Whether you’re becoming a parent for the first time or the fourth, your baby’s birth can be just as overwhelming as it is joyful.
Parents must navigate a new normal, while balancing the needs of mom’s own healing with the new baby’s needs. On top of that, they’re also managing the expectations of well-meaning family and friends.
Setting boundaries with loved ones is an important way to reduce anxiety and prioritize your family’s needs after baby is born. Healthy boundaries communicate to others how you’d like your physical needs (e.g., adequate sleep, nutrition, self-care) and emotional needs (e.g., social connection, privacy, family security, support) to be met.
You might need to set boundaries with visitors to ensure baby stays on her feeding and sleep schedule. Or, maybe you need to ask loved ones to respect your decision on how you’re feeding baby or protecting your family from illness.
“The tricky thing with boundaries is parents bend to ensure other people’s needs are met and wind up putting their own needs on the back burner,” said Laura Hlavaty, PhD, pediatric psychologist in Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center. “Imposing boundaries can feel selfish because the only person you’re pleasing is yourself, but in actuality, it’s prioritizing your family’s needs. You may not want to hurt a loved one’s feelings, but not speaking up hurts your feelings, creates conflict and can foster resentment in the long run.”
While setting boundaries may seem difficult, it’s not impossible. Dr. Hlavaty offers 7 ways to set boundaries with loved ones so you can focus on what’s most important: your new bundle of joy.
- Reflect on your needs and identify boundaries. Everyone comes with unique personalities, needs and wants, so our choices may be different from others. For instance, one mom may want help to care for a new baby and the home, while another may feel suffocated by having others in her space during this transition. Take a moment to reflect on what you need and identify those areas where you’d like to see change.
- Clearly voice your boundaries. When setting boundaries with loved ones, be clear and direct so there is no confusion and everyone knows what to expect. Remember, everyone’s needs are different, so if you don’t clearly communicate your boundaries, you can’t expect others to know what they are.
- Be united. If you have a partner, figure out a way to be on the same team when setting boundaries. When you and your partner agree, you have a united front to take on your loved ones. Plus, you both will feel supported and can encourage each other in tense situations.
- Stop apologizing for prioritizing your needs. It’s important to be confident and frank about what you need and want so your loved ones don’t miss your point. Once you apologize, it indirectly sends the message that your needs don’t matter.
- Be OK with saying no! Be comfortable with saying no and doing what’s best for you and your family. If you’re pleasing others instead of yourself, it can foster resentment. If you’re anticipating a boundary-pushing interaction, prepare ahead of time on how you want to state your position. It will reduce your stress and your message will come across more confidently.
- Role play. Practice what you want to communicate to another person to help you build confidence as you navigate a stressful situation. Setting boundaries isn’t easy, so the more you practice, the better you’ll get and hopefully effect change.
- Be open to modification, wherever possible. If your boundaries are upsetting loved ones, be open to modifying them. For example, if you know you can’t stay for dinner at a family party because it’s during your baby’s sleep schedule, consider ways to compromise. You could offer to come earlier to the party so you can have a longer visit, but still leave in time to keep baby on schedule. However, if compromising doesn’t work, you may have to stand your ground and reschedule.
What to do if your boundaries are met with resistance
The fear with setting boundaries is that they will be met with resistance. There will likely be a loved one (e.g., your mother, best friend, sibling) who believes they are the exception to the rule.
Just remember, you are not responsible for the reaction of others. Instead of trying to change or control others, keep your focus on what you can control: your own words and actions. You can choose how you want to reinforce your boundaries and how to respond to others if there is pushback.
By strengthening your confidence to communicate your boundaries, it will prepare you for each phase of your baby’s growth and the demands of loved ones that come with it, which will likely grow right along with baby.
“You can only change yourself, so don’t try to change your loved ones,” said Dr. Hlavaty. “Stand your ground in a respectful way and understand that when you protect your needs, you’re more likely to have the best of yourself to give others in return.”
Contact Akron Children’s pediatricians for questions about protecting your family’s needs and our Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center at 330-543-5015 for concerns about your mental well-being.