Dear Miriam | How Do You Restore Pre-COVID Boundaries?

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Dear Miriam,

For the past 13 months, I’ve been working from home and have been very isolated. My mom has called and texted me regularly, which has been fine because I’ve been lonely and pretty much always available. It’s actually been great for us, and we’re more connected than we’ve been in years.

I’m about to go back to work in person, though, and I’m not sure now to reestablish the boundaries I need during working hours. What’s the best way to approach this with her without offending or seeming like I’m blowing her off after all this time?


Back to the Office/Off the Phone

Dear Office,

There are so many boundaries for all of us for all kinds of reasons that will need to be established and reestablished and figured out anew as we adjust and readjust all of our pandemic protocols. This time is at least as disorienting as last March was, but with a year of new habits and new fears in our pockets. Give yourself, and your mom, time to get used to it all.

Before you go back to work, set a time to talk to your mom. Pick a specific time, like you’re making an appointment, and share your new schedule with her. I suggest sharing it like this: “I’ve really enjoyed how much we’ve gotten to be in touch this year. Once I go back to my office, I will not be available for any texting or talking between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I’d like to figure out some consistent times during the week when we can plan to talk to each other,” and then see if you can each commit to some dates. Make those boundaries very firm for both of you so that at least for the first couple of weeks, neither of you are tempted to slip into your old pattern.

After a couple of weeks, you might find you have some wiggle room. Maybe you actually can answer texts during the day, and that could be a great and quick way to touch base with your mom. Maybe you find that your commute to and from work is a good time to talk, or that you have a few minutes during your lunch break. If she calls or texts at other times, you are well within your rights either to ignore her altogether, or to write back, “I’ll be in touch after work.” Hopefully you’ll set things up so that she’ll stick to your structure, and even if she doesn’t, you still can.

I’m guessing you have a lot of complicated feelings about your return to the office, but mazel tov on this step towards normalcy. I hope that you are vaccinated, or scheduled for your vaccine, and that you are well stocked with masks and any other supplies you need to keep you and your coworkers as safe as possible. And in addition to thinking about your mom, I hope you’re also thinking about your own transition and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally during this time.

Be well,



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