What are your working parent boundaries?

What are working parent boundaries? And why do we need them?

Susie returned to work from maternity leave 2 months ago, on 4 days a week.  Keen to ensure she made a good first impression, she agreed to work a couple of extra hours on her day off, to help relieve the team’s huge workload.  Susie is missing her little boy, Max, who is in nursery.  She picks up 2 nights a week, so needs to leave the office at 5pm, otherwise she will miss her train and be late for pick up.  For the last 3 weeks, she has only managed to do the pick-up twice, as her manager has asked to speak to her or arranged a meeting which has over-run.  Thankfully her mother has been able to step in, but Susie is feeling torn, guilty and exhausted.

We all have good intentions as working parents:  we want to maintain our professional credibility, but we also want to see our children.  Without setting (and then keeping to) boundaries, or limits, we can quickly lose control of our work/parenting balance, as in Susie’s case.

What are working parent boundaries?

Boundaries serve many functions. They help to protect us, to clarify what is our responsibility and what is another’s, to preserve our physical and emotional energy, to stay focused on ourselves, to live our values and standards, and to identify our personal limits.’
Dana Gionta and Dan Guerra, authors of ‘From Stressed to Centered’

Boundaries are rules that we set ourselves day-by –day or week-by-week, that ensure we don’t lose sight of the bigger, longer-term picture.  Imagine drawing a square box with you inside it.  Inside the box, you may identify very specific and short-term goals – the lines of the box protect what’s inside; what’s important to you; and are your boundaries.  For example:

  • Leave the office at 5pm 2 nights a week
  • No working on my day off
  • Go to the gym every Saturday morning
  • Read bed-time stories 5 nights a week
  • Dinner out with other half the first Saturday of every month
  • No screen time or emails after 9pm

Why do we need working parent boundaries?

In addition to ensuring we develop a healthier work/family balance, it is also helpful for managers and colleagues to know exactly what you can or can’t do.  We spend a lot of time trying to please people and think the best way to do it is to say ‘yes’ to everything.  However, you will gain more respect when people realise you can’t be walked over – once you have set your boundaries, you will do everything you can to protect them – so they need to be well-thought through and incredibly important to you.

The reality?

We should be prepared for the fact that we won’t be able to stick within our boundaries 100% of the time – so aim for 90%.  If we are asking for workplace flexibility, we need to be flexible ourselves occasionally.  So if you have to work late every now and again, that’s fine, as long as it’s for absolute value-add, visibility-enhancing activity – learn to be choosy!

For further reading around setting your boundaries, see this article:


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