Quiet Quitting at Home: How To Create Boundaries That Work for You
As we merge our personal and professional to-do lists, Lauren Smith Brody explores how to make the hard decisions about what’s worth keeping.
- Written By
- Lauren Smith Brody
- Maria-Ines Gul
I’m going a little rogue here, dear readers. For this column about boundaries, I’m going to drop a boundary and give you a peek behind the scenes. Each month, after we share a call-out soliciting questions from our Instagram communities on the topic of the moment, my editor Katie and I compare notes to choose our top three.
Only, here’s how that note-comparing went this month:
Me: Hi, Katie! I got some good Qs on the topic of boundaries...but not as many as usual. How about you?
Editor Katie: Oh weird! Same issue here.
Me: Really? It definitely wasn’t the algorithm because we posted at different times.
Editor Katie: Yeah, we actually got a bunch of responses, but most of them were along the lines of, “Boundaries? What boundaries? I’ve given up!”
This is *exactly why* we need this column. Boundaries have never been harder to define. Or, selectively, more needed.
Look, I relate very much to the State of the Blur. I’m writing this column on a day when my boys’ school is closed for Diwali. There are five children (three not mine) running around our apartment playing laser tag even though I swore we would never even have water guns in this family. There is a basket of laundry on top of my printer. I’m pretty sure my dog ate a piece of Candy Corn. (I know I did!) And I just answered a text from my mom while on a call with a client.
These are not the kinds of boundaries I want to talk about. If anything, I’m entirely in support of some of the amazing barrier-dropping that’s come out of Covid. We’re merging our personal and professional to-do lists, pumping breastmilk on Zooms, embracing salary transparency with our friends because rising tides lift all paychecks. Truly!
But you know how when you clean out your closet and throw everything onto your bed, it gets messiest right before you make the hard decisions about what’s worth keeping? This is the moment that we are in with boundaries: It’s time to define new ones that serve us rather than limit us. So that’s the approach I’m taking here with your excellent (algorythmically blessed, thank you) questions:
Q: Can you help me set a boundary with unsolicited advice?
Why yes, yes, I can. Many of the moms I work with need a one-liner that they can pull out when your great aunt “doesn’t believe in” tongue ties, or that childless colleague thinks that their hangover cure might be “just what you need” for weathering a toddler sleep regression. But it’s important to get your delivery right.
And for that, you need this pep-talk first:
If you are a person who has chosen to have children recently, you are probably also a person who believes in the good of humanity. Most people who offer advice are good people, but they also see your parenthood as a referendum (or a re-do) on their own lives. So what’s the most generous interpretation you can think of for their meddling? That colleague with the kelp-horsehoof hangover pill wants to show you that they recognize how tired you are (without making it a discriminatory “mom” thing). The aunt perhaps feels wistful about her own baby-feeding days and finds meaning in “guiding” yours.
Hardest to understand, perhaps, is the mom friend who is going through all the same stuff as you but judging your choices every step of the way. My generous interpretation: In America, we are all raising our kids without the truly family-supportive systems, laws, and resources that we need. So when that friend makes a decision for her own family – about sleep, food, finances, school – she has had to take a leap and make that decision with deep personal conviction. By offering that same decision to you, she’s giving herself a chance to be proven right.
So, take a breath, think about all of that, and then say:
“Thank you for your opinion. I know you’re offering it because you care about us. I make my decisions with a whole lot of love and care too. When I need parenting advice, I’ll ask for it.”
Q: Here’s what I want to quiet quit: Fancy kid birthday parties. All the ones we attend are lavish. I want my kid to feel celebrated, but this has gotten out of control.
I live in NYC, where we have a bit of a dilemma with kid birthday parties: The easiest kind of party to throw actually isn’t a home-spun party at your apartment (which is likely too small for a crowd and probably requires some kind of expensive entertainer to keep everyone from literally climbing the walls). It’s weirdly a lot less effort to book a trampoline place or a pizza-making kids’ culinary space. But that costs a damn fortune, and everyone tries to outdo everyone else or not repeat the same place, and pretty soon all you’re left with is elephant training circus school on a Space-X flight.
I’ve done it both ways, and truly, I don’t judge.
The simplest way to bring everything back down to earth is to invite just a handful of people. Like five, max. I know you’re probably worried about reciprocation or not including the whole class or siblings. But, I promise, people don’t notice the big parties that don’t happen.
If your kiddo is old enough, involve them in the planning by asking not, “what do you want to do for your birthday?” but “what do you want to feel on your birthday?” Excited? Surprised? Loved? Celebrated? Fun? All of those feelings can be satisfied with the simplest gathering of actually-close friends.
Q: Okay, what if the expectations are coming from no one else but me? I need help putting boundaries in place for myself. It feels good to have a clean house...
I have a whole *thing* about thank-you notes. I am terrible about writing them – certainly not on time – and while I am very, very good at calling and texting and wearing the earrings you gave me when we next meet up for coffee, I am terrible about having stationery and stamps, and I basically think that we should all just skip the dang things. I know, it’s blasphemous, and I promise you my mother raised me right and is horrified by this.
The other day I was talking to a client who was having one of the most stressful weeks you could imagine. Family, health, job, all of it. I’m pretty sure there was no milk in her fridge and that she hadn’t showered that day. But she told me that the thing she most needed to get done was her pile of thank you notes from her baby’s birthday. Oh. Gently, I started asking if that’s really what mattered most right then, but pretty quickly I deduced that, in a way, it really was. If she wrote those notes, she would feel like her life was together in a way that would let her just keep going. Those notes were a self-imposed boundary that served her.
So with that story in mind, I would encourage you to opt in to the boundaries that make you feel good as you say…and then realize that by doing so, the 24-hour day will force you to define other things that you simply cannot do yourself. Write the thank you notes. But then let go of two other things. And – here’s the next level – be vocal about the fact that that’s what you’re doing. You can be the woman with the completely dust-free light fixtures. But then also be the woman whose kids – ahem – play with laser tag guns. Own your contradictions. Model them. For yourself, your friends, and your children (who may or may not write thank you notes one day).
Lauren Smith Brody
Lauren Smith Brody is the author of The Fifth Trimester and the founder of The Fifth Trimester consulting, which helps businesses support and retain parents.You can follow her on instagram @thefifthtrimester.