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Personal Boundaries and Parenting: Getting Rid of Guilt

If you talk to anyone that knows me on a personal level really well, they will tell you I am all. about. boundaries (insert that clapping emoji for emphasis).

I lived a good chunk of my life without boundaries and when I discovered the power boundaries had to help me shape interactions and develop relationships in the way I wanted, I dove in head first.

In case you haven't had the same experience with boundaries that I have, let's talk really quick about what they are and how they benefit us as individuals.

Boundaries are limits on what we deem acceptable and welcomed in a variety of different areas of our lives. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of boundaries, a great place to start is a book called Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. I highly recommend it for literally everyone.

In this post, I want to focus in on personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are limits you have based on your own one-of-a-kind needs. I like to call these "non-negotiables". Here are some examples of some of my personal boundaries:

  • I cannot be around lavender anything. No candles. No lotions. No air-fresheners. It legit makes me gag. (seems silly, but it's a personal boundary)

  • I will not allow racist jokes in my company.

  • I will not tolerate comments about my body, whether it's because I've "lost weight" or "gained weight". Body comments are off limits.

  • People cannot come into my bedroom without my expressed permission...every. single. time.

Some of those personal boundaries I listed have good reasoning behind them, but some are just personal preferences that I have very strong feelings about.

Now let's talk about personal boundaries in parenting.

When I became a mom about 19 months ago, I made some mistakes surrounding boundaries. As someone who is highly educated in child development and spends time around one of the top researchers in infant mental health, I have a lot of information in my brain. And I wanted every decision I made to be evidence-based, proven by research, based on science. And honestly, a lot of really great growth came out of those decisions for my son.

But what happened was that while I was doing everything I could to make sure he had the best developmental environment possible for an infant, I neglected awareness of my own personal boundaries that were important for my own mental health.

One of those was my need to have a bed to myself. Now I know there is controversy around bed-sharing, but this post isn't about that. We started bedsharing when my son was old enough to turn over, adjust positioning, and report discomfort through crying. So hear me out.

There was a point when I was taking my qualifying exams for my doctorate (a really intense series of research writings) and being a stay at home mom and taking courses all at the same time. And I was exhausted. One night I was in his room for the 15th time (I know bc I kept data like a good educational psychologist), and I picked him up to comfort him and I got woozy and fell with him in my arms. At that point I made a decision to put my baby in bed with me because I was absolutely delirious and I knew there was risk either way.

And he stayed there. Until a month ago (and still starts there some nights).

A month ago I was at my wits end. We had tried over the past 6 months to move him to his bedroom several times and it had not gone well. We had decided to try putting his crib mattress on the floor in the corner of our bedroom and that had been going pretty well for a couple nights. But I was still feeling like crap about it because of some confidential issues about my child's development.

Since I have the privilege of having a colleague who is an expert in parenting and infant mental health, I reached out to her for advice. The first thing she asked me was, "What are you non-negotiables?" I responded to her by talking around my non-negotiables and giving all the reasons I thought I needed my non-negotiables. She responded and said, "You don't need a good reason for a personal boundary." And it really resonated.

"You don't need a good reason for a personal boundary."

If I don't want my kid in the bed, if that's my personal boundary, that's ok. I don't need to feel bad about it. I'm allowed to have a personal boundary without an evidence-based reason for having it.

And you are too!

Maybe it looks different for you.

"I'm allowed to have a personal boundary without my in-laws agreeing with it."

"I'm allowed to have a personal boundary without my partner understanding it."

"I'm allowed to have a personal boundary even though my kids don't like it."

"I'm allowed to have a personal boundary even though there's no 'good reason' for me having it."

Whatever the discomfort you feel with having your personal boundary, know that your boundary is yours to have and you don't have to feel bad about having it.

So when you find yourself feeling bad about it, what are some strategies you can use to move yourself through the feelings?

1. Affirm your boundary. Something I repeat to myself when I have these feelings is this affirmation, "I don't need a reason for my boundary." Sometimes just affirming this truth is enough to move me through that uncomfortable feeling of guilt.

2. Journal. Whenever I'm feeling an emotion really deeply and and affirmation doesn't seem to work, I get out a paper journal and write about what I'm thinking and feeling. Writing by hand in a paper journal slows your thoughts (you can only write so fast) and it provides multiple avenues for your brain to process what you're experiencing. You are forming thoughts, going through the motor process of writing and then rereading them, which uses additional functions of your brain. Sometimes through journaling we run into 'AHA' moments without even meaning to.

3. Reach out to a supportive friend. Every parent needs a friend who is on the same page as you that you can reach out to in moments where you start to doubt the worthiness of your boundaries.

Don't wait until you're in a hot moment to reach out. Contact your friend before you're in that moment and explain what you need from them when it happens. Let them know you need them to remind you that you are worthy of personal boundaries and don't need a reason to have them.

Take a moment. Sit down and ponder.

"What are your personal boundaries?"

For more on parental boundaries check out Cloud and Townsend's books Boundaries with Kids and Boundaries with Teens.

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