Holidays bring together friends and family for what is hopefully a ‘good time had by all’. But this time of year, is also stressful as more people and more events combine in relatively short periods of time. I had this happen to me at Thanksgiving. All of my children and my mother were in my home. We went from 2 adults and 3 dogs to 7 adults and 5 dogs. What a whirlwind! We had to discuss the shower schedule to make sure that no one had cold water. It was absolutely wonderful to have the whole family all together – and, it was also a relief once everyone left. And then, I felt guilty about feeling relieved. Why wasn’t I just grateful that we had been together? Where was the guilt coming from?
The truth is – both feelings were real and valid and don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And I was genuinely happy and grateful that we were all together. The guilt was a little trickier. Melody Beattie, an American writer, said, “Guilt can prevent us from setting the boundaries that would be in our best interests, and in other people’s best interests.” I think that this is especially true at family holiday events. Guilt can come from multiple places – from feeling responsible for everyone in the house being OK to not feeling like the holiday celebration is good enough to having to confront someone’s poor behavior in front of the rest of the family. All of these situations are detrimental to having an enjoyable holiday experience so solving the guilt issue is worth the work.
To resolve the guilt, first think about where it comes from. Once that is identified a good boundary may help solve it. Boundaries frequently get ‘eased’ during family events and I believe that they are actually needed even more. How many of us know of a family reunion where boundaries were pushed against or even steamrolled? Some of the boundaries may be on other people, but I find most of mine are on me. The boundaries are all designed to provide some guiderails for my behavior and other’s behavior. They also help minimize the situations where someone might say or do something regrettable.
My boundaries include:
- Time. With everyone together in my home, I will limit the amount of time where we are not doing anything. We aren’t a family that is used to sitting still – so it is helpful to have a few things planned to break up the time. This is especially true for anyone from out of town. So, a visit to the museum or a movie helps. Both give us time to be together and yet be separate at the same time.
- Distance. When our kids were young, and we visited from out of town, we always stayed in a hotel with a swimming pool. That gave the kids a treat and also helped give us a place to be where we didn’t have to worry about anyone accidentally breaking Grandma’s favorite Hummel figure.
- Behavior. I have a strict ‘no nasty comments tolerated’ policy. Even though this time of year can be stressful, that doesn’t give anyone the right to misbehave, call other people names, be disrespectful, etc. Nasty behavior should be immediately confronted. Don’t just ignore it and hope it will go away – it usually doesn’t go away and frequently gets worse. Remember – through all of this you are teaching others, and especially children, what behavior is OK and not OK when you are all together.
- Self. I specifically put boundaries on myself and my self-talk. These are ‘don’t try to make it perfect’ and ‘don’t try to do everything yourself’. The first boundary enables me to relax and enjoy the moment – without striving for perfection that doesn’t exist anyway. The second enables me to ask for help and support – creating a time that I can share with others as we do something together.
Boundaries help me be more of the person I want to be during the holidays. They enable the guilt to drop away and the pleasure to grow at being together with friends and family.
Happy Holidays and Happy Boundary Setting to you all!