The holidays are in full swing as we come off two years of Covid-induced separations for many. With this season comes expectations that are sometimes unrealistic to meet. What we generate in our minds as the “perfect” holiday often leaves parents with anxiety and pressure from others. Setting boundaries with family and, more importantly, keeping to them can make all the difference.
Establishing healthy boundaries may sound like a harsh approach going into a festive season. But enjoying your time with family and creating a space where you prioritize self-care has never been more critical. Being proactive and addressing issues early that cause friction and stress puts you in control and allows you to feel good about where and how you spend your time.
Studies show that moms bear most responsibilities during this time of year. A national survey by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 50% of women in the U.S. experienced increased stress during the holidays, which was much higher than their male counterparts.1
How to Set (and Keep) Boundaries During the Holidays
Here are five tips for setting and maintaining boundaries with family around holiday visits.
1. Create Your Boundaries Well Before Planned Visits
Establish what your non-negotiables are before you get together with your family. This can be how much time you’ll spend together, discussing off-limits topics, setting limits on gift spending, etc. Boundaries are another form of self-care and should be considered a valid part of any family interaction. Take a moment to identify your triggers and establish boundaries to protect yourself from feeling overwhelmed and rekindling negative emotions.2
2. Decide How You’ll Communicate Your Boundaries
You know your family dynamics, so determine if it’s best to discuss your boundaries in advance of your get-together (i.e., in a family email chain about your gathering) or if it’s better to mention them in person. Some people find it easier to address this before face-to-face encounters. It can help prevent uncomfortable reactions, giving you time to think about how you’ll handle those who don’t adhere to your boundaries. Remember, you don’t need to justify or explain your boundaries.
3. Plan How You’ll Handle an Unfavorable Reaction
If you’ve never set boundaries with your family before, don’t be surprised if not everyone is willing to understand why they’re necessary. When people, unfortunately, don’t understand or respect your boundaries, that’s precisely why you need to have them. We all want our feelings heard; when criticism or downright disregard for our established boundaries occurs, it can be pretty upsetting. Just as you prepare other aspects of your holiday visits, lay out how you’ll handle those who don’t honor your requests. It will reduce your anticipatory anxiety and leave the guilt at the door.
4. Be Consistent with Sticking to Your Boundaries
Nothing can ruin a holiday visit more than when people violate your boundaries or you don’t stay firm with them. The last thing you may want is a confrontation with a loved one, yet you’ll be empowered when you have calmly and effectively reinforced what you are and are not willing to do. Getting together with family over the holidays may trigger emotions buried inside, so having boundaries and sticking to them is essential. Conveying them to family and friends and reinforcing them can be as easy as saying, “As I’ve previously expressed, I’d rather not discuss that topic since it is stress-inducing for me.”
5. Have an Exit Strategy if Things Turn Sour
Is it time to call it quits? Be prepared for how you’ll exit from the scene if you’re feeling overwhelmed or want to head out. For instance, you could say, “I need to leave by a certain time to spend some quiet time to unwind.” If you’re hosting or have family members staying at your home, let them know that if they don’t stick to your boundaries, you’ll have to ask them to leave or request that your visit be shortened out of respect for yourself.
If you’ve thought about establishing a boundary with family members, that’s a cue to listen to your inner voice and set them well before any gatherings this month. Give yourself the grace to put them in place and feel confident that what you’re doing is creating a healthy space for your overall well-being while at the same time making room to enjoy the present moment with less friction and overblown expectations. You won’t wear yourself thin, and you’ll prioritize what’s most important to you this season, be it time alone or being selective about who you socialize with for your peace of mind.