Six Tips for Establishing Healthy Boundaries During the Holidays

As the holiday season looms, I think more and more about how my family will maintain healthy boundaries during the holiday. Boundaries are something that most of us shy away from setting, especially with extended family members. But establishing healthy boundaries is vital, or at least it has been for my family.

It’s important to set boundaries on how you spend your time, where you go, how you spend your money, or who you interact with.

For us, it sets healthy limits on how my family interacts with others and allows us to have the holiday experience we want to have. Boundaries reduce the power other people have over how my family chooses to celebrate the holiday season and allows us to spend time together and create happy memories.

Six Tips for Establishing Healthy Boundaries During the HolidaysI will say this upfront: establishing healthy boundaries is a HARD thing to do.

Adult family members often do not like boundaries, and they often aren’t afraid to tell you so. Sometimes family members will lay on the guilt if you say you aren’t coming for some part of a holiday celebration. Others will question your parenting if you say you need to return home for bedtime or naptime. You may be told to “lighten up” if you ask someone to refrain from giving your child yet another cookie before dinner. Boundaries can be a hard pill to swallow.

It’s important to communicate your family’s boundaries clearly, especially with the family members who tend to overstep boundaries. It can be difficult to have a conversation with your extended family about how much involvement they will have in your family’s holiday activities. But using passive aggression or subtle hints are a poor way to communicate your boundaries. 

Here are some tips for you as you consider setting boundaries with friends and family this holiday season.

1. It’s okay to say “no”.

As parents, we are faced with an endless number of events, activities, visits, and other obligations. To some, we have to say “yes”. However, much of the time, we feel we should say “yes”, but it’s not necessary. I want to gently remind you that it’s okay to say “no”, even to good or fun things. Building in some downtime is important during a very busy season. Never feel bad for saying “no”, especially if you are saying “no” to something you do not want to do.

2. “No” is a complete sentence.

When you say “no”, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Give one if you want. But you can also just say, “No, thank you.”

3. Protect your family traditions.

Consider establishing some specific traditions for you and your kids, and protect them. Don’t let outside obligations diminish the traditions you want to set for your family. These traditions will give your kids many happy memories, and they’re worth protecting.

4. Say “goodbye” to traditions you only hold onto only out of guilt.

If you do something just because you’ve always done it, and there’s no joy coming from it, it’s okay to stop. Even if someone else is pressuring you to keep doing it. 

5. You aren’t responsible for someone’s reaction to your boundaries.

When you set a boundary, communicate it clearly and kindly to extended family. You may receive pushback. That is totally normal. In general, people don’t like change. But remember, you aren’t responsible for how they react. It isn’t your job to “fix” how they feel about your boundaries. Let me say that again more clearly: you do not have to make someone else happy at the cost of your own family’s happiness. 

6. It’s okay if someone is upset with your boundaries.

Some people don’t like boundaries, and they often happen to be the people you need to set boundaries with the most. Remember that boundaries are important for a healthy family, even if they make someone upset. Even in healthy families, setting a boundary can be difficult.

Establishing healthy boundaries keeps your family healthy-mentally, emotionally, and physically. When there is a lack of clear boundaries, your family may feel like they are being pushed into situations and traditions. Over time, resentment can grow. The holiday season is stressful enough without feeling like you have no control over how your family spends their time.

Boundaries allow you to take back some control and experience the holiday season in the way that is best for your family.

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Jen is a mom to two kids, Penelope (19 months) and Jethro (2 months). A graduate of Central College, Jen moved to South Africa with the Peace Corps after college, where she developed school and community gardens. Upon returning to the states, Jen moved back to her hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, where she met her husband Darin. In 2019, their young family moved to Cedar Rapids, where she began work with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach as a Healthy Food Access Specialist. Despite working full time and wrangling two young kiddos, Jen still finds times for her favorite hobbies-cooking, gardening, reading, and napping.