Confessions of a Mom With No Boundaries

how to set boundaries with your kids

Several years ago, I was talking on the phone to my 22-year-old daughter when my 11-year-old daughter came into the room moaning and whining, “Mom, pleassse. Let me gooo. We’re just friendsss. It’s not a date, it’s only a movieee!” (The words drag out ad nauseum when they’re whining.)

Overhearing this, my older daughter said it, “Don’t cave in to her and say yes, like you often did with me when I was a teenager.”

My jaw dropped on the other end, “What? Did I actually hear her right?”

After all these year was my once relentless and strong-willed teenager finally admitting something that I’d never expected to hear leave her lips – that my lack of boundaries and relenting to her protests hadn’t been what she had really wanted or needed?

Seriously? Parenting her was like riding a bucking bronco. I was trying to hold on for dear life. Somedays it felt like I got pummeled, kicked in the face, and left lying in the dirt. I thought I had done pretty well considering the wild ride, “I hate yous,” and slamming doors. This could go on for hours!

Yet, honestly, none of that really mattered; I confess, when she was in high school I caved in A LOT. I was exhausted.
Even when she was bucking and fighting against me, deep down, she had wanted boundaries. She just had a crazy (understatement) way of showing it.

I’ve shared this story many times, to encourage moms to persevere in the face of their adolescent’s protests. We all need to be reminded to stand firm when we’re weary from them pitching a fit.
My hope is you can learn a few things from my past mistakes.

Here are my confessions from being a once boundary struggling mom, and steps you can take to help yourself and strengthen your boundary muscles:

One of the reasons I struggled with boundaries was I wanted my daughter to like me. I also wanted to be her friend.

Honestly, I would have vehemently denied it at the time; I knew being my child’s friend wasn’t healthy or appropriate. Yet, when I reflect on this today,  I was acting more like a friend than her parent.


I was also uncomfortable with her being upset or mad at me. The crazy thing is, by trying to make her happy and keep her from being upset, I created the very thing I was trying to avoid – power struggles and contempt.

My lack of boundaries created resentment for both of us.

When I would say no and she’d get angry, I would often doubt myself, feel guilty and then give in.
This put her in the driver’s seat, leaving me feeling weak, powerless and resentful.
Then I would get angry with her for my lack of boundaries. I would say things like, “After all I do for you this is how you act?!” I lectured her about having a better attitude and to be respectful.

I hate to admit this, but she didn’t respect me and for good reason. I was allowing her to walk all over me. I had to step up and be the parent.


Since that time, thankfully I’ve grown and learned a few things.

I’ve learned to listen to my gut.
Today, 9 times out of 10  (or at least until I get more information) if I’m uncomfortable with something, I say no.
My earlier story about my 11-year-old daughter wanting to go on a date with a boy was something I wasn’t okay with. No matter how much she protested I was clear that I wasn’t giving in.

I’ve learned we pay a high price in our relationships when we don’t have boundaries.
Today, I would rather have my teen angry with me and have boundaries than feel resentful towards them. We will make them pay in subtle ways (we will feel resentful, angry, complain about them, make them the bad guy or over-react and scream about something insignificant).

It’s not a secure feeling for our kids to give them so much power. Boundaries believe it or not make them feel loved and secure. They want us to be in charge.

Boundaries haven’t always come easy for me. And, I know from working with many moms that boundaries are challenging for most of us. The good news is we get plenty of opportunities to practice!

I’ve learned to be mindful of what behavior I will and won’t I accept. I pay attention if I don’t want to do something and I don’t (for the most part).
When I set a set a boundary I try not to get hooked into a power struggle with my kids. If they’re angry, it’s okay. I try not to defend, argue or convince them that my decision is the right one.
I remind myself that I don’t have to change their feelings or do something to make it better.

I let them get over it in their time and I figure out what I need to do to take care of myself.
I’ve learned above all to keep a loving stance. Moms, we get so frustrated and end up making our kids bad for arguing when we say no. They’re not. They just want what they want when they want it.
Instead, of getting angry, use empathy:
“I understand you’re upset that I won’t let you go to the party.”

“I hear you’re angry that I’m not letting you…..”

“I understand you’re very unhappy about what I’ve decided to do.”

I’ve learned in order to be the kind of caring parent that my kids need, I need to earn respect by having boundaries. I don’t need for my child to always like me or to be their friend. When my kids are upset, they can handle my no.

These days, I’m happy to say I’m mostly retired from my bronco riding days (nobody ever completely retires). I’m more peaceful to take a seat in the bleachers while my kids don’t always get what they want and develop character instead. We can be clear, strong and show our kids what is and isn’t acceptable by being the parent they need and want, and then let them ride it out.

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  1. This is such a great article. I am wondering if you think this is harder for single parents since they don’t have someone to help them stay strong and not cave? I am a Stress Less Coach for teens, and I see this more with single parents.

  2. Sheryl Gould says:

    Hi Claire – Thank you for your kind words. Great question! In my experience working with single moms and having been raised by a single mom, I know without a doubt it is really tough for many single moms to stay strong and not cave in because they are exhausted. There is something to be said about a man’s presence in the home. Most moms tend to be softer and tender hearted. We are the nurturers. So it makes it challenging. That said, I also find that married parents can also be divided in how they parent and that can create another whole set of issues.

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