Reducing Holidays Stress: How to Set Boundaries With Family?

While many of us would like to think of the holiday season as the “most wonderful time of the year,” the holidays can also be stressful and overwhelming. For many, this stress is compounded by the prospect of spending time in close proximity to challenging family members.

Key takeaways:
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    Setting boundaries with loved ones can help to make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone.
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    You can choose to set boundaries on your time, the ways you interact with family members, on your finances, or on something else entirely.
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    When setting boundaries with family, be clear and assertive, prepare for resistance, get comfortable with discomfort, redirect the conversation, and make space to celebrate your efforts.

This can be a difficult and emotionally charged time for everyone involved. However, there are some things that you can do to help make the situation more manageable and get through the holiday season without losing your cool.

Examples of boundaries during the Holiday season

Setting boundaries with loved ones can help to make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone. Here are some examples of boundaries you may want to set during the holiday season.

Set boundaries on your time

One way to set boundaries with family during the holidays is to have boundaries around your time, where you spend your time, and who you spend it with.

This might look like:

  • Choosing to stay in a hotel instead of staying with family.
  • Limiting the amount of time you spend at family gatherings.
  • Choosing to arrive late or leave early for family events.
  • Choosing not to attend family gatherings where a particularly challenging relative will be present.

Set boundaries on interactions

This might require having some uncomfortable conversations or interactions. Some example boundary phrases you can use would include:

  • “Please don’t use that language in front of me/my children.”
  • “That’s an unkind/impolite/inappropriate thing to say. Let’s talk about something else.”
  • “I’d rather not discuss X topic. Please don’t bring it up again.”
  • “Let’s not talk about politics/religion/X topic.”

You may also have to explicitly state your boundaries before seeing family or when greeting them. This might look like saying things like:

  • “Please don’t ask when my spouse and I are going to have children. It’s not something I want to discuss.”
  • “We’re allowing the kids to have autonomy over their bodies. Please don’t pressure them to hug and kiss you if they don’t want to.”

Set financial boundaries

The holidays can be a time of increased financial strain. Seeing family may require you to travel and increase these holiday expenses. Let your loved ones know what you can and cannot afford. If you are on a budget, let your family and friends know your limits so they don’t pressure you to spend more than you can afford.

Tips for setting boundaries with family

Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable, especially with family members. But it's important to do what's best for you, even if it means being a little bit uncomfortable.

Here are some tips for setting boundaries:

1. Be clear and assertive

Clarity isn’t rude, clarity is kind. Being clear about your boundaries can help your loved ones know what you need and what you’re asking of them. Be specific about what you're asking for, and be prepared to explain why you need it.

It's okay to be firm and assertive about your boundaries. It’s not aggressive or rude to assertively state what you need. You may get some pushback, but it’s important to stand up for yourself and what you need.

2. Be prepared for resistance

Some people may not be happy about your new boundaries, especially if it makes things different than what they’re used to. They may try to convince you to change your mind, get angry, or even try to argue and push back against your boundaries.

Be prepared for this, and don't let it dissuade you from doing what's best for you. Remember that boundaries help us to stay healthy and happy, and to maintain our relationships with others. You may even adopt phrases like:

3. Get comfortable with discomfort

Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable, especially with family members. It may feel uncomfortable to set these kinds of boundaries, especially if your family isn’t used to you explicitly stating these kinds of limits or being assertive in your communication.

Remember that this is something you’re doing to prioritize what you need. Just because someone is upset or uncomfortable with your new boundaries, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong for setting them - in fact, it can mean just the opposite. It can be a sign that you were right to set the boundary in the first place.

4. Redirect the conversation

You might find yourself in uncomfortable conversations during the holidays. Maybe you’ve set a boundary on what you’re willing and unwilling to discuss, or maybe a relative brought up a challenging or stressful topic.

A great way to navigate this is to redirect the conversation by changing the subject. You can do this by asking a question about something else, or by making a comment about something else. This can help to take the focus off of the uncomfortable topic, and can help to avoid any further discomfort.

5. Acknowledge your efforts

Even just the act of attempting to set boundaries with one family member can be a huge step! Setting boundaries with family isn’t easy, especially for people who were raised to always default to other people’s wants and needs.

Take time to acknowledge and celebrate this big step in asserting what you need and prioritizing yourself. It doesn’t matter if your boundary was well-received or not - just the act of setting it is something to celebrate!