Setting Boundaries with Family During the Holidays

While I look forward to seeing family during the holidays, it also reminds me to set boundaries. We spend time with so many different family members in different places during the holidays that I need those boundaries to stay healthy.

  1. Be an advocate for your child

When family members want to do something that I know is going to send one of my kids into a tailspin, I’ve learned to just tell them no. We let our kids stay up later on trips and on breaks, but when they have had too many short nights, I can tell that a meltdown is about to happen. I just tell grandparents, cousins, or whoever else is there, “We love you! It’s their bedtime! Goodnight!”

2. Talk about gift giving ahead of time

As our extended family has grown, we’ve adapted gift-giving in a way that feels healthy. As we grew from being newlyweds to all of the brothers and sisters-in-law having children, we decided to let the kids draw names for each other, and we don’t buy for all of the brothers and sisters in law. This makes it a fun game for the kids to draw each others names and buy for each other. And it keeps everyone from spending huge amounts on lots of family members.

3. Leave the bait alone 

Sometimes at family get togethers, someone will say something to get a reaction, in a way that feels like they want someone to take the bait and argue with them. Often it’s for attention. Mama doesn’t have time for that! I simply ignore it, don’t take the bait, or go talk with someone else. This also goes for family members who try to make gatherings competitions about their accomplishments. There are lots of other family members that I am excited about visiting with, so I focus on making fun memories instead.

4. Be fully present, and let go of guilt

When we visit with family from out of town, often one of the grandparents will talk about how short the visit was, and how they really wish we would stay longer. While I completely understand that in some ways, it’s also hard to hear when we’ve traveled a long way and taken several days off work to see them. I usually respond with, “I wish we could stay longer too, but I’m so glad for the time we got to spend together this week.” Or I invite them to come see us soon, to put in perspective that it won’t be that long until we get together anyway.

5. Focus on what you have in common

With family members who I have a harder time connecting with, I think ahead of time about what we have in common. Do we have some of the same hobbies? Have some the same favorite tv shows? Are we going through some of the same things as moms? When we focus on connection, it shifts my mindset in a positive way.

6. Try to let favoritism go

This is the hardest for me. When family members show clear favorites, and your children aren’t the favorites, it hurts. I remind myself that my kids are completely loved by LOTS of people, and that when an extended family member shows favoritism, it’s over more about that adult’s needs and perspectives than about the child. My kids are oblivious to this now, but if it becomes obvious to them in the future, I’ll have to decide whether to talk to that family member about it. We also have friends that feel like family, and I remind myself that we choose those friendships that are so valuable.

7. Have a fun friend you can text when things get weird

I like to have a close, fun friend to text at family gatherings. It just helps to know that someone outside of the family can laugh with me, and I can be there for them too when their family gets a little wild too. It also reminds me to just have a sense of humor around all sides of the family.

When I have these boundaries in mind ahead of time, it helps me focus on what I’m looking forward to about the visit. I want our time with extended family to be full of making fun memories!


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