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Part 1: Boundaries With Mom 101

Updated: Mar 26

“Have the courage to say no.” - W. Clement Stone

woman in headphones

In this article, we’re talking about a taboo subject: having boundaries with your mom. Whether you identify as someone who has the mother wound or not, this article is for anyone who has a mom. Let’s get started!

Reminder: Here at the Mother Wound Project we know biological mothers aren’t the only hurtful parents. Parents of all gender identities can and do behave in ways that harm their children. When you see us referring specifically to moms in our content, know we’re doing this to dismantle the stigma that comes with having the mother wound in particular. But that doesn’t mean our content doesn’t apply to other parents. To tailor our content to your specific situation, just switch out “Mom” with the parent of your choice, and you’re good to go.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are those lines that communicate to other people what is and isn’t okay with you. If you’ve ever driven a car then you’ve interacted with all sorts of boundaries in the form of traffic laws. Some examples of these include:

  • It’s okay to turn left here, but not right.

  • Drive on this side of the street only.

  • Don’t travel faster than 25 mph in this zone.

  • Stop when the light turns red.

The way you’ll need to communicate your boundaries to your mom will of course be different than the boundaries a driver encounters while being behind the wheel. But when you stop and think about it you’ll find they all still boil down to saying the same thing: “This is okay” or “This isn’t okay.”

There are as many ways to have boundaries with your mom as there are cars on the road. Just a few examples of boundaries you might choose to have with her include:

  • “I can’t come to your place for Christmas because I have other plans.”

  • “I’m happy to talk about my new job, but not about my divorce.”

  • “Please stop asking about my ex.”

  • “Now isn’t a good time for me to be on the phone.”

What boundaries are NOT

If you’ve been here with us at the Mother Wound Project for any amount of time then you already know that one of our favorite ways to learn about something new is to learn about what that something is not. Let’s do this right here with boundaries. Having boundaries with your mom is NOT:

  • Selfish

  • Mean

  • Unloving

  • Abusive

  • Rude

Now is it possible that your mom will interpret your new boundaries as selfish or unloving even though they totally aren’t? Absolutely. In fact, the more your mom is used to you not having healthy boundaries the more likely it is that she’ll perceive your boundaries as a cruel personal attack. Remember, just because your mom thinks something is true doesn’t actually make it true.

Why boundaries with your mom are so important

Boundaries are not just important in your relationship with your mom. Boundaries are important in any relationship. This is because boundaries help you set the stage for healthy relationships. Without both people in a given relationship having boundaries, that relationship cannot be healthy, mother-adult child relationships included. It’s just not possible. Boundaries are that important. Having boundaries with your mom helps you to:

  • Foster a healthy mother-adult child relationship.

  • Provide clarity for both you and your mom.

  • Avoid overextending yourself and thus becoming resentful.

  • Keep any people-pleasing tendencies you might have in check.

  • Communicate your needs and preferences to your mom.

  • Communicate what is okay for you and what is not okay for you to your mom.

Why are boundaries with Mom so tough?

If just the thought of having boundaries with your mom has you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Lots of people struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries with their mom. In fact, our research here at the Mother Wound Project has shown that it’s common for people to have a particularly hard time having boundaries with Mom. Some of the reasons you might be struggling to have boundaries with your mom include:

  • You worry that having boundaries with your mom will offend her or hurt her feelings.

  • Growing up you were taught that having boundaries with your mom meant you were mean or self-centered.

  • Healthy boundaries weren’t modeled for you by your early caregiver(s).

  • You experienced painful boundary violations as a child.

  • You received the message that loving someone meant always needing to say yes to them.

  • Influential family members expect you to not have boundaries with your mom because of your age or gender.

  • You’re afraid of being judged harshly by another parent or sibling for having boundaries with her.

  • Saying no to your early caregiver(s) was traumatic due to punishment, physical abuse, emotional abuse, etc.

  • Your efforts to have boundaries with her in the recent past have resulted in her sulking, withdrawing, or giving you the silent treatment.

Helpful reminders for having boundaries with Mom

And now for some good news! Just because you’re having a tough time having boundaries with your mom in this moment doesn’t mean it will always be like this. Learning new things always takes time. It’s just part of being an imperfectly perfect human!

To encourage you along your way to having healthy boundaries with your mom, I’ve gone ahead and gathered up my five favorite reminders. When you’re having a tough boundaries with mom day (it happens for everyone) go ahead and circle back to these reminders.

Reminder #1: Having boundaries with Mom is healthy.

It really and truly is! Say this reminder over to yourself as many times as you need to. Or even better, write it down and post it somewhere you’ll be sure to see it.

Reminder #2: Boundaries are acts of self-compassion.

It’s 100% true. Boundaries help you take good care of yourself because they’re innately loving. If you’re tired, you can set a boundary and leave the party early to respond lovingly to your need for rest. If you don’t want to talk to Mom about a certain topic, you can set a boundary that honors your needs (and also avoids the resentment that comes with having unspoken expectations).

Reminder #3: Boundaries are compassionate towards your mom.

Don’t just take my word for it. In her book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown writes, “Boundaries are a prerequisite for compassion and empathy. We can’t connect with someone unless we’re clear about where we end and they begin. If there’s no autonomy between people, then there’s no compassion or empathy, just enmeshment.”

Reminder #4: Practice, practice, practice!

Just like with any other skill, learning to have healthy boundaries with your mom takes practice. And then more practice. That’s just part of the process.

Reminder #5: Be gentle with yourself.

Anytime we’re learning a skill as an adult that we should have been supported in learning as a child this takes a ton of work! Not only are we learning something new. We’re also unlearning an old way of doing things that doesn’t serve us. It really is a double whammy. As you make this journey towards learning healthy boundaries with your mom, be sure to treat yourself with a whole bunch of gentleness, patience, and compassion. You deserve it.

