Updated: Jun 4
"The good news is that saying no can actually improve your sense of self-worth. The more you do it, the more you'll come to realize that your time, commitments, and aspirations are just as important as those of the requestor." - Damon Zahariades
Let me guess…
Your relationship with your mom has you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. If she does that thing one more time you might just go off on her. But how you treat people really matters to you, and no matter how annoying or maybe even abusive your mom gets you know you don’t want to step outside of your own integrity. You’ve been hearing a lot about boundaries and how they are a necessary part of any healthy, functional relationship, and now you’re wondering if the right boundaries could do some much needed heavy lifting in your relationship with your mom. But when why you try to think about which boundaries you should have with her, you don’t even know where to begin.
Fret not. In this blog post I’m teaching you the seven types of “mom boundaries” that my research on mother-adult child relationships and what makes them go sideways has taught me anyone who has a mom in their life can benefit from putting in place. Boundaries are a lot like the markings on roads. When everybody knows where to be, things flow smoothly. Ready to figure out your personal road markings so you and your mom can stop colliding?
Let’s get started.
Mom Boundary Type #1: Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries are exactly what you think they are. Emotional boundaries are boundaries that pertain directly to your feelings. Mothers who invalidate, dismiss, minimize, challenge, belittle, or criticize their children’s feelings are violating their children’s emotional boundaries. Gaslighting, tone-policing, and oversharing are emotional boundary violations as well.
Your feelings about my actions are the real problem
Consider my client Vivian. Vivian tried on numerous occasions after becoming a mom herself to talk with her mom Diane about how her habit of oversharing about her online when Vivian was growing up had negatively effected her. Instead of taking Vivian’s feelings about these experiences seriously and offering a heartfelt apology, Diane responded to her daughter with invalidation, gaslighting, and minimization.
On the night before one of our sessions, Vivian received a text from Diane that said, “Vivian the things I said about you on my blog when you were little weren’t even embarrassing. You knew it was part of my job as a parent coach to share about my own kids! You’re making a big deal out of nothing! Besides, I never posted anything even similar to what you’re remembering. After everything I’ve sacrificed and done over the years for you, I can’t believe you’re dredging all this up. Silly!” The problem, according to Diane and other emotionally abusive mothers just like her, wasn’t the oversharing she did about Vivian. Why would Diane ever think about holding herself accountable if she could convince herself that the real problem was how Vivian felt? She wouldn’t.
Emotional boundary violations by a mom include:
Invalidating or dismissing your feelings
Pushing you to share your thoughts or feelings with her
Telling you how you should feel about something
Tone-policing (e.g. “If you weren’t so angry…”)
Minimizing her impact (e.g. “It was just a joke”)
Emotional boundaries with your mom can sound like:
“I’m allowed to feel how I feel. Please stop trying to dismiss my feelings.”
“I don’t feel comfortable hearing about your conflicts with my siblings. That’s between you and them.”
“I get that you’re mat at dad, but it’s not fair for you to try to get me to feel mad at him with you.”
“Stop pressuring me to tell you that I forgive you.”
Mom Boundary Type #2: Physical Boundaries
Physical boundaries have to do with physical space. They include your personal physical space (i.e. your “personal bubble”) and physical space as it relates to you and/or others (e.g. where you are willing to meet up, room temperature, noise volume, etc.). Your physical boundaries with your mom can include things like how close you’re comfortable having her stand next to you, whether or not you have her over to your house, and if you have any contact with her at all. Going low-contact or going no-contact are two examples of asserting physical boundaries with your mom.
There was an attempt to change the guest list
I first met Julianne the week before her wedding. To say she was beside herself with stress was an understatement. “My mom is insisting on bringing my stepdad Darren with her to the wedding, Julianne said. “I’ve told her so many times that I don’t want him there, but she’s telling me it’s rude not to include him.”
When Julianne was 17-years old Darren made inappropriate comments to three of Julianne’s friends on numerous occasions. The parents of two of the three girls ended up going to the school principal, and the whole school knew the things Darren was saying. “The whole thing was so humiliating and awful. I also clearly remember begging my mom to believe me,” Julianne said. Instead of hearing her own daughter, Julianne relayed to me how her mother responded by insisting she must have heard Darren wrong since it wasn’t “something he would do.” Not only did her mom side with this abusive man, now she’s talking about completely overriding her daughter’s wishes and bringing him without her consent.
