How to Set Boundaries with Family
For most people, the holiday season is one filled with excitement, joy, and warmth. It’s a time to make wonderful new memories, and reminisce over treasured old ones.
However, for another group of people, holidays can be cause for anxiety and general unease. They can dredge up uncomfortable memories, fear of another holiday ruined, or even just a simple desire to enjoy the day in one’s own home and at one’s own pace.
Sometimes, family dynamics are at the root of this discomfort. Usually, this is a clear indication that boundaries need to be set or better enforced. In this post, we’re going to talk about how we can set healthy boundaries and communicate clear expectations with our families to help everyone have a happy holiday season.
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Why We Need Boundaries
Some people, even when well-meaning, don’t always understand the need to set boundaries with family. And to that, I muse, they must have been blessed with respectful relationships and have never felt the need to draw a line in order to protect themselves or the ones they love.
Additionally, I will add that boundaries are not meant for anyone else to understand. They are made by an individual or a couple to protect themselves and their loved ones spiritually, mentally, and physically. Not everyone is going to like or agree with the boundaries that you establish. And that’s okay.
Boundaries are an important tool or practice to keep oneself from sinning, to make it easier to keep loving someone as we’re called to do, and to make forgiveness possible when necessary.
Jesus Himself set boundaries, in order to remain pure and blameless, and to ensure that His actions were God-pleasing, rather than people-pleasing.
Boundaries are a way to establish what you will allow and what you will not, which can include:
- How you are spoken to
- How you are treated
- What’s expected of you
- What’s expected of others
- How much time you will give
- And more
It is very much an “As for me and my house” type of line that often must be drawn for yourself and for others.
In the book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend say, “We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out.”
Why We Need Boundaries During the Holidays
There are many reasons you might feel it necessary to establish some boundaries with your family going into the holiday season.
Perhaps it’s a tough balance trying to visit all the sides of your family in a day or two. Maybe you have a family member with a history of sabotaging holidays and other events.
Perhaps you feel like you never know where you stand with that person and you wear yourself out walking on eggshells. Maybe you’re tired of expectations being too demanding on your time and sanity.
Perhaps you want an opportunity to create healthy, loving memories with your own little family.
Whatever your reason, I want you to know that it’s okay to set some parameters in place so you can enjoy your holiday season with your family. Let’s explore what those parameters can look like….
What Boundaries Can Look Like During the Holidays
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to setting boundaries. Your situation, family dynamics, and individual needs are specific to you. You and your family will have to figure out what you need in order to have healthy relationships and enjoyable holidays.
However, you might be able to work with this list and gather some inspiration from it.
What setting boundaries might look like during the holidays:
- We want to spend Christmas morning opening presents in our own home.
- We can’t come for dinner, but we would love to join you for dessert.
- We’re going to start a new tradition this year.
- We are unable to celebrate with you that day, but would love to gather with you the following week.
- We’ve decided we won’t be exchanging gifts this year and look forward to just spending time making new memories with you instead.
- We would love to see you during the holidays, and in order to do so we ask that _______.
- you speak respectfully to my spouse
- you leave disciplining our children to us
- you stop bringing up (blank)
- there are no guilt trips when we have to leave
- We are unable to host the entire family this time, but if one or two other people would like to join in hosting, we could help each other out by sharing responsibilities.
- We will be spending the holidays alone this year, but thank you for the invite.
- I would love to help you with _____, but I can only commit to _____.
- Would you commit to praying over this situation with me and we can revisit this topic another time?
This list is not all-encompassing, but hopefully you can find a way to apply it to your life and your situation in a way that’s conducive to healthy relationships and holidays that don’t leave your tinsel in a tangle.
How to Explain Your Boundaries to Others
Don’t. Just, don’t.
What I mean by that is, you do not need to give a list of reasons WHY you’re invoking your boundaries.
You don’t need to prove that your boundaries are necessary by hurling every example of past hurts and situations that have led you to this point. It’s very unlikely that doing so would improve your relationships AT ALL.
And as I said before, your boundaries are not meant for anyone else to understand. They’re also not meant to change another person, but to protect yourself. You can’t control how a person behaves or thinks, but you can control your reaction, right?
As Lysa TerKeurst says in her book FORGIVING WHAT YOU CAN’T FORGET, “Boundaries aren’t to push others away. Boundaries are to help hold me together.”
What do you need to do in order to hold yourself together? Figure that out, pray about it, and then commit to it. Do not try to justify or over-explain yourself. This isn’t about them, this is about you.
Final Thoughts on How to Set Boundaries with Family
Friend, my hope is that this will help you establish some boundaries to “keep the good in and the bad out” during this holiday season. Maybe you’ll be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner a little more freely, or not feel rushed to make all the rounds on Christmas Day.
Whatever your need is, and no matter what your relationships require, I am praying that your holidays are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I’d like to add a gentle reminder that no one can grant us all of the wonderful fruit of the Spirit 100% of the time this side of Heaven, no matter how many boundaries we set.
But, our Heavenly Father is more than capable of being all that and more for you, and you never need to set a boundary with Him. Please hold that truth in your heart as you navigate sticky relationships this season and every season.
Here is a simple image you can screenshot and use as your phone wallpaper. We hope this reminds you that boundaries with family are ok and healthy.
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