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Business Boundaries as a Working Mom

Taylor is smiling while holding her toddler in her arms, the toddlers face is out of view

Ever since taking the leap out of “traditional” full-time employment into self-employment as a nutrition entrepreneur, I’ve written an annual update and reflection. 

I do these as much for myself as I do for you because I’m terrible at maintaining a personal journaling routine and these posts are really fun and helpful to look back on!

This past year brought huge change as I navigated life as both a business owner and a new mom. I had more “firsts” in business and as in past years, have continued to learn and grow. That is one thing that I know will never change!

Last year’s post had a theme of “nurturing” and while I wasn’t planning a theme for this post, as soon as I sat down to write, I knew that it indeed does have a theme, and that theme is “boundaries.”

I’ll provide some quick highlights of the past year and then jump into specifics about what boundaries mean and look like for me lately. 

What’s Going On

This past year I’ve been lucky to be able to work part-time while also having a couple days to spend with my daughter. I have a lot of privilege that has allowed my current work/parenting split and while I’m very grateful for that, it’s still hard to not dedicate 100% to either area. 

The thing is, I don’t want to be doing either thing full-time. If I were to work 40+ hours a week, I’d miss my daughter so much I’d probably cry daily. And if I were to be a full-time stay at home mom, I’d miss my career so much I’d probably cry daily. 

My split is truly the best of both worlds, and it’s not perfect. Because perfection doesn’t exist. Period. But especially in parenthood or in business.

Business Firsts

While I haven’t been pursuing business growth or new projects, I did have a big “first” in business this past year and that was my first employee resignation. It was a surprise and my initial reaction was panic, but I knew that everything would be OK. I interpreted it as a sign from the universe that perhaps a smaller business is what’s best for this season of life. 

Simultaneously, I was delighted to continue to nurture another team member who moved from an admin role into a clinical role. Helping other RDs learn and grow is something that lights me up and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to shape future generations of dietitians!

A New Certification

I became a Certified Befriending Your Body Teacher last year and absolutely love it. It has significantly enhanced my somatic skills and empowers me to offer a new way to support clients who are struggling with body image and recovering from disordered eating. It’s pretty amazing to see the impact it has on folks. It’s foundational to intuitive eating work, so it’s something that most of my clients benefit from. I’m currently offering it to my one-on-one clients, and may offer it as a group in the future. 

The clinical training for the certification was challenging as I was in the depths of a COVID infection (the training was held virtually on weekends) and I missed my baby so much I actually did break down and cry in the middle of the training. Luckily it was a small group and my supervisor was so compassionate and reminded me that crying is a form of regulation. In hindsight it wasn’t the best time to gain a new certification, but I toughed it out and I’m glad I did. I’ve been putting it into practice and participating in ongoing supervision to continue deepening my knowledge and skills.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to keep things steady as I explore this new season of working part-time. As I do that, boundaries have been absolutely key.

Taylor is sitting an outdoor table looking at her laptop

Why Boundaries are Important in Business

To me, the number one reason boundaries are important is self-care. To remind yourself that there is more to life than work, income and “productivity.” And when I say self-care, I mean a truly self-centered meaning of the term. Not “take care of myself so that I can work more,” but “take care of myself so that I can feel good.”

Even if your business aligns with your values I guarantee that you will feel unfulfilled if your business becomes your life. 

My values don’t align with capitalism, so my business goals aren’t centered around endless growth year after year. However, boundaries are still important for business growth.

Business boundaries are important because they make your work more sustainable. You’re less likely to burn out which means your business is more likely to thrive long-term — whatever that means for you. 

For me, I’d like to see clients for as long as I want, in a way that feels manageable and fulfilling, not stressful and depleting. I also like to have time to blog, engage with folks on social media, participate in professional development, provide professional mentoring services and take on some freelance projects.

When I write it out, I realize that’s a lot of stuff. Not to mention the online course I maintain. And the support groups I run from time to time. It makes it more obvious that boundaries are key if I’m going to do all that, while working part-time, in a way that feels sustainable.

The Boundary Reminder Taped to My Computer Screen

I’m a big fan of internal family systems, a kind of psychotherapy. I have been doing it personally for several years and it’s been a truly life-changing force. I’d been in talk therapy for more years that I could count and it wasn’t until switching to an IFS therapist that I made significant strides in healing from trauma and connecting with my emotions in a holistic way.

IFS centers around the concept of parts. I’ve had several therapy sessions focused on work, my worker parts and my struggle with boundaries. Turns out, like many of us, I have a lot of internalized capitalism and was conditioned to always work hard. In the end that doesn’t serve me well as it leads to anxiety and burnout and often feeling dysregulated. 

I have boundary-setter parts that get upset when my worker parts commit to a bunch of work that feels overwhelming to my system. I have other parts that have their own feelings about this too. 

I’ve learned that I need to consult with my various parts before leaping into new projects or taking on extra commitments. I often find myself in a state of overwhelm with work, and this practice helps with saying no and trying to keep boundaries that all my parts can agree on.

I have a note taped to my computer screen that says “all parts ‘yes’” to remind me that ideally all of my parts need to agree before taking something on, not just my worker parts. 

I’ll be honest, I sometimes charge forward with things without properly checking in with all my parts. And I can tell pretty quickly by the sense of anxiety I feel. But, it’s something I’m working on and IFS has helped me set boundaries in a way that works for all of me. 

