All Ages

5 Healthy Boundaries To Set as a Parent

by Melissa Urban

Photo credit: Westend61, Westend61 Collection/Getty Images

Setting boundaries as a parent can feel like a monumental task. Boundaries are reasonable limits designed to protect you and your family’s time, energy, mental health, and relationships. However, expressing them can feel uncomfortable, and others may perceive them as selfish or demanding. As parents, we’ve been conditioned to put everyone else’s comfort above our own, and even thinking about advocating for our needs can make us feel guilty.

But life without boundaries is a big part of why parents feel overwhelmed, resentful, anxious, and burned out. Taking care of ourselves doesn’t mean we care only about ourselves — it means we care about our needs too. Reasonable boundaries help us show up as our best selves in all areas of life. Here are five boundaries you can set right now to reclaim some capacity and immediately improve your relationships.

1. With your parents
Now that your parents are grandparents, it’s time they practiced the time-honored tradition of butting out and letting you call the shots with your kids. When grandparents offer unsolicited opinions, disregard your house rules, or over-parent you, it can lead to tension and discomfort for all of you, including your kids.

Try, “Please don’t offer unsolicited opinions about my parenting. If I want help, I’ll ask.” (Here, your actual boundary is, “I won’t receive opinions I haven’t asked for.”) Or, “Dad, I’ve asked you not to feed the kids soda or candy. If you can’t respect that, we’ll have to change how we spend time together.” Or on your kids’ behalf: “Grandma, we don’t make Sammy hug or kiss if they don’t want to. Sammy, do you want to high-five, fist bump, or wave goodbye?”

2. With your workplace
Protecting your time during nights, weekends, vacations, and sick time is essential for your mental health and energy and allows you to be more present with your family. If overstepping here is a pattern with your boss or colleagues, research your company policies around paid time off, and set clear expectations before it happens again: “Please don’t text or call me on the weekend unless it’s an emergency. I need my time at home with my family to feel restorative. Next time, please email, and I’ll handle it in the morning.” Or, “I’m on vacation next week and will not be checking email or Slack. If you need anything in my absence, please speak with Bill or Jen.”

3. With your spouse
Trying to interpret or guess your partner’s needs is a significant energy drain. (It’s hearing, “Sure, go out with friends tonight,” then returning home to find your spouse resentful and overwhelmed because they didn’t really want you to go out.)

One of the most crucial boundaries we can set with our partner is, “I promise to share my needs clearly and say what I mean, and I expect you to do the same for the health of our relationship.” You can’t make them communicate a certain way, but you can model it by sharing your feelings and needs clearly and kindly, and you can refuse to engage in passive-aggressive behavior or conflict that doesn’t feel healthy or safe.

4. With yourself
Self-boundaries are an often overlooked but powerful way to take back some of your time, energy, and mental health by evaluating behaviors that aren’t serving you and setting limits around them. One of the most impactful boundaries I have with myself as a parent is that I don’t check my phone before I finish my morning routine. That means no email, Slack, or social media until I’ve done a workout and quick meditation in my garage, had breakfast with my son, and dropped him off at school. This helps me start the day feeling proactive instead of reactive and improves my morning mood tremendously. Other areas of self-boundaries include how much TV you watch, how long you scroll through social media, what time you go to bed, or drinking alcohol after work.

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5. With your kids
Yes, you can set limits with your kids — and you should! Modeling healthy boundaries can help your kids feel more comfortable advocating for their needs and create a sense of safety. Boundaries with kids are age dependent but can start when they’re toddlers, like “I see you—please wait a moment while I finish talking to Daddy.” Now that my son is 9, we set boundaries around when we allow him into our room in the morning (not until 6:30 AM) and that he can’t use our phones without permission. You can enact boundaries with older kids around demanding last-minute rides, maintaining a polite tone during arguments, and how often you give them money.