Holidays, Family, and Boundaries

With the arrival of the holiday season comes a variety of stressors. Where to spend the holidays is a big deal. For some families, the decisions made by a renegade can spark World War III. We typically don’t enjoy doing that and so we quietly acquiesce and do whatever we are told all the while dreading the holiday. Is that really how you want to spend the time? Continuing on with my most recent “boundary” post, remember that boundaries are about protecting and defining. You are the keeper of the gate when it comes to your boundaries. You decide what comes in and what goes out. This applies to families and holidays in addition to everyday life.
My family has a tradition of gathering together for Thanksgiving. We usually go to Aspen, where I grew up and my family owns a hotel. It is actually the perfect situation because we all have plenty of room at the hotel. My parents, seven siblings, and I gather together with all our spouses, significant others, and children. Most of the “children” are now adults and have added the fourth generation. We generally love gathering together. We have our issues now and then, but it’s usually a good time for all. The best part: we get to choose if we are going to be there. No one pressures us and tells us that we “have” to be there.  It’s no surprise that most of us are there every year.
Christmas has been different. Christmas is a popular time in Aspen. There usually aren’t rooms available at the hotel so we choose other locations. I can think of three Christmases when we travelled to my in-laws in New York (this was during my first marriage). Although my mother-in-law expressed a desire for us to be in New York more often for the holidays, she never demanded it. She said what she wanted and honored our choices. She never brought it back up as a way to “punish” or coerce us to be with them. I so appreciated that, more so now as I see others struggling with demanding, manipulative parents or in-laws. We typically made the trek from Colorado to New York in the summer when it was a better time for us to travel with the kids.
If you are the adult child of a manipulator/punisher, my words are this: do what you (and your immediate family) want to do. Talk about it. Do you feel pressured to travel when really what you all want to do is be at home? Is the reason you are travelling to someone else’s house because you feel obligated to be there. Obligation is not choice. Obligation comes out of an expectation that has been directly communicated or you are assuming exists. Give this idea some time…let it percolate in your mind and heart.
If you are in a significant relationship or are married discuss the ideas in the following paragraphs with your spouse or significant other. The ideas may be helpful in making a decision. Remember to process this together. It is important to honor one another’s opinions and desires. Coming to a solution may be trickier than just deciding by yourself. This may take a lot of time. Be patient with one another and figure out how to be responsible for your own boundaries while being respectful of the other’s. Spend time really listening to each other. Try to understand the other person’s point of view. This will not guarantee a solution to your problem but it will help you stop demanding your position and shift your stance to understanding the other person.
So, here’s the process. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do? Where do I want to spend the holidays?” It is your life that you are living, so why not live the way you want. If being with extended family is more stressful than you care to deal with, create your own holiday traditions. Free yourself to live your life in a way that is satisfying to you. Chances are pretty good there will be some hurt feelings. Be gentle and kind as you speak your desires. Let your family know that you love them, but you are choosing a different way to spend the holiday.
If you are choosing not to be with your family because being around them usually ends up in some sort of battle or manipulation-fest, you can address that. “When you berate me, manipulate me, criticize me (or whatever it is they do that is hurtful), I feel hurt, sad, angry, (your emotion). Since this happens during times when we are together, like holidays, I am choosing not to be there. I love you and I want a healthy relationship with you, but until that happens, I will spend my holidays in a way that works for me.”
Be assured, you will not likely hear a “thank you” after that statement. You are drawing a solid boundary that clearly states what you are OK with and what you are not OK with. Usually manipulative controlling people do not appreciate when others set boundaries. They thrive off the control of others. You do not have to own this person’s issues or responses to you. If he is angry, let him be. You do not have to listen to the insults or barbs sent your way to hurt you with the intention of manipulating you to change your mind. It will be hard but you can do it. It’s all for the purpose of regaining the reins of your life. Take a deep breath, tell him you hear his anger, but you will not continue to listen since it is becoming hurtful. You will be ready to talk when he is ready to work out how you can have a healthy relationship that honors one another. The end. No more listening, emailing, or texting. Let it go for now.
The barrage will probably start up again. Get really good at what parenting experts Jim Fay and Foster Cline say, “become a broken record” by calmly repeating yourself and ending the conversation. Most likely, you are dealing with someone who is sort of stuck as a two year old. You know, the temper-tantrum-having kind. She demands to get her way now because something went terribly wrong for her when she actually was two or at some point in her development related to setting her own boundaries. You are not responsible for that. It may be by you modeling healthy behavior and not owning her responses and feelings that she may decide to change; however, the decision for her to change is not up to you. You are taking care of your own boundary.
I’m hoping that you enjoy the holidays this year with people who sincerely encourage you and embrace who you are.
Cheers to healthy holidays spent in ways that honor your unique self!