I schedule in time to do a monthly work-focused parts check-in to see how I’m feeling about my current workload, schedule and commitments. I sometimes feel like work is a runaway train of overwhelm, so this helps me feel in charge and take action when needed. 

Saying No is Hard 

Turning down opportunities is difficult for me. Even if they’re unpaid. Even if it’s something I don’t need to do. 

I am working on overcoming professional FOMO, a fear of missing some key information or skill. Anxiety about not reading every single book in my field or areas of interest. A worry about what would happen if I didn’t take that course, listen to that podcast, sign up for that webinar. 

What if I turned down that podcast interview? That group consultation invitation? That freelance writing project? 

I know I’m not alone here. This struggle comes up frequently in my peer supervision groups, to the point that some of us even form pacts not to purchase any more courses or books until we get through what we currently have. 

This is a deeper challenge that necessitates time in supervision and therapy, and is just another part of my capitalistic conditioning. The truth is I’m very skilled at helping my clients and while continuing education is important, it doesn’t need to dominate my days, my budget or my thoughts.

Boundary Setting is a Challenging Work in Progress

I’ve been on a journey with boundary-setting for years. Through different seasons of life and work, as my job and working hours look different, as my life and family look different. And it’s always been hard. 

Just like it takes time to heal from diet mentality and rewire our brains and nervous systems regarding food and body, it also takes time to heal from capitalism and rewire our brains and nervous systems regarding work and productivity. 

It’s imperative that I acknowledge my immense privilege in having financial security, being a cishet white woman married to a cishet white man who earns a generous salary and has relatively good job security. It makes it easier for me to set boundaries with work because I don’t have to overwork myself in order to earn enough money in order to pay the bills and feed my family. And still, it’s hard to say no. It’s hard to set boundaries. 

That’s because “never enough” is inherent in our culture; capitalism requires endless growth. We’re conditioned to work more, earn more, have more. 

Grow your business.
Scale your income.
Become a millionaire. 

These are all “goals” that entrepreneurs are supposed to have. Do we ever stop to ask ourselves why? Do we stop to consider if that serves us? Does that align with our values? How does that make us feel? What impact does that have on the rest of our life? On those around us?

Taylor is holding her toddler daughter

Boundaries I Set as a New Mom and Business Owner

Here are concrete examples of boundaries that I have that are currently working for me in my life as a relatively new mom and private practice owner. 

Work Day Boundaries

I work three days a week. Those are the days that I have childcare and I schedule my work for those days only. I do not schedule client sessions or work calls on any other days. Having a kid and needing childcare is a built-in boundary!

Work Hours Boundaries

Most of the time I stick to my working hours on childcare days. Very rarely do I work after my kid goes to bed, only if necessary for some sort of time-sensitive project. My partner often works long and unpredictable hours so I can only reliably work during childcare hours, which forces strong boundaries. 

Caseload Boundaries

Since I only work three days a week, I make sure to keep my caseload manageable and factor in all the other work that I need to pack into those three days. I have certain time slots that I see clients and when those are full, my caseload is full. On occasion I’ll make an exception but not on a regular basis. I am proud of the caseload boundaries I’ve built over the years! I think this one is “easy” for me because I know that I can’t show up 100% for all of my clients if I’m not honoring these boundaries. 

Email Boundaries

Like many folks, I spend more time in my inbox than I would like to. I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of newsletters, though I still have some that I feel pressure to read (there goes that professional FOMO again). 

Since coming back to work after having my baby, I have an autoresponder turned on that lets folks know that I only respond to email on certain days, am not currently taking on new projects, and provides links to key information people may be inquiring about. That was a big step for me and feels so good! Highly recommend.

Time for Movement

I use childcare time to move my body. I’ve had to work through internal guilt about this (the “If I’m spending money on childcare I should be making money” trap that I know some of my colleagues struggle with too). Sure I could be making more money if I used every hour of childcare time to see clients, but that would leave me pretty burnt out, unhappy and resentful. It’s worth it for me to use childcare time to take care of myself and be a more balanced human. Is that a boundary? I’m not sure but it feels like it to me. 

Time for Food Prep

I just recently started saving some time at the end of my childcare hours to start making dinner, rather than jumping straight into a mad dash of dinner, bath and bedtime the second I end work. I’ve had to knock things off my calendar that I had intended on doing at the end of the work day, but the truth is I’m usually so tired by then that I rarely get much quality work done anyway. It’s a much better use of my time to get dinner started so I can eat with my kid. Family meals are a priority for me, and I feel way better doing that than waiting until after bedtime to make and eat dinner! 

Life is different when work necessitates childcare and I can’t do what I want, when I want. It requires firmer boundaries, and near constant reassessing and rearranging as my kid gets older and her schedule changes. 

I remind myself often that “I didn’t start working for myself so that I can be stressed all the time.” My husband jokes that I’m a really tough boss to myself. Working on my mindset around work and productivity has been a long journey and I’ve got a long way to go. It’s not easy resisting hustle culture when we live under capitalism. Just like it’s not easy resisting diet culture when it’s everywhere. This is tough work. And, it’s totally worth it. It allows us to live fuller lives, align more with our values and experience more joy. This is my slow season, and I’m totally OK with it. 

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