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Setting Boundaries with Family for a Happy Holiday Season

As we are in the midst of the busy and joyous holiday season, we thought it might be a good idea to review the idea of "guarding our hearts" found in Proverbs 4:23-27. In this context, setting boundaries, particularly in regard to dealing with relatives. This can be a challenging area for a lot of us but, if done, can make holidays a lot less stressful.


Sometimes we just have to set limits with some or all of our family members. Be that around topics of discussion such as no controversial political discussion, for even Paul urges us to avoid "foolish and useless discussions" (2 Timothy 2:23) or even time limits on the amount of actual time spent with them if they are really toxic. Some of our family we may have to choose to avoid overall if we cannot avoid getting sucked into their dysfunctional system when around them or are not strong enough yet to put up appropriate boundaries.


Remember, prioritizing self-care isn't selfishness, but an echo of Galatians 6:5: "Each one should carry their own load." You cannot possibly tend to yourself and your own immediate family if you are so drained and burned out by dealing with extended family members over the holidays or at any other time of year, for that matter. As they say, "You can't pour from an empty cup," and Jesus himself emphasized rest for the weary (Matthew 11:28).


Can family members react badly to having boundaries set? YES. They may raise a stink fifteen ways till Sunday. This is what can make it so challenging. What you need to do is to hold onto your position and know you are doing what is right and healthy for you and/or your nuclear family (spouse/partner and children, if applicable). In my experience, eventually the stink will die down, and people will learn to work with the limits you have set, particularly if they are rational, reasonable, and healthy. If it is a request that nobody wears red at your holiday party that may be more of an issue because that is a less than rational and reasonable boundary. If the boundary is no screaming and yelling fights, people may object and get huffy, but they are more likely to be willing to work with that.


Limits are not easy to set. But think about it, if you have children, when they are young you do it for them all the time. You limit them from doing things like touching the hot stove or running unaccompanied out into traffic. Think of the boundary setting as you taking care of your spirit in the same way. You are protecting yourself. The same way you would not allow a child to burn itself, you are not going to allow your psyche to get burned.


Dorothy Ssebakka

Founder & CEO, Wopi Boston

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