12 Ways to Practice Boundaries for the Holidays

Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

t’s that time of year again. Time to start thinking about holiday plans. A beautiful time of cookies, traditions, and time with family — which can be great, if your family is healthy and feels like home, and an absolute wreck if you’re estranged or have strained relationships.

I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder, which starts as soon as the time change happens and the clocks roll back an hour. Suddenly it’s pitch black when I’m driving home from work, everything is gray and overcast, and the holidays are a whole mess of emotional landmines.

I cherish memories of happier times with my family in contrast with the reality that I’m an estranged daughter.

The whimsy of the season and the thrill of finding the perfect gifts for my loved ones gets me through the first couple months of fall, but after the new year starts, it’s three more months of slush and snow and darkness and existential angst.

Additionally, the holidays are hard for me because I don’t speak to my biological parents and I’m not really in touch with the rest of my family on either side. I speak to two siblings and a cousin or two. It makes the holidays bittersweet, as I cherish memories of happier times with my family in contrast with the reality that I’m an estranged daughter.

Over the past few years, I’ve found that I naturally developed guidelines for how to spend my time. I need to balance a healthy schedule and mental clutter so that I make time for the priorities in my life (like time with people I love, and time for writing projects that make me feel super jazzed, and time to just sit around doing not much of anything — I guess this is called “rest”).

Since the holiday season is usually stuffed to the brim like an overfilled stocking with social and family obligations, I want to remind everyone that boundaries and taking care of yourself are still important and valid, even when it feels like your time is more necessary elsewhere.

Here are twelve rights you have this holiday season.

  1. You have the right to stay home. Seriously. Even if it’s Christmas at your mom’s house. Even if you haven’t seen your second cousins in fifteen years. Only accept plans you WANT to do and have the ABILITY to do. You are not obligated to spend time with people unless you are enthusiastic about it.
  2. You have the right to limit your budget. While “gift giving” is one of the five major love languages, the price tag is not a defining characteristic. Don’t go broke (or into debt) in an attempt to show people how much you care. If you’re close to your budget limits and still want to give more, consider handmade gifts or writing heartfelt notes, especially if the recipient is a “words of affirmation” love language person.
  3. You have the right to leave early. If you’re at a holiday party or family gathering and you’re tired, uncomfortable, or otherwise just don’t want to be there, it’s okay to say your goodbyes and head home early.
  4. You have the right to enforce your boundaries. If Great Uncle Steve refuses to use your name or pronouns, you don’t have to grin and bear it. If your mom won’t stop harping on your dress size, you can tell her to knock it off. Be concise: “Uncle Steve, you keep calling me _____ and that’s not my name. My name is _____ and if you refuse to use my name I will leave.” Let them whine. Nobody puts baby in a corner.
  5. You have the right to eat what you want. Love your body, eat what you want, and don’t punish yourself. Don’t even justify it with commentary about making it up in the gym or skipping breakfast. Just eat what you want to eat. If someone in your family makes a comment about your weight, eat them too.
  6. You have the right to ask for what you really want. Nobody has to give it to you, but you have the right to create a wish list and be clear about what you want. One year, my sister asked for cash to help fund an alternative break trip she was taking with a group in college, and family members deemed it inappropriate to ask for cash. Unless it hurts somebody, it’s okay to ask for what you want.
  7. You have the right to reschedule social plans. You can literally reschedule your holiday festivities to a later date, or celebrate early, especially to celebrate with your chosen family. Those friendsgivings and holiday party celebrations can provide a much needed respite from exhausting family dynamics.
  8. You have the right to call it whatever you want. Celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other of the winter holidays happening within this seasonal time frame? Rock on and celebrate it your way. Pay no attention to the grumps arguing about the war on Christmas. That’s not a thing. I look forward to seeing what this year’s Starbucks cups look like.
  9. You have the right to not call people you don’t want to talk to. The holidays are one of the toughest times to be estranged. I still feel a little tug that says I should call or reach out. Nope. I do not have to open myself up to emotional abuse, and neither do you.
  10. You have the right to return or re-gift. If you receive a gift that isn’t up your alley for any reason, you are under no obligation to keep it. Don’t stress out by finding a place for it or worrying about what Great Aunt Edna will think if she never sees that sweater in your selfies.
  11. You have the right to not hug people. Neither children nor adults are obligated to hug or otherwise show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. This is especially important to impart to children, who are learning about bodily autonomy. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug and kiss grandma, make it clear to everyone that it’s not okay to force it.
  12. You have the right to decorate as much or as little as you want. I hang my favorite ornaments from my potted houseplants instead of getting a tree. You make the rules!

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of bit.ly/GaslightingMillennials

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