is acceptable.
We need to also make sure we are not using screen time in a time of crisis. That was one of the biggest takeaways that I took from that episode was if your child is bored, don’t give them a screen. Because that’s not teaching them how to cope and how to deal with boredom. And so being prepared in advance, when you go somewhere like the grocery store or to a restaurant, being prepared with an “I’m Bored Bag”. We started this with my kids and it’s been great because we don’t allow them to be on screens.
They ask us for our phones constantly, but we don’t like that. We tell them to pack their I’m Bored Bag with whatever they want and then they’re responsible to entertain themselves when we’re out. It’s important to think about these things in advance and decide what you’re okay with. Also think about what you’re not okay with and set up that expectation in that boundary. So for my children, I talked about it in last week’s episode, my accidental hack for discipline that worked really well was allowing my children to earn screen time. They can redeem their screen time two times a week.
They get to pick what days, but they have to have five stars to exchange for screen time. And we allow them to watch two 20-minute shows that we’ve approved. I don’t count screen time as homework. My kids do like typing club for school, so I don’t count that. But if they want it to get on PBS kids and play some games, that definitely would count as screen time. Even if it’s an educational game, I still count that as screen time.
I hope that you are starting to kind of get a handle around these boundaries and how it can really help you reduce that mom guilt. Because now you have a plan, you have a strategy, you have family rules set into place. You don’t have to feel as guilty anymore because you have established these guidelines and now you are teaching your children what to expect. It will soon become part of your family routine. It’ll feel more natural and you will feel less and less like the bad guy because you have these guidelines to fall back on.
I have created a list of complimentary episodes down in the show notes that I would love for you to check out. You can add them to your queue right now and listen to them later today or later this week. I think that they’re going to be really helpful in continuing this idea around mom guilt and boundaries, and how you can start to help your family be set up for success.
As always mama. I am here rooting for you and you are not alone on this journey.
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- Episode 2: The Secret to Navigating Mom Guilt
- Episode 3: Why Setting Work Life Boundaries Changes Everything
- Episode 12: 5 Tips for Working at Home With Kids
- Episode 35: How to Recover from a Mommy Meltdown
- Episode 39: Tackling Screen Addiction with Tessa Stuckey