Family dynamics can be really difficult to navigate – this is especially true over the festive season. And when the pressure of the holidays is added on top of that, it can be hard for anyone to navigate without feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Setting boundaries can help a great deal.
Gottman Institute trained therapist and founder of Flourish Mindset Hanna Stensby says “boundaries are all about becoming clear on your values and your priorities, and then setting limits around people or activities in your life that don’t bring you joy or don’t make you feel fulfilled.”
Whether you have a wonderful, close relationship with your family or tolerate them for a few hours a couple of times a year, holiday get-togethers have a way of stressing you out.
1. Assume good intent
Assuming good intent is to believe the best of people and trust that they have good intentions. We all have a tendency to assume the worst in people, even those closest to us; it’s just part of human nature. This is a known term in the corporate world. In the corporate world, assuming good intent is seen to improve team performance and efficiency. This can be applied in so many aspects of our lives – especially in relationships with our family. When you assume good intent, it allows you to see the best in others. This can help improve your relationship with your family members and may even cause them to act differently around you.
How you mentally categorise things matters. When you frame things positively, the mind tends to lean into that and generally, people tend to be more receptive. When you assume positive intent during conversations with family members, it primes you to approach the conversation with a positive outlook as well.
The classic half-full/half-empty example is a good one. While it describes the same glass of water in both cases, what varies is how you interpret or describe that situation. When setting boundaries, it can be helpful for you to assume that generally, those around you do not want to hurt you or make you uncomfortable. They love you and want to be around you and your family over the festive season. If someone does or says something that doesn’t align with the boundaries you have set, it’s still important to set those boundaries – however assuming good intent can shed a light of positivity and help you remember those underlying good intentions.
However, it should be noted that assuming good intent is not the same as excusing bad behaviour. It’s important to know the difference between these two as you practice this technique in your life. The difference comes down to understanding why someone does something and what their intentions are.
Assuming good intent and looking at things from a more positive perspective can also help you when setting your boundaries, to begin with. If you set your boundaries with a ‘woe is me’ attitude, from the beginning you see yourself as a victim who has been wronged by someone else. This can make it difficult for you to set boundaries because you’re looking for someone else to fix your problems instead of taking responsibility for yourself.
Having a more positive, empowered outlook on setting boundaries generally can help you feel more confident in setting them and sticking to them. It can be in relation to the same issue as above. But you’ve switched your outlook and are now thinking ‘I choose to set this boundary because it doesn’t align with my values or with what I want to do’. This automatically switches your mental verbiage to an empowering, positive tone.
2. Don’t overextend yourself
It’s easy to feel as though you owe it to others to keep your commitments, especially when there are different families and kids involved. It can sometimes feel like you’re being pulled in every direction. But more often than not, it’s better for everyone involved to set up firm boundaries around where and when your time is available. All parties will know what to expect and you can avoid disappointment.
It can be tempting to overextend yourself so that no one thinks of you as selfish or ungracious during the holidays—but this sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the year. And while some things are worth doing even at a significant personal cost when it comes to your family and Christmas, remember: saying no isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s actually an act of strength and self-care.
Look at it from the flip side – if your loved one felt overwhelmed and overstretched over the festive season – you wouldn’t want to add to that. Your loved ones will feel the same way about you. And as mothers we put enormous pressure on ourselves to make sure everything is perfect over the festive season, it’s so easy to feel overstretched.
3. Identify your and your family’s needs
The first step in setting firm boundaries around the festive season is to identify what works for your family and how to ensure that it is supported by others. If there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, don’t be afraid to speak up about it!
You can also look at ways in which you can build on areas where other people’s expectations may not match your own. I find that it can be useful to jot things down on paper. Think of scenarios and situations related to the festive season that make you feel anxious or dread and ask yourself “how could this situation be improved?” This exercise will help you identify your needs and identify the boundaries you need to set.
4. Learn to say no
When it comes to setting boundaries, the most important thing is that you stay firm and polite. Don’t feel guilty about being busy or taking time for yourself. Learn to say no, and learn that you don’t need to give a reason if you don’t want to. No is a complete sentence and an answer. If you feel like you’re being pressured into doing something, be honest with yourself and the other person. If you’re not comfortable attending an event or spending time with someone, then don’t do it.
If family members get upset or angry when you set a boundary, it can feel challenging to remain firm. However, if you acknowledge their feelings without wavering from your position, they will see that both of you are important and listened to. Saying something like, “I understand that you might feel upset but we have decided that this is what we are going to do this year.”
For example, if you have always been the one to host the family gatherings and have found it overwhelming and stressful then it’s absolutely fine to decide not to host. You might say, “I won’t be hosting a family gathering this year. There’s usually a lot of work involved so I’m going to give myself a break.”
You should also remember that it isn’t selfish to say no — it doesn’t mean your friends or family won’t love you any more or will think you’re being selfish or rude. It can be hard for some people to accept the fact that we all have limits in our lives, but it is a necessary truth and is just so important
5. Stick to your guns (or boundaries)
In order to have your family respect the boundaries you have set, it’s important that you be respectful of them yourself. By being overly flexible with the boundaries you have set, you are setting the example that your boundaries are not serious. If others see that you aren’t strict with your own boundaries, they won’t take them seriously either.
6. Communicate your boundaries clearly
You may be dealing with people who are not aware of your needs, or they may hear your boundary and think it unimportant. In this case, it’s important to make sure that you’re being assertive and communicating clearly.
It can be difficult to express your feelings and set boundaries without sounding like a grumpy grinch who doesn’t want anyone else to have any fun at all. This is why it’s important for you to be prepared for the fact that other people won’t always listen to what you say or understand where you’re coming from. This can happen even if they love and care about you! It’s part of human nature—we’re all capable of putting our own needs before others’ sometimes (even when we don’t mean to).
To make sure that everyone knows what their responsibilities are during this time of year, try using “I” statements instead of “you” statements whenever possible: instead of saying “You never help me around the house!” and taking an aggressive stance, say something like “I would really appreciate some help around the house”. This makes it easier for other people who might otherwise feel attacked or defensive by accusations like this one – they’ll automatically jump into defensive mode when they hear things in terms of personal failings.
7. Step away if you feel you need to
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or upset, take a break. Go for a walk and do something you enjoy or talk to someone you trust about what’s going on.
It’s important to remember too that everyone has their own tolerance levels – some people love having lots of people around them at Christmas while others prefer quiet time alone – there are no rules here. It all depends on what works for you and your family.
You can celebrate the holidays in a way that leaves you feeling energised and happy, not stressed out and exhausted.
The festive season is a time to celebrate, be with family and friends, eat too much and take some time to recharge. But it can also be a period of stress and anxiety if you don’t know how to plan your days in line with what is best for you and your family.
You’re allowed to enjoy the festive period too, mama.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of the festive season, it’s important to remember that this is not a problem that’s unique to you. So many of us feel stressed out during this time of year. Perhaps you can identify some strategies or techniques that will help make things easier for yourself as well as for others around you.
It might be helpful to take a step back and try re-framing your ideas about what makes up a happy festive season so that it doesn’t feel like such an overwhelming undertaking.
If you (like us here at MM) are vowing to focus less on the commercialised aspects of the festive period and more on giving and having an overall less stressful Christmas, check out our Mindful Mother’s Bucket List for the Festive Season.
If you have any coping strategies feel free to leave me a comment. We always love to hear from our readers!