Setting Boundaries with Family During the Holidays and Beyond

holiday boundaries

The holidays are upon us. The house is decorated, family meals are planned, and you are excited to connect with loved ones and share in traditions. Or maybe you aren’t that excited. 

Holidays are great for many reasons but they are also a time for family drama, arguments, and stress. If you are someone who dreads family get-togethers for this very reason, then it is time to set some boundaries. 

You Are In Charge of You

You don’t have to feel nauseous at the thought of exchanging gifts with your in-laws or the inevitable questions you will be asked when your great aunt Sue corners you. You are in charge of you and it is time you show your family exactly what you will tolerate. Dysfunction is something every family struggles with but you don’t need to let it ruin your holiday. 

How do you establish boundaries without compounding an already uncomfortable situation? 

First of all, remember that boundaries help to keep you safe. Even if they make others in your family angry, they are healthy for you. Boundaries shouldn’t be so firm that they harm relationships, but they should also not be so loose that they are easily crossed. They should be a healthy balance that assists in maintaining healthy, fulfilling relationships. 

Be Open

Be open with your family about what you will and will not tolerate. If there is a topic you don’t feel comfortable discussing with them, it can be helpful to let them know ahead of time: “You know, mom, I don’t want to explain to people why I broke up with Sam. Can you please not bring it up?” If the topic still comes up during the event, calmly say “I prefer to not talk about it” and excuse yourself to the bathroom. It might seem like you are being avoidant but it is none of their business and you have the right to your privacy.

If there is pressure for you to host the holiday festivities but you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to take on anything else, tell them that. If your parents always expect you to stay late into the night for games or other traditions you share, but you have a long drive and want to get the kids home for bed, let them know. Being silent about your preferences only makes your family continue to do the things you don’t like, while you hold on to negative feelings internally. 

Keep Perspective

Boundaries are also about compromise. If you are tired of traveling to multiple homes for dinner, then stop. Make it clear to your family that you would be happy to see them the day before or the day after, or let them know you have decided to alternate every-other-year so that you aren’t spending a good part of the day in the car. Or, ask that they come to you one year and you go to them the next.

Before you get out of the car or airplane or have the family over, think about exactly why you want to see your family, what do you want to get out of these moments together? Focus on these. The holidays should be a time to celebrate what you have, honor those who have passed, be grateful for all the positive and good that life has given you. It is not a time to put others down or to give guilt trips about never seeing them, having children, marriage, money, careers, etc. It should be a time to cheer each other on, to celebrate each other and enjoy the little things.

The psychologists at Wellness Psychological Services are uniquely and expertly specialized in helping you create a healthier environment for yourself. We welcome the chance to discuss an individualized plan to meet your needs. Contact us for an appointment anytime.  ​

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