The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

By Guest Blogger  Susan Shapiro Barash

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters
Susan with her two daughters, Jennie and Elizabeth

As I listened to the voices of a variety of mothers this past year and investigated why mothering daughters today seems more arduous, more difficult than ever, I couldn’t help but think of my own daughters and the pitfalls and rewards of raising them.  As they grew up – today they are 23 and 30– I often struggled with the ‘right’ answers to their requests.

Should I have allowed a curfew that made me worry for hours, just because my older daughter, at 15 pleaded with me and claimed that “all” her friends had the same late curfew?  Should I have said no when she wanted her ears pierced at eight, which felt too young and somehow not appropriate? Not only did I say yes to this, but when my younger daughter wanted her ears pierced at seven, I agreed, figuring that this daughter was immersed in a much slicker, faster world than her big sister, seven years older, had experienced.

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

As a mother, I was constantly evaluating the world of young girls, adolescent girls and young women—and struck by the demands made of them. Wasn’t it my responsibility to soften the blows, to make it all easier?

And as I began this project – in big cities and small towns, rural areas and suburbs, mothers everywhere told me that they worried about their dearth of boundaries, but at the same time, wanted to please their daughters. Among those interviewees who had more than one daughter, there was a confession similar to mine, that in fact, they had not actually  learned much from raising the first daughter and weren’t any savvier or better prepared to say no or instill rules with their second or third daughter.

Mothers today say that their grade school age daughters are bolder and more media saturated than their older daughters;  these girls impressed by influences beyond a mother’s word, want what they want. Peer pressure and celebrity culture have invaded the space; they view their mothers as “out of touch, wearisome, unaware.” All the while, these mothers are trying to do what is best for their daughters.  They want to protect and please their daughters to make life easier, despite that this can result in a lack of boundaries, and can stir up great anxiety for the mother.

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

I am all too familiar with the high anxiety that my interviewees described; this sense that despite your instincts, you cave in to a daughters’ request, in the name of trying to fix things – to minimize or “candy coat” their pain or disappointment, in any arena – be it with a ‘toxic friend’ for a 13 year old daughter to a failed romance for a 25 year old daughter.

Many mothers reported that their daughters had worn them out, to the point where after a long day, rather than battle over such issues as school, socializing (not approving of friends or a boyfriend), shopping, money, you just say “Yes,” even when you want to say “No.” One mother admitted that her will was no match for her 10 year old daughter’s will, and another admitted that she was so exhausted that she simply agreed and said “Yes” in the end to her daughter to have some peace rather than have the drama for hours.

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

In another interview, how about the mother who bought her six year old the “wrong” sneakers and when her daughter opened the bag and dissolved in tears, the mother raced back to get the proper brand? Or the mother who criticized the math teacher when her daughter failed a test in tenth grade, rather than question if her daughter had been prepared, had she insisted that her daughter apply herself? Or the mother who confessed that she knows her fifteen year old daughter gets high in her garage while she’s at work but accepts her daughter’s word when she denies it.  What of the mother whose daughter quit college midterm, first semester, and the mother brought her home, rather than insist that she stay until the end, and then evaluate the situation?

I know how intimidating it is to set rules and the tension that accompanies it. I’ve felt it with my own daughters over the years when I’ve been brave enough in those instances to put my foot down. And then there have been the instances when my rules didn’t mesh and it created more problems.

I remember when my older daughter, then in tenth grade, was away with her friend and her friend’s parents over spring break. I told her she had to be in by 11 p.m. each night. But the other girls were allowed to stay out until one 1 a.m. Thus, by trying to protect my daughter from afar, I was actually putting her in a position where she would be walking back to the hotel room alone, while her friend and the other teenagers remained out together.  I had to recant— and adjust to the ‘rule’ of the moment, and permit my daughter, who was on her own in a sense; to do what was best for her in spite of my expectations.

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

The moral is that while boundaries are essential, circumstances come up where we have to rethink the rule– and be flexible. It’s not always black and white. We need to look at all the factors, set the rules, and break them in accordance to each new scenario. So, I guess that brings us back to the beginning… We all struggle to find the “right” answers. Oh the joys of motherhood. 🙂

Id’ love to know your thoughts. How many times do you sit on the fence when it comes to your daughters and boundaries?



The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters

The Trick of Boundaries and Rules with our Daughters
Lindsay Lohan and her copy of Toxic Friends

Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of nonfiction women’s issue books and has authored twelve books, including Toxic Friends. She has a new book, YOU’RE GROUNDED FOREVER… BUT FIRST, LET’S GO SHOPPING: THE CHALLENGES MOTHERS FACE WITH THEIR DAUGHTERS AND TEN TIMELY SOLUTIONS. Susan teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College. A well recognized gender expert, Barash is frequently sought out by newspapers, television shows and radio programs to comment on women’s issues and blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.


  1. What an amazing post. I think I have gone through EVERY SINGLE SITUATION you described with my daughter. I found myself nodding at every sentence. I love your advice. We can’t win every battle and yes we do have to break the rules. Great post.

  2. Yes yes yes! My son is easy and my 13 year old daughter is a nightmare. Everything is a fight and an argument. I have also said yes so many times just out of sheer exhaustion. Boys are so much easier than girls. But I wouldn’t trade her for anything depsite the premature gray hair she is giving me.

  3. Truth is, this applies to sons as well. I too give in sometimes from sheer exhaustion and frustration. Boundaries must be made, but we as moms aren’t robots and therefore perfection is impossible. At least I can still laugh and say I’m having fun! 🙂 Great post Susan. Thank you for your story.

  4. I also nodded at every sentence Melissa. Girls are INTERESTING! I find that when we make the rules together, kind of like a fair compromise, then that works best in our house.

  5. Hi
    Just read your blog about sitting on the fence curfews. Heres the big one. Do I let my daughter go downtown clubbing? Of course you know she asks when she is 16 and in grade 10. For fun she asked at the end of grade 9 and of course I suspect she was hoping that I would say, ” are you crazy….” Anyway as we approached Grade 10 towards the middle to end the question arose reguraly if she could go downtown with her friends??? How do you expect to get in I would ask? The drinking age is 18 ….. So what.. We will figure it out she would say.
    How did I handle this ,well I really dont fall for the line that” I am the only one that doesnt LET”. Get on the phone with your girlfriends moms and talk it out,they are suffering the same dilenma as you. Of course this has to be on the QT. As long as you are all the same page life gets easier for awhile.. Eventually you will have to give in because they will only lie and say they they are sleeping out so set the boundaries . Curfew and a phone call or text to be close in touch. Let them show responsibility this is key. Downtown is not always what its cracked up to be and they are grateful for the curfew to come home. Bottom line you are not your childs BFF you are their mother with rules and regulations for them to follow and learn by for their own safety.Afterall been there done that and mom knows best. We really are their best friends but give them a few years and they will tell you that ,mine does. She will be 21.

  6. Hi

    Today’s generation is too fast and mothers are worried about their daughters seriously in every aspects of their life but daughters reject what mother say.. to avoid this, love them in a friendly manner and explain what is right and what is wrong ,make sure their needs and wants .it helps very much for a worried mother.

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