Few things reveal the need to set boundaries with family more than the birth of a new baby. Ask any mom who has tried to breastfeed her baby for the first time in a room full of extended family or a mom trying to discreetly get up and change an ice pack in mesh underwear with a room full of visitors on the other side of the door. Visiting hours and waiting rooms take on a whole new meaning.
Boundaries – which can be thought of as guidelines that respect your needs and those of others – are a healthy part of good relationships at all phases of life1. However, boundaries become particularly important when setting new routines in parenting, especially after the birth of a new baby. This is because they allow new parents to guard their physical needs like routines, schedules, and sleep and emotional needs like downtime, privacy, and bonding moments.
My favorite thing about healthy boundaries is that they lend themselves to maintaining healthy relationships and connections. Because when we respect and protect our family’s needs, we are more apt to have the best of ourselves to give others in return. So never feel selfish for feeling like you need to set boundaries!
Here are some healthy places to set boundaries within your own family and with your extended family and friends:
Set Boundaries for Self-Care
To know what boundaries to set with your family, you must pay attention to yourself and your needs as a mom because every mother and baby is different2. Varying needs and preferences are to be expected. What matters most when you have a baby is learning what YOU need and what’s best for you and your child. And this may look very different from your neighbor. One mom may have her baby on a sleeping and eating schedule from day one, and a schedule may stress another out.
Some new moms like help and want to have family close by to assist with things like laundry, meals, breastfeeding, etc. Another mom can feel suffocated by having others in their space while trying to tackle a new transition. She may notice her stress rising just by having someone else cooking in her kitchen. The best encouragement I can give all moms is to remember that neither reaction is right or wrong or good or bad. Instead, it all deals with unique personalities and needs. So, pay attention to yourself and what makes you feel in the best position to care for your baby.
It’s important to note that your needs may vary with time. A new mom may feel she wants no one in her home for the first month postpartum. She may find a couple of months later that she is ready to host a holiday meal because she misses people. As a mom, you get to reserve the right to change your needs and boundaries as you acclimate into motherhood. (These needs may also vary the more children you have!)
Set Boundaries With Visitors
Once you’ve decided what you need as a mom, you can determine what boundaries you want to set with your family and friends.
Here are questions to ask yourself when creating these boundaries:
- What schedule (if any) is my baby on?
- What times are best for visitors? What times are not ideal?
- Are there certain people that I want to see later or not see at all?
- What creates stress in my house right now?
- Am I worried about illness being brought into my home? What precautions do I want in place if this is a concern?
- Do I have preferences for pets coming into my house?
- How do I feel about other children coming into my house?
- Do I care how many people visit at once? If so, what feels comfortable?
- How long would I like for a visitor to stay?
- Am I okay for anyone to hold the baby?
- Am I bothered if someone picks them up when sleeping?
Once you’ve had a chance to process these questions, it can allow you to determine what matters most to you and what does not. For example, I was always overwhelmed by big groups of family visiting my house at once. This didn’t stress me out because I didn’t like them. It was because I would feel like I needed to host them but could not do it as well as I had in the past. Therefore, I began to ask my family to visit in small groups of one or two when my babies were born. This way, my stress level wouldn’t rise because I wasn’t making them a meal. (Read more about dealing with houseguests as a new mom)
You’re Not Being Rude
The biggest tip to set boundaries with family is remembering you are not being rude by asking for what you need. And it may be easier to ask for what you need before people visit. Even a simple text like: “We can’t wait to see you today at 2 pm! Baby will be wide awake and ready to be held before she lays down at 4 pm. She just got over a cold, so if you happen to be sick, please let me know, and we can find another day to visit. Otherwise, see you soon!”
Moms often refrain from asking for what they need so they do not offend anyone but end up being bothered later. Instead of feeling rude, feel empowered to know that you have the right to create a peaceful environment as you transition to life with a new baby. And most anyone that has had a child can relate. Therefore, feel at peace in communicating your needs.
Set Boundaries With Family Caretaking
Sometimes, the family becomes the primary caretakers or babysitters of the baby. This can often be tricky when Grandma Peggy is watching the baby, and what was recommended for babies in 1987 is different than the recommendations in 2022 (read modern parenting trends boomers don’t understand). Many new moms want their family to respect their wishes but don’t want to disrespect their family and feel they are set up to have a conflict with family.
One of the best ways to handle this is to go through routines with the caregiver. You can vocalize what practices are important to you and what you want to avoid. Then explain why. Often, a simple explanation can create understanding and unity. Ask your partner to have a conversation with their parent if you feel you have asked something repeatedly of your in-law. I genuinely believe having family watch your child is something special because you know their love runs deep. It just may take an honest conversation to make it the best it can be, which is always worth it.
It is reasonable and necessary to set boundaries with family. And healthy communication about these boundaries helps keep the peace and celebration of new life at the forefront. Never feel bad about a boundary. Remember that kindness and respect when communicating your boundaries are critical. It gives your child an opportunity to be loved by many instead of a few. And what a gift that is!