How to Deal with Boundary Violators as a Parent

Written by: Erica Djossa


Published on: June 6, 2024

Photo courtesy of Aaron Tao/Stills.com

Erica Djossa is a psychotherapist and founder of the Momwell podcast. Her latest book, Releasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More, is available now and excerpted below.

Many moms grew up as people-pleasers. But people-pleasing is really code for a boundaryless life. A life with no boundaries feels extremely chaotic—full of resentment, anger, and frustration at the people in our lives for not anticipating our needs or taking a hint. A boundaryless life can leave you feeling like you are at the mercy of others and that you give more to others than they give in return.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we struggle with boundaries until we enter motherhood. But once we become moms, we are often required to set boundaries more than ever before. Guests pop by unannounced, grandparents feel entitled to access their grandchildren, and people bombard you with unsolicited advice about how to parent.

That’s why we start to truly feel the effects of our struggles with boundaries after becoming moms. On episode 93 of The Momwell Podcast, Dr. Ashurina Ream shared that navigating parenthood with no boundaries often feels like living with a backyard that has no fence. Everyone is freely entering your property, coming into your house, questioning what you’re grilling for dinner, and using your toys and equipment without asking permission. This is a recipe for resentment and frustration.

Boundaries are a form of self-care because they clearly teach people what we will and will not tolerate in our interaction with them. One of the biggest worries I hear from clients when discussing boundary-setting is that others will get mad or upset with them. And, while there are cases of boundary violators who won’t like our boundaries, most people like to know the rules of engagement in your relationship with them.

If you are in healthy relationships and friendships, the people in your life may be overstepping your boundaries in error, not realizing the impact it is having on you. But you can set boundaries, lay down the rules of engagement, and change the way people interact with you. It is your responsibility to set boundaries, based on your commitment to your own self-care, and your commitment to put yourself on an even playing field with your partner or your child.

So, what happens when people don’t respect our boundaries? There may be times when we have boundary violators in our lives—those whom we have set a clear boundary with before, only for them to continue to repeat the behavior. These can be tricky to navigate but that doesn’t mean that boundaries shouldn’t be set or held in these cases.


Having go-to scripts can help us establish firm, clear boundaries and avoid slipping into unwanted people-pleasing patterns. Here are some helpful scripts to lean back on in common parenting situations.

When unsolicited comments come in about your parenting style:

  • “I understand you are coming from a place of concern, but in our family we…”
  • “I can see how much you care, but my partner and I have decided…”
  • “I can see how much you care. If we need your help with something, we will be sure to ask.”
  • “I understand that is how you parent, and it’s okay to have a different approach.”

When people show up with little notice or unannounced:

  • “It’s not a good time right now. If you’d like to come for a visit, please plan with me in advance.”
  • “I know you’re in the area. Thanks for thinking of us, but right now is not a good time.”
  • “I am home and free today, so you can visit for half an hour, but next time make sure to plan ahead because our schedule is unpredictable.”

When others are telling you how to parent:

  • “I appreciate that this is how you approach things. It’s okay for us to do things differently.”
  • “I can see how that works for your family and what you value. However, we approach things differently—and that’s okay.”
  • “I understand that is how you do things. The beauty of parenting is that there are many effective approaches.”
  • “I can see where you’re coming from, and I am glad to hear that works for you and your family.”
  • “There is no one right way to parent, so it is okay that we approach things differently.”

When someone is doing something you don’t like:

  • “I would appreciate if you would ask me first before doing…”
  • “I can see you’re trying to help. In our home we approach it this way…”
  • “You see how they [insert child’s cue]? That means they don’t like [insert boundary (e.g., to be tickled like that, to be fed that way, etc.)].”
  • “I know you’re trying to help, but when you [insert action], it makes me feel [insert emotion]. Next time, please [insert positive need (e.g., do this instead, call ahead, ask to do XYZ)].”


People with healthy boundaries tend to respect and appreciate when we express things we do and don’t like. They care for us, and they want to show up for us in a way that truly meets our needs. But this isn’t always the case.

You may have others in your life who are more focused on what they want than listening to your rules of engagement. They might bulldoze over your boundary, even when you have stated it clearly and directly. These people are boundary violators—those who clearly see the line you have drawn in the sand and who choose to walk all over it.

With boundary violators, you will still need to clearly assert your boundary. You might need to parrot it many times to reinforce it. But there are other measures you can put in place for an added sense of safety and security. For example, if your mother or mother-in-law tends to enter your home and make judgmental or harsh comments, create conflict, or make you feel uncomfortable, and you have tried boundary-setting scripts to no avail, the next step would be to create physical boundaries. This can look like:

Meeting in a public space.

This tends to ensure boundary violators will be on better behavior because there are other people around. Often outings like lunch or going to a playground have a clear and distinct meeting and departing time, not allowing the other person to overstay their welcome.

Adjusting the frequency of contact.

The idea of reducing contact with family members can feel very uncomfortable. The importance of family relationships varies significantly from person to person—and there are many factors that play a role, such as culture and upbringing. Cutting off a family member entirely may feel like a non-option for some people, which I completely respect. But it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. One thing you can do for your own mental health is adjust the frequency of your interactions with boundary violators. Just because they call during dinner doesn’t mean you need to answer the phone. Just because they text you doesn’t mean you need to immediately text back. You can set a frequency of interaction with people in your life that you can manage mentally and emotionally.

When I bring this up with clients, they often express concern that reducing contact would upset the other person. If the boundary violator in your life is a parent or close family member, you might have been made to feel responsible for their emotions and happiness growing up. But if an adult cannot respect your boundaries while interacting with you, it is perfectly acceptable for you to protect yourself. They do not deserve to bulldoze down the door at the cost of your mental and emotional health. Working through how to set and hold these boundaries is a cornerstone of emotional well-being.

Tuning in to your values.

I had a boundary violator in my life, and it was one of the most tumultuous and damaging relationships I’ve ever experienced. But at the end of the day, this person was a close family member—and I didn’t want to have the regret of cutting them off completely or not allowing them to see my children. After really stepping back, tuning in to my values, and determining what was important to me, I decided to visit this person on major holidays a few times a year. This allowed them to be a part of major milestones and celebrations, while also shielding me from the day-to-day conflict and pain that comes from allowing a boundary violator in.

Ultimately, you are the advocate of your needs and boundaries and are responsible for ensuring they are clearly stated and known to those around you when necessary. After you have communicated and reiterated the boundary a couple of times, if the person doesn’t seem to be getting it or doesn’t seem interested in understanding your perspective, it may be time to up the boundaries and buffers you have in place.

Excerpted fromReleasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More by Erica Djossa (April 2024.) Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Sounds True.