Setting boundaries with our loved ones can be incredibly challenging, and navigating family relationships is among the tougher work we do as parents. Sometimes we have to make the hard decision to eliminate toxic family members from our lives. If you are struggling with toxicity in your relationships, you are not alone. You may find comfort in hearing how others have dealt with toxic family members, toxic in laws (including difficult mothers-in-law) and toxic friendships.
Setting Boundaries With Loved Ones
Dear Mother, Sister, Friend, In-law or other well meaning person in our lives,
We love you. We know you love our children and we are thankful for that. We want you to be close to them. We want you to have a good relationship with our child(ren). But we need to talk about boundaries. It is a difficult subject because it is unlikely that you mean any harm, though some of you undoubtedly do, and we do not want to come across as ungrateful, whiny brats. We are our children’s mother. We suffered with the morning sickness, the difficult labor, the C-section, the adoption fees, the breastfeeding issues, the sleepless nights. We did. Not you. Sure, you may be related to our children, but you are not their mother, and it’s time we cleared the air. We’ve compiled a list of things that are boundary breakers for many of us, and we would like you to consider them, and consider us as new, fragile mothers just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
We want you to know that these words are hard to write, even harder to say, as you mean so much to us. But at times certain words or actions hinder our relationship, cause us to pull back and potentially damage the relationship you have with our children. While not every situation is a boundary breaker for every mom, it would be wise, when dealing with new parents, please consider the following things:
My child is not “your baby.” My husband may be your baby; hell, I may even be your baby, but that little bundle of joy is not. I know you know that. To you, calling him/her your baby is a term of endearment, but it causes mothers around the world to clench their teeth. I went through so much to have that child, and the right to call him mine is mine. It may be petty, but the privilege of calling the baby “mine” should be reserved for the parents.
Please refrain from intervening when I am disciplining my child. You may not approve of my methods. You may think I’m too stern or not stern enough, but this is not for you to decide. You do not see the whole picture. You may think I am overreacting by not giving in to my daughter’s tantrum for more candy, but you do not have to live with the repercussions. You will not have to put her to bed tonight. You are not the one who will be up later tonight trying to sooth her upset stomach. So if you don’t mind, I will handle the discipline myself.
While we are talking about candy, please do not offer them candy then say, “If it’s okay with Mommy.” While I appreciate the consideration, it turns me into the bad guy if I have to say no. Do us all a favor and ask me first. Most often, it will be fine, but since you may not be aware that he had a giant cookie from Starbucks just before we arrived, a quick “Hey, can I offer them him some candy?” will be much appreciated.
You may think my child has an illness, a delay or any other medical issue, but please do not attempt to diagnose my child. This is not to say if there is something clearly going on that you should remain silent, but be mindful of your words. No mother should hear, “There’s something wrong with that child” from a loved one. If you feel you have legitimate concerns, bring them to the parents, away from the child, and voice them – gently. Suggest we bring it up at our next doctor appointment, but do not label or suggest medications unless you are a qualified professional and we sought your opinion. Attempting to diagnose a child will only lead to frustration and perhaps resentment, even if you are correct.
Unless we ask, please do not attempt to be a lactation consultant. Breastfeeding can be challenging, and it may involve literal blood, sweat and tears. It is also extremely private for some new mothers, and not something everyone would like to do on display. Thank you for your concern, but anything more than “How’s breastfeeding going?” will get you into the boundary-crossing zone very quickly.
Talk to us about birthdays and holidays. We do not need to know or approve of your plans or gifts, but we would like to be sure they do not interfere with ours. Giving our child the same “big” gift we planned to give, and giving it a few days before the actual celebration – that is over the line. Attempting to plan an outing for my child on his birthday, especially one that doesn’t include me, is another example of boundary breaking.
If any of the above describe your words or actions toward the new (or even seasoned) mother in your life, you may be guilty of breaking boundaries. You might think, “Oh, if it bothered her, she would just tell me.” But that is so difficult because we do not want to hurt your feelings. We know in almost all cases you mean well, but that doesn’t stop it from offending us, or causing us to become defensive and even withdrawn.