abuse Addictions Assertiveness Boundaries Communication Healthy Relationships Money Toxic Relationships

Set Boundaries with Family during the Holidays

Establishing good boundaries with family during the holidays will help you stay grounded.

Even the most put-together, well-adjusted families in the world lose their s#*& during the holidays. There will be interrupted travel and burnt food and crying children… Still, there are ways to be prepared for the chaos.

Today, I’ll discuss boundaries with family during the holidays that often get crossed, and ways to set limits.

Take from this post what makes sense for you. If you read something you don’t think would work, trust that. Remember, it might work in someone else’s circumstances.

And as always, blog posts are NOT the same as clinical therapy. To see me for therapy, contact me.

My family’s questions and judgments cross my boundaries.

  • Assert yourself by saying things like…
    • “I feel stressed out by your questions.”
    • “Asking about when we’ll get married [have a baby, etc.] is putting pressure on my relationship.”
    • “My sexuality is my business.”
  • Or, change the subject!
    • “How ’bout them Colts?” (as we Hoosiers would say)
    • “Seen the new Star Wars movie yet?”
    • “Who made this pie? Yum!”
  • Try not to take it personally. Your family’s questions may indicate…
    • They want to get to know you
    • They’re concerned about you
    • Their biases/beliefs about your life likely have to do with their upbringing, not with you

My family’s gift giving traditions are too expensive.

  • If your family does a gift exchange, clarify the price range.
    • If you’re not able to contribute something in that range, ask if it can be decreased.
    • Or, opt out altogether.
  • If everyone exchanges presents and you’re unable to afford it…
    • Make something homemade, like cookies or cards.
    • Or, opt out.
  • If your family is disappointed that you aren’t participating, explain that you’d love to, but money is tight. Accept that they have a right to feel disappointed, and you have a right to still say no.
  • If your family offers to help financially and you’re okay with it, accept the help. If you worry they’ll hold it over your head or don’t want to take their money for whatever other reason, say no.

My family demands too much time from me during the holidays.

  • You are not obligated to spend the holidays with your family.
  • If you’re taking time off of work, ensure that you’re taking off as much or little time as you want to / can afford.
    • If your family gives you any guff, say something like, “I know you’re disappointed, but this is the time I can feasibly take off right now.”
    • Just keep repeating your phrase of choice until they get bored of arguing.
  • You are NOT obligated to spend all the time you take off with your family.
    • You can take a few hours, a day or two to yourself.
    • If they ask about this, say, “I need some time to re-charge. Trust me, I’ll be much more fun to be around after my alone time!”
Whose kitchen looks this perfect? No one’s. But this was the best stock photo I could find…

Hosting family stresses me out.

  • Only agree to host or cook if you’re okay with it.
    • If you are specifically asked to host and don’t want to, say, “I’d prefer not to.” You don’t necessarily have to give an explanation.
    • Suggest an alternate solution, like staying in an Air Bnb.
    • If you’re hosting (voluntarily or otherwise), delegate! Ask specific people to do specific things. For instance, instead of, “Can someone help me clean up?” say, “Rebecca, would you help me load the dishwasher?”
  • If family is staying at your place, clarify how long they’ll be staying before they get there.
    • If they suggest a time frame that seems too lengthy, state what works better for you. For example, “I can’t commit to a full week, but I’d love to have you for Friday – Sunday.”
    • If they overextend their welcome, say something like, “I’ve enjoyed hosting you, and we had agreed to 3 days. I have things to do tomorrow. Can I help you pack?”

My family’s addictions or abusive behaviors ruin my holiday.

  • Again, you are NOT OBLIGATED to spend the holidays with your family.
  • You can set limits around how much time and what type of events you attend.
    • For example, go to the mid-day supper, but skip the competitive game night.
    • Or, come to the first 2 hours of the gathering, and leave before everyone gets drunk.
  • Decide in advance of the event what type of behavior you’ll tolerate from family members. Is yelling okay with you? What about name-calling, or throwing objects?
    • When someone crosses your boundary the first time, state, “I’m not okay with you yelling at me [or whatever behavior they’re doing]. Please stop.”
    • If they don’t stop, either give them one more chance, or leave the room.
    • Stick to your guns, even if it makes people angry.
    • If there’s a possibility you might have to leave somewhere you planned to stay overnight, arrange for somewhere else to stay ahead of time, just in case.

Remember, you do not have to tolerate mistreatment from anyone – family included. You choose when to end the conversation or the night. Others may not like your choice, but that’s out of your control. Your well-being and mental health is your responsibility, and it needs to be protected.

You may want to check out the free, holiday handouts on my resource page. Tiny Buddha also has a fantastic article on boundary-setting at this time of year.

Setting boundaries with family during the holidays is tough. If you struggle with it, show yourself lots of kindness and patience.

Have a boundaried holiday!

-Rebecca

Rebecca Ogle is a licensed therapist who practices teletherapy in Illinois. Rebecca empowers therapy clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and burnout using their natural strengths and inner wisdom. 

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