Deciding which boundaries to have with Mom

This is the point where my mother wound counseling clients look at me and say, “Okay, Stephi, this is great and all, but which boundaries do I need to have with my mom?” And no wonder. This is the million dollar question that everyone wants an answer to. But here’s the thing: the only person who can possibly know which boundaries you need to have with your mom is you.

But hang in there! Just because I can’t tell you which boundaries you personally need to have with your mom to feel at peace in your relationship doesn’t mean I can’t help you find your own answers. My work as a mother wound counselor has taught me that one of the very best things I can do to get you moving in the right direction is teach you about the seven different types of boundaries.

The seven types of boundaries

When it comes to figuring out which boundaries you need with your mom, knowing the available options beforehand makes a big difference. That’s why we’re talking about all seven types of boundaries in this section. As you read through the seven boundary types, keep your relationship with your mom in mind and notice which boundary examples jump out at you. These are helpful clues as to where you need to have a boundary with your mom. Without further ado, I present to you the seven types of boundaries.

Physical boundaries

Your physical boundaries are about the physical aspects of your life. Physical boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Your personal space.

  • Your body.

  • Physical touch.

  • Your mom’s voice volume.

  • Where you are.

  • Who’s with you.

Physical boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “When we get together it needs to be somewhere neutral like a park or museum.”

  • “Please stop trying to hold my hand.”

  • “I need you to lower your voice.”

  • “I don’t mind if you and dad visit for Christmas, but you’ll need to stay at a hotel.”

  • “I’m happy to spend time with you, but please don’t bring Grandma.”

Emotional boundaries

Your emotional boundaries are all about your feelings. Emotional boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Your feelings about your childhood.

  • Your feelings about your lived experiences.

  • Your feelings about how your mom treats you.

  • Your feelings about other people.

  • Your feelings about yourself.

Emotional boundaries with you mom might sound like:

  • “I’m allowed to feel how I feel about how you parented me. I’m the expert on my own childhood.”

  • “Please stop trying to dismiss my feelings.”

  • “It’s not okay for you to tell me how to feel about Dad.”

  • “I’m not interested in talking with you about how I feel and that.”

  • “My feelings are valid.”

Identity boundaries

Identity boundaries have to do with your identity. Identity boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Your gender expression.

  • Your skin color.

  • Your mental health status.

  • Your sexuality.

  • Your socioeconomic status.

Identity boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “My sexuality is not up for debate.”

  • “What you just said to me is racist.”

  • “I’m not going to answer you while you continue to use the wrong pronouns.”

  • “I’ve asked you to stop dismissing me because of my diagnosis. Stop.”

  • “I will leave if you talk about voting for policies that take away my human rights.”

Spiritual boundaries

Spiritual boundaries aren’t just for people who describes themselves as “spiritual” or “religious.” Spiritual boundaries are for everyone. Say you don’t believe in Christianity. Your choice not to believe in that religion is a spiritual boundary you deserve to have honored without being pressured or coerced. Spiritual boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Your spiritual beliefs (or disbeliefs).

  • Your religious beliefs (or disbeliefs).

  • Your worldview.

  • Your values.

  • Your ideas about death.

Spiritual boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “I’ve told you I’m not Lutheran anymore. Please stop pressuring me to follow that faith.”

  • "I’m not interested in going to your church with you.”

  • “I’m allowed to be agnostic.”

  • “You don’t need to agree with my worldview in order to respect it.”

  • “If you continue to pressure me to believe what you believe, I’m going to need to leave.”

Time boundaries

Time boundaries are centered around the clock. Time boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • How much time you spend with her.

  • When you want to be with her (and when you don’t).

  • When you are and aren’t available.

  • Your personal or work schedule.

  • Being properly compensated for your time.

Time boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “I have ten minutes, and then I need to get off the phone.”

  • “You can meet me at my house at nine o’clock, but I need you to leave by ten o’clock because I have an appointment.”

  • “I’m not able to help you with your phone/tablet/computer until next week.”

  • “I need to leave early today.”

  • "My clients pay me. I'm not going to do that work for you for free. You can hire a decorator."

Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries have to do with sex and/or with things related to sex. Sexual boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Unwanted conversations about her sex life.

  • Unwanted conversations about your sex life.

  • Unwanted sexual touch.

  • Unwanted sexual looking.

  • Oversharing.

Sexual boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “Please stop talking about your sex life with me.”

  • “It’s none of your business if my boyfriend and I are having sex.”

  • “I don’t want you to come in the room with me at the gynecologist.”

  • “Walking into my bedroom without knocking is not okay.”

  • “I need you to stop referring to my vulva with cutesy names like “lady bits” and “hooha.” It’s degrading.”

Economic boundaries

Economic boundaries have to do with money and access to money. Economic boundaries with your mom involve things like:

  • Your socioeconomic status.

  • Helping (or not helping) your mom financially.

  • How much money you make.

  • How much money your partner makes.

  • How much money your mom makes.

  • Whether or not you receive government assistance.

Economic boundaries with your mom might sound like:

  • “I’m not able to help you with your rent this month.”

  • “I’m not comfortable discussing my salary.”

  • “Because you give unequally to myself and my siblings, I don’t want to exchange gifts with you this year.”

  • “I don’t want to spend time with you on account of how you unethically spend your money.”

  • “My use of government aid is not a valid reason for you to look down on me.”

Looking for Part 2? It’s coming soon! In the meantime, check out these other helpful blog posts:

1 Comment

Oct 07, 2023

Love this. I needed to read this today!


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