What to do When You Are Setting Boundaries and Catch a Case of the “Shoulds”

setting boundaries

Do you catch yourself setting boundaries, but once you actually follow through with them… you let the “shoulds” creep in? You start to tell yourself that you should have done this or that and then the shame takes over.

If this sounds like you, then listen in! Because in today’s episode Mary talks with an anonymous guest about her struggle with maintaining boundaries with her Mother. Mary talks to her about what to do when those “should” thoughts come up. Let’s talk boundaries!

Main Episode Takeaways

  • “Should” thoughts lead to shaming ourselves
  • Shame is not a motivator to do good
  • What to do when you notice “should” comments pop up

Want to learn more about boundaries?

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28. What to do When You Are Setting Boundaries and Catch a Case of the “Shoulds”

Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I’m here with an anonymous guest and we are gonna be discussing what’s hard about boundaries for her. So welcome, welcome. Tell me what is hard about boundaries for you.

Guest: So I like to think I’m really good at boundaries. In my family I’m like the mean person who says no to stuff. 

Mary: The mean person? 

Guest: I am, I’m considered mean. Because I’m a little too blunt. I think clear is kind, right? So yes, I don’t feel mean in those situations. I feel like I’m protecting something and it is far easier for me to set boundaries if it’s for my husband. If it’s going to impact my husband or my children, it’s far easier for me to set a boundary for them than for me. So while I think I’m really pretty good at boundaries, I took your test online, I came up as a boundaries badass. 

Mary: Yes girl. 

Guest: But what I wanted to talk about is, even though I’m good at it, it doesn’t stop the shoulds in my head sometimes. And that doesn’t feel good, right? Again, more often than not when it’s about me. 

Mary: Yeah. Can you tell me an example, maybe a recent time or, 

Guest: Yeah so my mother happens to be disabled and she has a really weird balance between I’m disabled and need lots of support, and I’m an independent woman. Leave me the heck alone.

Mm-hmm. So I, 

Mary: We all know someone like that. 

Guest: Yeah. For example, when she first moved out near me, I would call her once a day and check on her on my drive home from work. And she told me, would you quit calling me? I don’t need you to check up on me. So now I, 

Mary: That was a nice boundary she said. 

Guest: She did. So now I don’t even check on her once a week sometimes. Okay. Sometimes it’ll go two and I’ll, I do feel, I’m like, oh shit, I haven’t talked to mom in two weeks. Sorry. And so I’ll call and, you know, make sure she’s alive and all that jazz. But she set the boundary with me and I honor it. And I have family members who don’t think I should be honoring that. They’re very, when’s the last time you talk to your mother? What do you mean you don’t talk to her every day. And I’m like, look, she’s lives alone. She has her independence. She wants it. So I say no to those people. 

Mary: Where do the shoulds come in?

Guest: The shoulds come in when I feel guilty about not talking to her every day. She did fall once and end up in the hospital. And I had talked to her earlier that same day, and that was like a Friday. And she was stuck on her floor for a couple days till her neighbors decided they had not seen her and she went to the hospital for a long time. And I heard about it Monday. She was, went in the hospital on Sunday and was finally coherent enough to tell them to call me on Monday. And so I had done nothing wrong. I had talked to her Friday morning, but the shoulds are strong there. Yeah. And, you know, am I being a good daughter and all. 

Mary: Yeah. Tell me what the shoulds say if they were just thoughts running through your brain, what would they be saying? No judgment. Just thoughts. 

Guest: Well, good. A good daughter would not allow her disabled mom to lay on the floor for two days. A good daughter would just do whatever her mom needs when her mom needs it. And something that I’ve done for myself is I’ve stopped assuming things that I need to do for her and waited for her to ask me for things. You know, not just automatically going and bringing groceries and cooking a meal or something like that. I have a sibling that does that. And she’s a much better daughter than I. That’s what the shoulds say. Right? But I don’t assume, I don’t extrapolate what could she possibly need me to do in this moment and then go do it. Because it did burn me out. It was too much. 

