One of the things no one tells you as a new mom is that you don’t have to tell anyone anything about how you choose to parent. Ever. Even if they ask you politely.
This is important, because as a first-time mom, everyone has questions for you, and you’re expected to answer them. You’re excited, they’re excited. It’s all very innocent, until the advice comes rolling in. There’s nothing wrong with advice. Many people feel they are being helpful, and sometimes they are.
But some people are not well intentioned. They care about control. They want you to do what they think is right by their opinion because it makes them feel smart and important. These people need to be weaned, and if you don’t know how or that you have the right to enforce informational and emotional boundaries, they can make you miserable.
For me, it was hard to start drawing boundaries. I had always been an over-sharer, and aside from making things socially awkward now and then, it was never really a problem. But once I had a baby, I felt like I couldn’t even make my own decisions anymore. Advice came at me from all directions, and the expectations that came with that advice weighed on me. I felt like I was letting people down, and I was floundering to find my footing as a mother.
So if you don’t learn to find your mother instinct or can’t hear it because other people are drowning it out, you end up bitter towards the people whose advice fails you and desperate for someone whose advice works. In the end, the only person who can raise your child is you.
What Does Enforcing Boundaries Look Like?
If you’ve never learned to keep boundaries, it can be difficult when you first start. When you feel the urge to talk about something off-limits, you have to stop yourself. You have to think ahead in the conversation, and have responses ready to go for some people. You simply can’t bring up some topics any more. The relationship with that person changes. But if they’re hurting you because you have been open with them, then it needs to change.
Sometimes, it might feel like lying. When I was at the pediatrician’s office and he asked if my daughter was sleeping through the night, I knew that he was looking for problem areas. The fact that she was not sleeping through the night at 8 months was not a problem area for me. So I said yes, she sleeps fine.
Sometimes it means keeping quiet when you would normally share something. I do this a lot when I see hot topics posted on Facebook, or when I’m in a group of people who all have the same view on politics or religion. If I think I can share something that would lead to meaningful discussion, I do. If someone asks me a pointed question about my thoughts, I share only if I think my opinion will be respected. Different people will set different boundaries. Mine even change depending on my level of patience or resilience that day.
How to Tell if You Need to Enforce Boundaries with Someone
There are a few ways I learned that certain people in my life needed boundaries:
- They punish you for decisions or opinions that you believe in. This could be in the form of pouting, the silent treatment, embarrassing you in front of other people or online, or passive-aggressive behavior.
- They don’t trust you. If someone constantly thinks you’re lying, is asking other family members about you, is stalking you on Facebook, or looking at your phone or email when you aren’t there, you need to enforce boundaries until there is open trust, if not longer. Mutual trust should be a cornerstone of any relationship.
- They are constantly following up with you. When someone is following up on advice they gave you, they aren’t treating you as an adult. Knowing you’re going to be followed-up on creates pressure and stress, and when you have a new baby, you don’t need any extra stress.
- Your relationship with them affects other relationships. It’s not your job to make anyone happy. We can’t even do that for our kids sometimes. So if someone is trying to make you fix other situations, other relationships, or change something in your life to make them happy, they need boundaries. Your baby and your family is your top priority. You shouldn’t ever be made to feel guilty for putting them first.
- Your relationship with them affects your mood. No one should have the power to make you feel upset, stressed, or like you aren’t good enough just because of what they say. If there is a real problem that needs to be addressed, then that’s different. But if you feel stressed out by or depressed because of someone else all the time, then you need to re-examine that relationship.
When my oldest daughter was little, we were struggling with getting her to sleep in her own bed. She went to sleep fine, but woke up every night and wanted to get in bed with us. This lead to hours-long struggles that left me feeling exhausted in the morning. I lost my patience with her during the day and I felt like a terrible mom. Why couldn’t she just sleep in her own bed? What did we do wrong?
I was researching toddler sleep issues on KellyMom.com, and one suggestion was that you should ask yourself, “If no one else knew about our sleeping arrangements would I still want to change anything?” The answer was no. She was 3. I was fine with her sleeping in our bed at night if she felt scared. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to hurt anyone, and that one day she would probably sleep through the night in her own bed just fine. That question made it clear exactly what the answer to our problem was. It wasn’t my daughter’s night waking. It wasza` listening to other people’s advice.
It was such a great reminder that my decisions on how to raise my children don’t affect people outside our family. I should be free to make these decisions about what is best for my family on my own, with my own research, without feeling pressure from outside parties. That is my right as a parent, and yours too.
If someone is trying to take that right from you, then it’s time to wean. Don’t talk about parenting with them. Enforce your boundaries and live a happier, less stressful life, confident in your choices and your abilities as a mother.
Erin Burt is a mother of three girls and freelance writer who lives and writes in Oklahoma City.