Family Boundaries During The Holidays

By Elena Chernov

You’re seated at the table with your family. Your aunts, uncles, mom, dad, sisters, brothers, cousins the list goes on. You’re hoping everyone will enjoy a nice, quiet, peaceful, Christmas dinner. Then all of a sudden, you hear a conversation on your right go something like, “Now, Tom maybe you can explain to me why you believe Trump would do that?” While on your left you hear a conversation of, “Christians shouldn’t judge,” and “I’m not judging Lucy, I’m stating a fact okay.” 

Then your Aunt Angie asks you, “So when you are getting married? Do you have a boyfriend yet?” As you sigh, take a deep breath, smile and say, “No, well I’m…” “Before you can even finish your sentence you hear, “how old are you? You’re getting old, you see when I was your age.” Oh, well at least the peace lasted for 5 seconds, right?

Holidays can be hard because they usually are a time for family reunions and a lot of different opinions. But it shouldn’t be a stressful time of worrying about who to avoid and how to get through the holidays. It should be a joyful time where you can enjoy the company of your family and learn how to set boundaries during the holiday season. 

Not everyone will agree on everything and that’s okay, but learning to agree to disagree is not an easy thing to skill. Holiday boundaries help insure our emotional, physical and mental health. Here are 3 things you can do to feel a little bit at ease during the holidays.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Emotional Health

I know, it’s the holidays you want to be nice. But when you are being interrogated about your dating life, remember, you are not obligated to answer. If you do want to respond, be bold and be proud of who you are. Don’t allow someone’s questions to make you feel inferior or as if you owe them something. Don’t sacrifice your feelings and emotional peace for someone else.  

Meredith Janson, MA, LPC, a relationship expert, and a therapist says for example,  “Sometimes, it helps to remove yourself from the situation altogether. For instance, you might take a walk in the neighborhood.”  

Psychologist Shawn M. Burn Ph.D. says setting boundaries in a clear assertive way without blaming can help make the holidays more enjoyable. For example, statements like, “I know it’s a free country and I appreciate that you’re entitled to your opinion, but that language makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to fight about it and ruin our good time, so let’s change the subject.”

Set Clear Expectations

I know sometimes we think well this time it’ll be different from last year or well I think they’ve changed. When you set those kinds of false expectations you can set yourself up and then be emotionally exhausted. Rather, think about what to expect and how to handle the situation if it does occur. If you expect your aunt to ask you about your dating life, just know how you’ll respond ahead of time.  

Even though it may seem impossible, you can stop a disagreement from becoming a full-blown argument. No matter what the conversation might be, try to exemplify love. Be empathetic and assertive. Try to be self-aware when you need to speak up or when to let it go. 

Be Who You Are 

Whether you’ve grown up with them your entire life or only see them once a year, it can be easy to play along with how everyone else sees you and not truly be yourself. Maybe in your family’s eyes, you’re still seen as a “kid” even though you’re an adult. Or maybe being the oldest puts pressure on you to act as if you have it all together. Maybe you are the grandchild and feel pressure to make your grandparents proud, but you didn’t choose the certain career path they wanted you to. 

Whatever the reason, be true to who you are. Just because you’re the “kid” in your family does not mean you should be treated as one. Act how you want to act and be who you want to be. The more you are yourself the easier your holiday can be.

As long as you are authentic, your family will start to catch on that you’re not a “kid” anymore and you are you which the best thing we can be.