I knew Julianne would benefit from having firmer boundaries with her mom. Three days before the big day she told her mom she was no longer welcome at any part of her wedding due to her behavior regarding Darren. While her mother thought she was somehow entitled to ignore Julianne’s boundaries, Julianne took solid steps to communicate otherwise. When the day of the wedding came, not only was Darren not there, Julianne’s mother wasn’t in attendance either.
Physical boundary violations by a mom include:
Spanking, slapping, swatting, hitting, or pinching you when you were a child
Still showing up for a visit when you told her you were busy
Inviting someone else to your plans without talking with you first
Touching you where you don’t want to be touched
Pressuring or forcing you to give hugs or kisses
Physical boundaries with your mom can sound like:
“When we get together it needs to be somewhere neutral like at a park or a museum.”
“Stop trying to hold my hand. That makes me uncomfortable.”
“I’m happy to go hiking together if the temperature stays above freezing.”
“Please don’t come to where I work.”
“I need us to stand further apart.”
“I don’t mind if you and dad visit for Christmas but you need to stay at a hotel.”
“Stop raising your voice at me.”
Mom Boundary Type #3: Intellectual Boundaries
Intellectual boundaries are all about your thoughts and ideas. Your mom doesn’t need to agree with you on everything, but she does always need to treat you with respect. Moms who cross intellectual boundaries often pressure their children to agree with them, belittle their children’s ideas and opinions, mock their children for not knowing or understanding certain things, etc. Blame-shifting, bandwagoning, and parental alienation are also intellectual boundary violations.
Did she really just say that?
Freddie and his mom Natasha came to work with me the summer Freddie turned 18. Natasha knew she had made mistakes while raising Freddie that had caused him to have a significant mother wound, but with both people willing to work on the relationship there still was reason for hope.
The first thing Freddie wanted to talk about with his mom wasn’t physical abuse or any of the other things people imagine to be frequent initial topics in my mother-adult sessions. “Mom,” Freddie said, “why did you force me to get confirmed in 8th grade? I told you I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe in that stuff, but you refused to listen to me.”
Natasha initially became defensive, but to her credit she slowed herself down and was able to express curiosity and concern about her son’s experience. “I shouldn’t have done what I did, Freddie. If I could go back in time I would listen to you and take you seriously.” Before his mom could say more, Freddie burst into heavy sobs. As Freddie told his mom and I later, this intellectual boundary violation was a heavy pain point that he’d been carrying for years. “Never in a million years would I have expected an apology from you on this mom. Thank you,” he said.
Intellectual boundary violations by a mom include:
Saying things like, “No child of mine will think like that”
Lying to you about your other parent
Pressuring you to follow her religion
Making fun of your ideas, views, thoughts, values, or opinions
Intellectual boundaries with your mom can sound like:
“I’m not interested in hearing anything more about how you think I should go to church like you do.”
“It’s okay for you to be surprised I didn’t know that, but it’s not okay for you to make fun of me for it.”
“I know you’ve said it’s a joke and that you’re just teasing, but I’m not finding it funny.”
“Stop saying “we all think you’re being too sensitive” on behalf of others who aren’t there to speak for themselves. That’s called bandwagoning, and it’s not ok.”
Mom Boundary Type #4: Sexual Boundaries
Sexual boundaries are boundaries about things that involve sex and/or body parts as they are related to sex. Your sexual boundaries with your mom can include things like talk about her sex life, talk about your sex life, sexual innuendos, sexual jokes, sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, etc.
Turning past mistakes into new hope
My client Freya had been working as a therapist for fourteen years when a session with one of her own clients brought painful memories of her mom Lena oversharing about her sex life raging up to the surface. “I hadn’t thought about this stuff in years, but it’s really effecting me,” Freya told me.
While some might be able to rely on taking some physical space or avoiding their mom’s phone calls in such a situation, this wasn’t an option for Freya. Just two weeks before, Freya and her husband had moved her mother into their home in Southern California.
