Is It Ok To Have Holiday Boundaries with My Family?
Family can make the holidays really stressful. Especially when you’re a young adult.
You may just be coming home from college after your first semester at school, or this may be your first year with a grown-up job living on your own in a city far from home. Either way, you’ve got some decisions to make.
You may have some of these thoughts running through your mind:
- My worldview has changed; will my parents still expect me to be that sweet 15 year old that nods in agreement with everything they say?
- Am I obligated to spend all of my free time with my family?
- Is it okay to go home early?
- Will my family disown me if I book a trip to Europe instead of coming home for Christmas this year?
I distinctly remember coming home for the holidays one year after learning about boundaries, healthy relationships, and respectful conflict resolution. I thought because I had all of the right tools, I would be prepared to handle whatever came up over those few weeks at home in a mature way.
But when I stormed to my childhood bedroom crying during the middle of a board game at 24 years old, I quickly realized that every tool I thought I knew flew right out of the window once I was thrust back into those old unhealthy environments.
So how do we navigate healthy boundaries with our family? It may be the first time, or it may be the thousandth time trying to set boundaries during the holiday—but don’t give up! Here are six steps to try:
1. Identify situations that may require boundaries.
Are you needing to speak up for yourself more during conversations around the dinner table? Do you want more freedom as a young adult instead of being treated as a kid? Are you needing true distance from a family member that is abusive? Think through what specific situations may arise during the holidays that could call for you to protect your mental, physical, or emotional health.
2. Decide the appropriate boundary.
What do you need? Do you start pulling your hair out after three days with your family? Maybe only spend three days visiting so you can actually enjoy the time with them instead of leaving frustrated and burnt out. Is there a particular person that is disrespectful to you? Decide what a healthy amount of interaction will be with them, and if you are willing to leave early if they are not going to treat you appropriately. Using the situations that you thought through in the first step, consider what a healthy boundary might be for your circumstance.
3. Communicate that boundary.
Calmly and respectfully let your family know what your needs are. Give yourself permission to tell them that you need some time to unwind from work during your time off and you will only be spending two days with them this year, so that you can relax the rest of the week. They might give you some pushback. Be kind and listen to their concerns, wants, and expectations. If you can compromise in a way that honors both of your wishes, do that! If you know you can’t budge on your boundary, make it very clear that you’ve thought through this decision and this is what’s best for you.
4. Stick to your guns.
When the time comes, follow through with the boundary you communicated. If you previously stated that you will not be sticking around if Uncle Jim has one too many beers because he turns into an angry drunk, politely pack your things and say your goodbyes if the line is crossed. Your family may not respond well when you put your foot down, but try your best to honor them without burning bridges. Be direct and let them know that you clearly communicated this was a boundary for you and the line has been crossed. If you set the expectations before the heat of the moment, it is much easier to remind your family that they were aware you would be leaving after two days. If you were too afraid to set those expectations in the beginning, you will most likely run into a lot of disappointment, frustration and confusion when you follow through with your boundary.
5. Remember you are not responsible for the feelings of others.
It’s important to be mindful of others’ feelings, but ultimately, you cannot control how others react to the boundaries that you set. When setting a boundary, show the other person a lot of love, care, and compassion, but don’t ignore your own needs. Reach out to friends, other family members, or a counselor for some support and feedback on the situation, if necessary.
Pat yourself on the back! You just did something many people spend years avoiding! Soak up the extra time you have at home, relish in the delight of not being emotionally drained after time with that one family member, and treat yourself because you said no!
As a follower of Jesus, I spent many years learning to put the needs of others in front of my own. While that is a biblical principle, Jesus was also very clear about his limits and boundaries with others.
Somewhere along the way, I had learned that to be Christ-like meant to always put others first, shove my own needs down, and never say no. But when I actually looked at the life of Jesus I saw him setting boundaries all over the place!
Like in Matthew 8, after Jesus heals many, a large crowd gathers. In that moment he could’ve started people-pleasing by healing them late into the night and working himself to the bone, forgetting to eat or drink. He could have even justified his actions by telling himself that no one else can heal these people like he can.
Instead, he decides it’s time for a nap. Jesus gives orders to cross to the other side of the lake on a boat. He then sleeps while a huge storm ravages the lake. He takes care of his own need to sleep, even though the disciples are freaking out at the waves. He recognizes that he is not responsible for their feelings, reactions or fears (but he does kindly stop the storm for them in the end).
Many times Jesus sets boundaries by speaking the truth in love. In Matthew 16, Jesus explains to his disciples what he will suffer. Peter pulls Jesus aside and tells him that he will never let these things happen, but Jesus rebukes Peter, telling him that his actions are a hindrance to accomplishing God’s will.
Jesus was not a pushover or a people-pleaser. He was clear about his goal on earth, and he communicated his needs, his purpose, and his limits. You too, can have the abundant life Jesus promises by following his example and establishing boundaries. If you’re looking for resources, I highly recommend "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Whatever boundaries you decide you need to set, take time to think about them before you head home. Here's to a happy, healthy holiday break!
If you’re looking for other young adults that are working on boundaries and love Jesus, hang out with our college or young professionals ministry! We want to support your journey to healthy boundaries at home and in your life. Find out more at www.chaseoaks.org/youngadults or reach out to our college resident Crystal at [email protected] or our young professionals resident Jackson at [email protected] to get connected.