Mary: Yeah. What are you able to participate in from a place of love? What do you want to be able to do for her?

Guest: I want to help her when she asks me for help. 

Mary: Okay. 

Guest: And I want it to not impact my professional life too much. 

Mary: Okay. What does that mean too much? 

Guest: Well, she sometimes, she hasn’t had a job in a very long time. Sometimes she forgets that we have jobs. Like, are you available to stop by my house and fix my iPad today? No, my calendar is booked days out. I can’t. Can it wait till Saturday? Oh. I guess it could wait till Saturday. What about tonight? Do you have something after work? I don’t mom, but I’m working 12 hours today. Mm-hmm. Can it wait until Saturday. Right. That’s how that goes. 

Mary: Right, right. Yeah. So you’re willing to help her when she asks. How often are you willing to call and check in on her? 

Guest: Once or twice a week? 

Mary: Once or twice a week. That feels good to you?

Guest: Feels good to me. Mm-hmm. 

Mary: Okay. 

Guest: Something, by the way, on that same iPad scenario mm-hmm. I was willing for her to bring it to my house and have me look at it. Rather than me drive 30 minutes to her house to do this thing. So that ended up being the compromises. I was available after work if she would come to me. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. Yeah. So on work days, you might be available to see her if she can do the driving. You might be available to help her if she can do the driving. Yeah. And she can drive okay?

Guest: Yes. 

Mary: Awesome, awesome. So what is it that you’re not willing to do?

Guest: I am not willing to be a full-time caregiver. I know that. And I know that can make me sound mean. 

Mary: I don’t think it makes you sound mean. 

Guest: I am not willing to have my mother live with me for a long period, for any extended period of time. And by that I mean more than a month. 

Mary: Okay. So for example, she is transitioning down from the hospital or has a procedure or something. You would be okay with her living with you for up to a month. 

Guest: Yes. And she has before. 

Mary: Okay.

Guest: In in those situations, like she just needs a little more care, right? Yep. Yeah. 

Mary: Yeah. But you’re not willing to have her live with you indefinitely? 

Guest: No. 

Mary: Okay. 

Guest: I’m not willing to not have my career, to care for her.

Mary: You’re not willing to sacrifice your career to care for your mom. Right. Okay. Awesome. So back to the, I think that’s the clarifying space. Right? Anything else that you wanna clarify? 

Guest: I love her. 

Mary: Of course you do. You are willing to love her. 

Guest: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Mary: So what about the shoulds. Back to the shoulds. That’s what you asked me about. How do we get rid of those shoulds? Where do they come from? Let’s talk about that. Where do they come from?

Guest: They come from the patriarchy in a woman’s place in the home and family and the caregivers that women are. We have almost a hundred percent of the caregiving onus on us generationally, period. Mm-hmm. That’s my opinion, but that’s my opinion. 

Mary: Yeah. That’s your opinion? Yeah. That it comes from thoughts, women’s roles, 

Guest: conditioned women’s roles.

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Like that you should be the one to take care of her. Do whatever it is she needs. Put her needs first. Give up your career.

Guest: Give up my home, my privacy. 

Mary: Give up your home, your privacy. You should know if she’s fallen on the floor after you talked to her, 

Guest: Right? I should.

Mary: Should have been there for sure.

Guest: I should have read, I don’t know, Ben Clairvoyant and known that she had fallen 

Mary: Uhhuh. Right. 

Guest: I should enjoy her so much that I want her to live with me long term and I don’t. 

Mary: I know. Okay, so when we say it like that, it does sound kind of ironic, right? Like this is what you have to do to be a good daughter. Yeah, a good woman, a valuable person, right? What?

Guest: All of it. All of it. A good daughter, first of all, good daughter. 

Mary: Okay. Okay. Yeah. So can good daughters not be caregivers? 

Guest: Absolutely. 

Mary: Are there caregivers that are not daughters? 

Guest: Absolutely. 

Mary: Are there daughters that don’t call their mom regularly, that are still good daughters?