“I need to talk about this with mom otherwise I’m going to fall apart,” Freya told me. Freya’s goal was simple. She would tell her mom about the memories that had come up and hopefully Lena, a retired therapist herself, would offer a genuine apology in return. I waited for news from Freya, hoping her mom would choose her relationship with her daughter over any defensiveness or desire to not be seen as having made a mistake. Freya greeted me with the biggest smile at the start of our next session. “Mom heard me, and not only that she gave me the most genuine, heartfelt apology. I think we’re going to be even closer now than we were before,” she said to me.
Sexual boundary violations by a mom include:
Unwanted sexual touching
Oversharing about her sex life
Sexual boundaries with your mom can 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 our bedroom without knocking is not okay.”
“You need to stop referring to my vulva with cutesy names like “lady bits” and “hooha."
Mom Boundary Type #5: Identity Boundaries
Identity boundaries go directly to the core of who you are. They pertain to how you experience yourself and the broader world. Identity boundaries with your mom include things like your gender identity, your race, your mental health, whether or not you want to be a parent, etc.
Be who mama wants you to be
As Loni talked about her divorce from Heather, tears began to suddenly well up in her eyes. Her grief in this moment, however, wasn’t about the end of her 15-year marriage. “Mom always said I wasn’t really a lesbian, that it was “just a phase,” Loni said to me.
Loni’s mom Anne had been gone now for over a decade, but her identity boundary violations in regards to her daughter’s sexuality were still searingly painful. Before her mother’s death Loni had understandingly hoped her mom would finally accept her for who she really was, but that didn’t happen.
Pausing here and there to wipe the tears from her face, Loni told me about the day her mother died. “She was so small, lying there on her deathbed. I was holding her hand and I know I was hoping even then that she’d somehow finally see me.” But her mother proceeded to violate her boundaries all over again. “I always knew you couldn’t be gay. My daughter is no lesbian,” her mother managed to get out before taking her last breath.
Identity boundary violations by a mom include:
Not using your preferred pronouns
Referring to your sexuality as a “phase”
Diagnosing you without your consent
Using sexist language
Voting for people and policies that reduce human rights
Identity boundaries with your mom can sound like:
“Stop using my dead name.”
“Please stop telling people I have BPD when I don’t actually have it.”
“Using my correct pronouns is not up for debate.”
“Stop pressuring me to become a parent. I don’t owe you a grandchild.”
“My sexuality is not something I’m going to argue about or try to justify to you.”
“I’m not okay with how misogynistic you’re being right now."
Mom Boundary Type #6: Time Boundaries
Time boundaries are all about how you spend your time. Your time boundaries with your mom can include this like how long you want to spend with her, when you are and aren’t available to help her with something, attempts on her part benefit from your time for free, etc.
But can’t you stay longer?
“Just stay one more day, please. We need more time together,” Yolanda said to her son Dante. It was December 27th, a full two days past Christmas and a full day past when he’d been planning to leave in the first place. His mom had said the same thing to him yesterday morning, and not wanting to hurt her feelings, he’d agreed to stay one more day. He’d hoped giving her another day would bring Yolanda to be more understanding of his need to get back home, not less.
In his email to me, Dante asked, “Are you really sure I can tell her I need to leave? I feel so guilty just thinking about it. How can keeping this boundary really be on okay thing to do if I feel so damn guilty about it?” I assured Dante that he had every right to hold firm on his time boundary and inform his mom that he was in fact leaving. After years of being pressured by his mom to change his boundaries to prioritize and accommodate her, it wasn’t at all surprising to me that Dante felt so much doubt and guilt as he worked to unlearn this old pattern that no longer served him.
Time boundary violations by your mom include:
Staying at your house longer than you’ve asked her to
Expecting you to drop everything at a moment’s notice
Asking you and/or your partner to do things for free
Pressuring you to stay longer than you want to
Committing you to things without your consent
Time boundaries with your mom can sound like:
“I have ten minutes and then I need to get off the phone.”
“I can’t come to your party because I have other plans.”
“You can meet me at my house at nine o’clock but I need you to leave by ten o’clock.”
“I’m not able to help you with your phone/tablet/computer until next week.
“I need to leave early today.”
"I'm not going to ask Mike to repair that for you for free. You can hire a plumber."
Note: Identifying details of clients have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Are you someone who wants to take your mother wound healing journey to the next level? Come join the conversation, learn more about the mother wound, and receive compassionate support in our now 100% free private mother wound healing community over in The Porch. Interested in keeping up with the latest Mother Wound Project news? Follow us on Instagram.