Setting Boundaries this Holiday Season

November 22nd, 2017 | Posted in For Parents, For Adults by

Holiday BoundariesThis time of the year reminds me of a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The Griswolds are relaxing in their home when the doorbell rings. Each chime grows more daunting as the frame zooms to the door, from which you can hear arguing on the other side. Suddenly, extended family charges in, aggressively pecking cheeks and oversharing as they unload gifts and baggage.

When the foyer clears, Clark Griswold sighs and says to his wife, “Well, that’s what Christmas is all about.”

The days leading up to Thanksgiving can feel like the calm before the holiday storm. As you make last-minute preparations for dinner and decor, it’s also important to check in with yourself about your expectations for how you want to experience the season.

To avoid feeling drained, taken advantage of, or disappointed, consider your personal boundaries and limits. What are your goals for health and well-being? What level of emotional and physical intimacy are you willing to share with your friends and family?

An awareness of your values empowers you to advocate for your health and happiness. And, by honoring both your own boundaries and those of others, the true spirit of the season can thrive.

Boundaries for Friends and Family

For many families, the holidays are one of the few times a year everyone is together. In an attempt to catch up and connect, family members may ask personal or prying questions you aren’t comfortable answering. When are you getting married? What’s the hold up on starting a family? Are you and your spouse doing okay? You seem stressed.

If unsolicited advice or criticism makes you cringe, kindly reply that you’d rather not talk about it at the moment. Ambiguous replies such as “if only I knew” or “some things just don’t work out” can sometimes effectively close the topic while protecting your privacy. Change the subject without apologizing or over-explaining. Have an exit plan prepared in case things get too uncomfortable. Respectfully remove yourself so you can recharge.

Boundaries for your Personal Space

According to custom, refusal to kiss under the mistletoe may result in a lifetime of unwed misery. Of course, that’s completely untrue and you should never feel pressured — nor pressure anyone — to kiss under mistletoe. Though this time of the year emphasizes warmth and togetherness, not everyone shares the same comfort level with physical touch. Be mindful of your personal boundaries, and those of others, especially at holiday gatherings where alcohol is involved.

Also keep in mind that many relatives in town for the holidays are not familiar adults in your children’s lives. The Girl Scouts of America just released a statement reminding parents that children do not “owe” physical affection to friends and family members in exchange for gifts. When hugs and kisses make your kids uncomfortable, give them alternatives for expressing thanks such as kind words, a wave, or a high-five.

Finally, it’s important to set boundaries when hosting company overnight. Show your guests how to make themselves at home in ways you are comfortable with; don’t expect them to read your mind. Point out where to find clean towels or a water glass. Mention your typical bedtime and morning routines to avoid surprises. Setting ground rules and expectations from the start will prevent resentment and increase opportunities for enjoyment.

Boundaries for Food (and Drink)

The holidays are teeming with food and alcohol temptations. Before heading out to an event, eat a snack or light meal to avoid arriving with an empty stomach. Remember to stay hydrated and monitor your alcohol consumption. Tune in to the source of your urges to over-indulge. Is it social discomfort? Stress? Consider other ways to ease your anxieties that better align with your values.

If you have dietary restrictions, don’t expect others to accommodate your needs; come prepared with a dish you can share and enjoy yourself. Try to respect other people’s boundaries for food and drink that may differ from yours. Recognize that you can’t control what your family members do and don’t eat, and lecturing about the dangers of non-organic meat isn’t going to magically change ingrained habits overnight.

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