It can be tough to admit that you need firmer boundaries with your mom, especially if she's really important to you. But it's not only OK to create a few new rules for your relationship, it can actually be a good thing. And keeping that in mind might make things easier.
"Having boundaries is the key to self-care, self worth, and identity," Samantha Smalls, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in maternal mental health, tells Bustle. "Those who don't practice boundaries usually are empathetic and aren't able to exercise their right to autonomy." It might even be something you learned from your mom, so it's important to be patient with yourself, as you figure out how to be assertive, as well as how to navigate her reaction.
"[Saying 'no'] is your simple and powerful defense but it's hard to implement boundaries with your mom," Smalls says. "Setting boundaries may come with guilt and pushback. However, it's necessary in order to create a healthy relationship and to gain respect as an adult child. Sometimes moms only see you as a child or feel they have certain privileges because they are mom. Boundaries remind them that they need to respect you and can't take liberties in your life." Read on below for a few signs firmer boundaries may be necessary, according to experts, as well as how to set them.
1. She Interferes With Your Relationships
This one can be tricky, especially since there's a good chance you turn to your mom for advice regarding your relationships, including friendships. And while that's fine, you may need stronger boundaries if she's starting to interfere in a way that doesn't feel right.
If your mom is crossing boundaries, you might start to notice certain patterns. For example, she "may try to dictate who you date, how you date, your friends, or address relationship issues without your consent," Smalls says. "This can cause tension or short-lived relationships." So don't be afraid to be firm about what you do and don't need from her.
2. She Expects You To Put Her Needs Before Your Own
While it's always fine to help your mom, if that's something you're able to do, it isn't fair if she expects you to constantly put her needs ahead of your own.
"You know what it feels like to place your priorities on the back burner," psychotherapist Dr. Dani Moye, PhD, LMFT, tells Bustle. It can leave you feeling depleted, she says, as your mom's needs always come first. Or as if you don't have your own life.
"The best way to set a healthy boundary is to collaboratively develop a plan," Moye says. "That is, obtain a clear understanding of what your mother’s needs are, then determine whether or not the task is feasible at this current time in your life."
3. She Doesn't Realize You've Changed
"Nothing feels worse than being an adult with a mom still hovering over you," Moye says. "When she prompts you to pay that bill on time or register for that renewal, it reminds you of her distrust in your ability to be independent."
If it's bugging you, "you can set a boundary with your mother by simply communicating what has shifted for you," Moye says, including what you'd like your new relationship to look like, now that you're an adult.
4. She Makes Last-Minute Requests
If your mom has a habit of making last minute requests, and it's stressing you out, it's definitely time to set up some boundaries. "Not only is it inconsiderate but you are made to feel guilty if you don't follow through," Smalls says. "This can also cause issues in a relationship which may result in having to choose between a partner and your mom."
Whatever the request may be, if it's significant and/or last minute, let her know that moving forward you'll need a certain amount of time to think things through. While you may agree to help her, that will only happen if she respects your schedule.
5. You Hesitate Before Making Decisions
If you find that you aren't able to make decisions without consulting your mom — maybe because you're nervous she'll get upset if you don't ask her opinion first — it's yet another sign you need some boundaries.
"Truthfully, it is normal to consider those who are important to us when we want to embark on something new," Moye says. "On the other hand, if we have not evolved as a result of our mother’s backlash, it may be time to set a boundary."
Let her know that you appreciate her opinion, but that you can't always do what she wants, and that you need to make decisions based on what's best for you.
6. She's More Involved Than Other Moms
It's one thing to have a really close relationship with your mom, where you enjoy each other's company. But it's something else entirely if she's involved in your day-to-day life to the point where it's holding you back.
Maybe people you're in a relationship with have asked about it, or friends, or coworkers, Joanne Ketch, LPC, LMFT, NCC, a psychotherapist who helps individuals, couples, and families, tells Bustle. You might also "observe that her involvement in your life is 'more' or 'more intense' than your peers," Ketch says.
That can be a red flag, and should prompt you to find ways to create a little more space. "Know that there may be some push back, some defensiveness, and even some anger," Ketch says. "Mom may not agree. The boundary is not so that she will change; the boundary is so that you will define what you will do."
7. She Makes You Nervous
If you feel dread whenever you see her number on your screen, or get an email, or DM, Ketch says, something definitely needs to change. And the same is true if you catch yourself lying to her, even through omission, as it means you're nervous about her reactions.
Listen to your intuition and your body in these situations. As Ketch says, "Are you experiencing a change in your breathing, frequency of headaches, or other symptoms that appeared in ways that might be correlated with mom's involvement in your life?" If so, firmer boundaries may be just what you need.
8. She Expects You To Get Back To Her Right Away
If your mom has unreasonable expectations in terms of how often you talk, or how fast she expects you to return missed calls, have a conversation about expectations, and try to find a way to strike a balance between what works for her, and what works for you.
"Remember you've likely been in this dance for quite some time," Ketch says. "When you stop dancing, the other person is confused and upset. They have participated in the situation for their own reasons, and now those needs are there; staring them in the face. It's not your job to fix that but you need to be aware that changing boundary patterns can be an awkward transition."
9. She Wants To See You All The Time
Again, it's great to spend time with your mom if you have a good relationship with her. But if she's asking to hang out more often than you feasibly can, it's perfectly OK to set down some boundaries. She may not like them, at first, but it may help to assure her this will actually be good for your relationship.
"Giving your mom all of your free time can lead to resentment in the relationship," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage, and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "It also prevents your mother from nurturing her own healthy interests and cultivating other supportive relationships, which places more of a burden on you in the long run, and prevents your mom from creating a wider circle of support. Everybody wins when you give yourself some time and space for your own interests and pursuits."
So don't be afraid to set firmer boundaries with your mom. Over time, she should be able to understand where you're coming from, and be happy to make a few adjustments.