Holiday Tips: Healthy Boundaries

Holiday time is here! 

With it comes extended family visits, end-of-year pressure from work, hoping to meet (increasingly high) expectations for everyone and trying to make the season magical (and Instagram-worthy) for our kids. This can lead to stress, exhaustion, and endless frustration. Big holiday gatherings – with big family conversations, big spending on gifts, and more all coming up can bring up anxiety instead of excitement and stress instead of peace.

We’re here to help!  Here are some helpful tips about boundaries to help ease holiday pre-celebration stress and make your holiday gatherings smoother for you.

“Boundaries define us… Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud

holiday boundaries What are boundaries?  

Boundaries are an invisible line that defines what behaviors are acceptable. These can be physical (do not touch me) or emotional (do not lie to me). In addition, they can be based on time, space, and situation (I am available to meet until 5 PM). Boundaries are clear guidelines detailing how you would like to be treated. They let the people in your life know what is – and isn’t – acceptable.  

Some examples of boundaries around the holidays might include: 

  • Time
    • “We are happy to celebrate Christmas with you, and are available on these dates. We keep Christmas morning to just our household.”
  • Finances/gifts 
    • “For our adult sibling gift exchange, let’s set a budget for gifts. Does $30 per gift work for everyone?”
  • Conversation
    • “I know we have some strong and opposing opinions in our family. With this in mind, I won’t participate in political debates.”

How can I enforce boundaries?

It’s important to remember that every individual can only control their own actions – you can communicate your boundaries and expectations, but you can’t guarantee that others will follow them. Instead of attempting to control someone else’s behavior (which never works!), focus on what you will do if your boundaries are crossed.

First: communicate the boundary. This might be difficult and awkward, can feel awkward, but we can’t expect people, even our families, to read our minds! If we don’t tell people what we do and don’t want, they won’t know. Having a calm and clear conversation ahead of time is a great way to communicate a boundary.  

Of course, you hope that everyone agrees ahead of time. Whether they do or not, create your action plan (remembering that we can only control ourselves) if this boundary is crossed. Perhaps you’ll go to another room if a topic is brought up that you don’t want to discuss. Or, maybe it’s more severe, and you’ll leave the gathering. Making a plan in advance and communicating that with anyone who needs to know reduces the stress felt before the event.

If the boundary is crossed at the gathering, speak up and give an opportunity for the situation to be corrected, then follow your plan if needed. Stay calm, and focus what you say about how you feel and your own boundaries rather than accusing or attacking others (even if they’re in the wrong!) to avoid a bigger conflict.

Creating and holding boundaries is not easy, especially the first time. With this in mind, remember that you are only responsible for your own actions. We can only stay true to ourselves and do our best. Setting boundaries can set you free from feeling responsible for actions that are out of your control.  

I hope that creating and holding holiday boundaries provides you peace – through this holiday season and into the new year.

Suggested reading:
Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Dare to Lead, Brene Brown
Whose Life is it Anyway?, Nina W. Brown
Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, Anne Katherine

A version of this article was written by Vanessa Terrell in December ’22.

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