Learn to recognize your God-given limits and experience full life within them.
Mothers are so good at getting to the end of their rope, tying a knot, and hanging on.
We feel stressed, worn out, run down, and exhausted. Then, when we most want to lie in bed and recover, we know we must get up and keep going. Day after day, week after week, year after year.
While plunging forward and providing for our children’s daily needs is something we as mothers must do, this ongoing state of mind can be damaging in the long-term if we abandon our own self-care and needs.
Learning to recognize your God-given limits and live within them will bring life to you and your family in many ways. You’ll become more relaxed and at peace. You’ll be able to handle what comes your way. Your children will have a more steady mother when you learn what your limits are and how to organize your life around them.
Here are three reasons why setting limits is actually life-giving to you and your family and how to do it:
Not being constantly strung out means you can be at peace
Sometimes our circumstances are outside of our control and the only peace we can find is in God’s presence. We can focus on Him and experience comfort, even in tragic circumstances (John 14:27).
However, oftentimes we are not at peace because our lifestyle is not conducive to it. We have too much on our calendars, there’s chaos in our private world, and we keep driving our family forward, even when we are careening out of control (1 Corinthians 14:40).
When you decide to learn your limits, respect them, and craft a life around what you can actually handle, not what you wish you could handle, then the stress will start to melt away.
Knowing your limits sends you toward God, instead of further into performance mode
I had a light bulb moment once when I realized I was not relying on God for my strength. Because I never went to God in humility, I browbeat myself for being tired, worn out, and feeling guilty. I assumed God thought I was being lazy and disorganized, so I didn’t rest in him.
I just kept on trucking forward in my own strength (Jeremiah 17:5) while constantly floundering and wondering where my peace was. When I finally started recognizing my own limits and the places where I was living in constant survival mode, I went to God with vulnerability and humility.
I realized it was my pride that had kept me trucking forward like a steamroller, no matter how close I came to a nervous breakdown. I thought I had to do it all, was supposed to do it all, and could do it all. Turns out, that’s the wrong life strategy.
When I went to God in brokenness, that’s where He spoke to my heart, refreshed my spirit, and showed me the way forward (Isaiah 30:21).
Having margin makes you a happier mother
We often we allow our life to go in a direction that makes us miserable and then pray God would change our attitudes and hearts. We feel that it’s a spiritual failing to be exhausted or angry or fatigued. We feel miserable and then feel guilty for feeling bad.
Often, by cutting things out of our lives that don’t uplift us, glorify God, or aren’t necessary in this season, we can make more room to rest. To spend time with our families and the Lord. To operate in our giftings and callings without feeling burnt out.
Happiness isn’t a real goal most believers have. It doesn’t quite sound eternal enough, and I get that. But if our lives are characterized by unhappiness, stress, and weariness, then this is negatively affecting our relationships with our families.
By drawing a line in the sand and saying “This far and no further,” we can give our lives enough margin that we are able to relax and enjoy the things that matter most.
How to set and respect your limits
Now let’s get to the meat of how to recognize your own limits and live within them:
Be honest with yourself. The first step in recognizing your limits is to notice when you are stressed, emotionally dysregulated, scared, anxious, or exhausted. These are red flags that something in your life is being ignored.
Don’t condemn yourself and mistake your feelings for God’s conviction. Many of us condemn ourselves and think what we are feeling is God’s conviction. We have unrealistic standards that we can’t meet, and then we think God must be disappointed in us. This puts us off from going to Him with our cares and needs. Wait for God to convict you, maintain a teachable and open heart, and stop condemning yourself for not saying yes to everything and every one.
Learn to communicate your own needs. If you’re tired, you need sleep. If you’re hungry, you need food. If you’re stressed, you need peace. If the house is too loud, you need quiet. If the schedule is too full, you need margins. If you’re doing everything for everyone, you need them to step up while you step back. Learn to recognize your limits regarding other people in your life and be willing to communicate with them directly. What they do with that information is up to them.
Realizing that martyring yourself creates an atmosphere of entitlement for others. When we are forever doing everything for everyone, even from a place of love, we teach others that they can be waited on hand and foot. When kids don’t have to think of others, they get used to thinking only of themselves. If we don’t state our needs and ask for help, we train others that we will handle everything. Set up clear limits and expectations with others so you are not taken for granted.
Psst . . . if you want to dig into this topic more, I have free limit locator and boundary builder worksheets that go along with my book, If Mama Ain’t Happy.
Adapted from If Mama Ain’t Happy: Why Minding Your Own Boundaries Is Good for the Whole Family by Rachel Norman. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Rachel Norman is a mother, Language of ListeningⓇ parent coach, and certified baby and toddler sleep consultant. She is also the founder of A Mother Far From Home, an online community dedicated to helping young mothers create peaceful and enjoyable lives for their families, reaching more than a million readers per year. Rachel resides in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, with her husband, Matthew, and their five young children.