You know the drill. The holidays are upon us, and families are making their plans. Each side is clamoring for your attention – these grandparents haven’t seen the kids in months, that stepmom just lost a loved one and needs a special day, those grandparents live closer, this sibling wants you to bring a ham.
The expectations swell, the guilt surges, and both threaten to spill over the boundaries you’ve set for yourself and your family.
Maybe there are family members who treat you poorly or cause you more stress than is healthy. Maybe you have a child with special needs or dietary restrictions.
Maybe you can’t afford to bring 6 desserts and spend 3 gallons of gas to go over the river and through the woods.
Or maybe you’re just tired.
Either way, whatever your reasons were for establishing healthy boundaries for yourself earlier in the year, they still exist during the holidays.
If your brother-in-law’s political opinions cause friction in March, they’ll cause friction over a turkey dinner.
If your child has sensory issues and is easily overwhelmed on a week day, they’ll be easily overwhelmed on a holiday.
If you need space, quiet, peace, or rest during regular seasons, you especially need it during the intense, emotional, busy seasons.
It is okay to say “no” to most – or even all – of the invitations you receive.
It is okay to leave early. It is okay to break traditions and start your own. It is okay to celebrate with friends instead of family. And it’s even okay to celebrate on your own… or not at all.
Your mental health, your peace, your very healthy boundaries are not worth stretching in order to please others.
With all of the commercials and movies and idyllic holiday images everywhere, emotions run high.
It’s easy to long for connections that may not actually exist with your family members, to want that warm, glowing family dinner with your in-laws, even if you haven’t spoken to them in two years.
How wonderful it feels to be swept up in holiday hopes, to imagine making memories that look like Instagram posts and Hallmark movies.
How comforting it feels to wrap ourselves up in the fantasy of a perfect holiday, with lit candles, fancy serving ware, cloth napkins, and cheerful families.
That’s how we blur the lines of our boundaries – we enter the grey area that exists between hopefulness and sacrifice and allow ourselves to give up more than we should in order to get something we never can.
We allow the beast of “what if…?” to take up space in our minds, and before we know it, we’ve been guilted into a misery.
We surrender what keeps us healthy in an attempt to buy a temporary peace and risk what we’ve been protecting the whole time.
What if this is our last holiday with her?
What if they’ve changed after all this time?
What if I put this bill off and move those funds around?
What if the kids grow up resenting me for not being closer to their cousins?
What if we go this year, then really stay home next year?
There are more questions than answers, because there’s really only one answer – whatever is healthiest for you.
Boundaries are meant to protect you, not harm others.
If you’re getting pushback from family members over your boundaries, remember that those boundaries are there for you, and you don’t need their permission to protect yourself… especially from people who would complain about it.
You can have a place in your heart for someone without making a place for them at your table.
As all of the invitations and planning and guilt trips and passive-aggressive remarks begin to swirl around you this holiday season, take the time to re-evaluate your boundaries and why you set them.
Weigh the guilt you feel now against the healing you may have to do later.
Ask yourself if you’re romanticizing this tradition, or if it’s actually not worth the effort and stress it causes. Talk with your kids and consider coming up with your own, new holiday plans – a themed bucket list, a fun menu, a movie night.
Remember that holidays are not about sacrificing yourself.
Holidays are meant to be celebrations, a time of joy, a time of giving – just make sure that what you’re giving isn’t too much of yourself.