Motherhood meets menopause: Learning to set limits

I encourage older women to create a parenting style that builds in adult time and interests from the beginning, whether that time is made possible by day care, paid help, or trading with other parents, family, or friends. Kids adapt well to clear messages. If the message is that mom loves you a lot, and mom also has a life of her own, beyond work, that needs tending, they’ll do fine. A major part of the developmental task for a child is learning to live with a certain amount of distress when they don’t always get their own way. And part of the developmental task of loving parents is to discern that this distress is not only not life-threatening, it is essential to the emotional well-being and growth of their child.

The Body Knows

After several years of parenting, most of us know what to expect when we don’t set limits with our children. We lose our patience and yell, we feel resentful and frustrated, and then we’re overcome with remorse. Here’s a technique I have found that allows your body to tell you when you are about to say yes when you really mean no, when you are about to go over the top of what you genuinely have to give, when you need to stop and set a limit. I have a small muscle in my right shoulder that twitches madly when I am dangerously close to denying my own pressing needs in favor of someone else’s. I’ve come to think of it like Jimminy Cricket desperate to get Pinocchio’s attention. It’s my own personal warning signal. If I don’t set a limit now, I’m heading over the cliff into an emotional danger zone. When I pay attention, I pull back just in the nick of time, and the reward is acting like the loving human being I know I can be. When I establish and respect my limits in an interaction with my daughter, I feel like a virtuous June Cleaver for the rest of the day. When I ignore my internal radar, I end up yelling in order to get my needs met. Afterward, I slink around feeling like Mommy Dearest. Once the mothers in my support groups begin to listen to their body cues, they report telltale twitching eyelids, tight stomachs, and sweaty palms. Learning to interpret these messages from your body will mean you have a choice in the cool of the moment to set a healthy limit and stop short of having to blow a fuse in order to get your own needs met.

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