The Christmas season provides plenty of opportunities to go beyond your usual limits. For example:
- How much you spend
- How often you socialise
- How much alcohol you drink
- How many responsibilities you take on
- How much sleep you get
- What you eat
- Who you spend time with.
Some of these instances will be perfectly manageable and acceptable given the time of year. But often we end up feeling unwell, resentful, burnt out, exhausted, stressed and considerably less jolly that we would have otherwise been. Comparisons and perfectionism also tend to surface more at Christmas.
One way to protect your wellbeing and give yourself a much better chance of enjoying the Christmas season, is to set some clear personal boundaries.
Personal boundaries help you to take care of yourself and protect your precious energy and attention. They help you filter what is acceptable or not acceptable in your life and make healthy choices for yourself.
You might find it easier to succumb to other people’s expectations at this time of year. Family traditions, people with different expectations of Christmas, people who “need” our help. It’s important to know that succumbing is a choice.
You see, no one can control your choices and decisions. You are 100% responsible for your own choices and not at all responsible for the choices of others. They are responsible for those!
That means that you are NOT responsible for making everyone happy or for doing everything that everyone else wants you to do. I know you want to create a joyful holiday season for your children and family, but you can do that by making decisions and committing yourself to things that you believe are important and will be best for your family, rather than being led by other people’s preferences (unless of course you agree with them!).
Lovely, you get to choose what you will say yes to, what you will do and when you need to set a boundary.
Identify your boundaries
To identify your boundaries, think about what you and your family needs, and feels is most important.
- What’s most important to you at this time of year.
- What makes you feel happy and connected?
- What makes you stressed or anxious?
- What can you tolerate and accept?
Then think about your family also:
- What’s most important to your partner and children at this time of year?
- What makes them feel happy and connected?
- What makes them stressed?
It might feel scary to set boundaries because you don’t want to hurt, insult or upset anyone, but remember their response is their responsibility and your wellbeing is yours. You can set and communicate boundaries in a firm yet respectful way, even if you have to repeat them a few times for them to sink in.
Where you boundary impacts others, it may help to give plenty of notice so that people have time to make alternative arrangements or process your decision. Try not to get defensive about their reaction, but allow them to respond as they do, and stay true to yourself. Offer empathy and compassion and reassure them that you do love and care for them if appropriate.
Boundaries that may help you
What boundaries do you need to set to stay sane and enjoy Christmas?
Here are some examples to help you (with some examples of how to communicate your boundaries).
Conflicts and contentious topics
- If the topic of X comes up, I will say “I’d prefer not to talk about this today. Let’s move onto another topic so we can all enjoy each other’s company”
- I will not tolerate unwelcome comments about my eating habits from family members “I’d prefer you not to comment on my eating habits”.
- I will stand up for myself if someone criticises me by saying something like “Please don’t say that to me. It makes me uncomfortable”.
- I will respectfully excuse myself if the conversation makes me uncomfortable and people will not change the topic.
- I will use an agreed signal with my partner, so that he can come and support me in difficult conversations.
- If I feel very stressed at lunch, I will go and play with the kids for a while or head outside for a few minutes.
Finances and gifts
- I will spend up to $X on each family member.
- I will buy X gifts per child.
- I will be responsible for selecting and purchasing X gifts and ask my husband to look after the others.
- I will select a few decorations that we really love, and will not spend more than $X.
Events and responsibilities
- I will say no to events that I don’t have time for, are not important to me or that I cannot afford to attend.
- I will minimise the time I spend with people who drain me. I will set a time to leave functions where I will feel particularly drained. “I will be there and will need to leave at X.”
- I will say no to invitations which are not important, if they are with people who drain me.
- I will say no to responsibilities I can’t manage or that aren’t important to me.
- I will only visit one household on Christmas Day. I will invite everyone else to visit us at our house in the afternoon if they are free, or make arrangements to see them at another time. “We’d love to spend time with you, but we’ve decided that we are going to ….. Why don’t we …. instead.”
- I will ask for help with the cooking. “I’d love to host Christmas lunch at my house. If that’s the case I will need help with the cooking. Everyone could bring a dish.”
- I will create space for new family traditions which means saying no to things that may get in the way. “I know we usually do X, but this year, we’re going to start a new tradition of X. Thank you for understanding.”
- I will not cook everything from scratch. Pre-made food will save me time and effort.
For the children
- We won’t stay out past the kids’ bedtime more than 1 night in a row so that they can get enough sleep and function well during the day.
- I will make time to be present and spend quality time with my children every day, even if it is just 10 mins on a busy day.
- I will put away the Christmas treats between meals so that my children don’t feel ill from eating too much sugar and find it hard to regulate their mood.
- If I feel exhausted, I will make time to rest.
- I will have 1 day at home each weekend throughout December.
- I will prioritise my exercise 3 times each week.
- I will only have 2 drinks at this event. Or, I will have a glass of water after every alcoholic drink.
- I will completely enjoy 1 serving of dessert.
- I will only eat things that I want to eat and are nourishing for my body, rather than the things everyone else wants me to eat “Thank you so much for all the wonderful food you have prepared. It looks amazing. I won’t be having X today because it don’t feel well when I eat it. I’m sure everyone else will enjoy it a lot!”
- I won’t eat more than I need, even when I have to attend 2 functions on Christmas Day. “This looks delicious, thank you! I’m going to just have X because I’m also looking forward to lunch at Grandma’s house”.
If the holiday season is difficult for you
If the holiday season is difficult because of loss or you are going through a hard time, really tune into how you are feeling and what you need. It is ok to set boundaries to allow yourself time to look after yourself. Perhaps you will skip some functions, or leave early. Perhaps there are some personal routines or rituals that you need to commit too, no matter what else is happening. Be kind to yourself and honour your feelings.
So, lovely mum, what boundaries do you need to set to make sure you stay sane and enjoy Christmas?
To help you, I’ve created a place for you to write your boundaries down and also a printable reminder to check in with how well you are maintaining these boundaries. Download it here.
Wishing you a joyful and completely manageable Christmas season!