Most of us truly enjoy the pleasure of caring for our children, but if we judge ourselves when we attempt to establish boundaries, we may be resurrecting old beliefs about setting limits that have slipped into our unconscious and now influence our behavior. “A loving mother always puts the needs of her child first. If she doesn’t, she’s selfish” is a common misperception. Or, “I’m no better than my mother was. She was always off somewhere when I needed her.” Another thought that can stop us in our tracks is, “If I go off and take time for myself, something horrible will happen to my child.” While most mothers logically know that they’ll be better parents if they take care of themselves, these beliefs have had decades to solidify and can prevent us from meeting our own needs.
Julie found it particularly difficult to set limits because, after years of waiting to have a baby, she had enormous expectations of herself and a hidden belief that prioritizing her own needs made her a negligent mother. “For all my years of growth and success at becoming a better person, once I had Katie I began to feel like I was unraveling. I couldn’t find my center. I had been in recovery for thirteen years before I had her at forty-three. I waited because I wanted to make sure there was enough love inside me to go around. Before I had her, I used to devote a big chunk of my day to yoga and meditation and running. Now I have to squeeze all of that into 15 minutes. Everyone tells me to put her in day care now that she’s three, but I can’t do it. This is my only chance to be a mom. But still, I push myself past the point where it’s healthy to be with her. Sometimes I’ve had enough after twenty minutes, and I really want to go take some quiet time, but I continue playing with her for another hour. Then I find myself yelling at her and being a really uptight mom. It makes me feel so bad. I don’t know why I wait so long to take time for myself. One time I let her come into my room when I did yoga, but she was too young to understand, and she kept crawling under my legs. I blew it and yelled and then felt so bad that I didn’t even try to do yoga again for months. But the thing is, when I do finally take time for myself, I come back filled up and nothing bad has happened to her. I expect myself to be Mother Teresa, patient and wise, but she spends hours a day in prayer and meditation and I don’t even give myself twenty minutes to recharge.”