Guest: Yes. You know, and I know because of my professional background in things, I know that we all bring different things to the table. My sibling, my sister who does extrapolate what mom might need and goes and does it mm-hmm. Needs to listen to your podcast. No. But when mom is in the hospital, I am far more confident talking to doctors asking for tests, asking for answers. And so I, I bring a certain amount of things to the table and I do know that. It’s just not all the same things that my sister does, and I think she probably feels the same, the, the shoulds on the opposite side as well. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So when we should on ourselves, what is actually happening, what does that word mean in our language?

Guest: God, I wish I had a really great answer for that. I don’t. 

Mary: You want me to tell you? 

Guest: Yes, please. 

Mary: It’s a moral judgment that creates a feeling of shame. And shame never motivates us to do good. No. No. So we used to think, well, we’re gonna tell children they should do this and they should do that, and we’re gonna tell employee, they should do this and do that. Right? We used to use shame-based interventions for people who committed crimes, like scared straight programs. Right? Or like boot camps for, 

Guest: weight loss. 

Mary: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. And guess what we found? 

Guest: None of it works. 

Mary: Does not work. It doesn’t work at all. Right? It just makes people feel terrible. And feeling terrible doesn’t motivate people to do good, 

Guest: To do good things. Yeah. 

Mary: Yeah. Mm-hmm. So when we say I should or I shouldn’t. Mm-hmm. We’re just shaming ourselves. 

Guest: Yeah. 

Mary: Which never helps. 

Guest: No. When I hear the should word in my head, I generally rebel pretty hard. Which doesn’t feel healthy either. Yeah. 

Mary: Right. Yeah. 

Guest: Anytime I think I should, I kind of stop and obstinately don’t. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, so the real question. What kind of daughter do you wanna be?

Guest: I wanna do the best that I can. Yeah. While also taking care of myself. Being a good daughter doesn’t just mean being good to my mom. It means being good to her daughter. She would want, she would say, I only want people to treat you well. And she would say, even you, yourself. 

Mary: Absolutely. 

Guest: But also, I’m a mother. So, you know, I evaluate these things from a mom’s standpoint too. Like what do I not wanna put on my children? And she wants me to be a good mother. She wants me to do right by the kids. And there’s only so much doing right in a day, some days, that’s all. 

Mary: Yeah, absolutely. Mm-hmm. So you want to be the daughter who calls 

Guest: once or twice a week. 

Mary: Once or twice a week. 

Guest: I want to be a daughter who I do like, take her for outings. You know, I don’t want her to feel disconnected to me. I do want her to feel connected. So 

Mary: you wanna maintain a connection. 

Guest: To like a movie that I think she would like or whatever. Yeah. And when she’s in dire straits, I want to be there.

Mary: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s what you should do. 

Guest: Yep. 

Mary: What you wanna do, what you can do with love, what feels good to you. What’s maintaining a connection for you. Mm-hmm. That’s what you should do. Not whatever messaging is, you’ve gotten the subconscious I know 

Guest: in the back of my head. Yeah, 

Mary: Yeah, yeah. So I think when I start to hear those should kind of comments, right? I just notice them like, oh, there you are, you “should-er” or, I see you there. I hear you there. Like, I just kind of like, oh, there you. And then I ask myself another question, which is, what do I wanna do? What are my values? How can I live within my integrity? What, how can I show up with love in this situation, right? Something around, an empowering question about who I wanna be, how I wanna show up, what my value is. The value of me and the value that I’m embracing. Whatever that is, just ask yourself those kind of harder questions because it’ll ruminate. It’ll spiral if you let it. Thanks for being such a good daughter. 

Guest: Thank you. 

Mary: Awesome. What’s your takeaway? 

Guest: Said I should pause. It’s all about the pause, right? And what do I want to do? I think what needs to be done, because some things don’t need to be done. 

Mary: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. 

Guest: Thank you, Mary. 

Mary: Okay, bye. 

Guest: Bye.