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Survive the Holidays: Set Some Boundaries; Choose to Love (always).

Survive the Holidays: Set Some Boundaries; Choose to Love (always).

It’s the season of holidays, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…except whoever’s doing the cooking (and any last-minute packers, like me.).

Visiting friends and family for the holidays can be a stressful affair for many. I wanted to write about love and boundaries: topics that will be helpful to keep in mind during the all-but-inevitable holiday conflict (hey, when a bunch of people who’ve known each other all their lives get together, some buttons are bound to get pushed).

I think we’d all agree, if given the choice, that we’d like to operate from a place of strength, power, honor, and love at all times. That gets difficult, especially when it comes to the people who know us the best, though, doesn’t it? It gets messy: they don’t do what we expect, say what we want to hear, or behave in line with our desires all the time. I can remember one Christmas at the tail end of a disagreement being called crazy (okay, maybe more than one…and we all know calling a woman crazy is either the end of the argument and you should prepare for your death, or it launches into a whole new one.).

We don’t always handle these situations with the grace we’d like to expect from ourselves, but remembering a few things going into the holidays will allow us to experience these moments with a little more ease (and a lot less anxiety).

Love is a sticky subject, made stickier by the fact that many of us are raised with an expectation to love. The rub on that, though, is that love, by its very nature, cannot be coerced or forced; it must be freely given. Otherwise, it’s slavery, basically.

Love is a choice we make, based on our character (not on that of the other person…nor on his/her performance or response, for that matter), to treat the other person with honor, respect, patience, protection, trust, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness at all times. We allllll fall far short of this mark, which is why mercy and forgiveness are in there: we need them just as much as the other person does.  

So, step one in smoother holidays: choose to love. ALWAYS. Even when you get called crazy. Or when your aunt says that super-offensive thing that has you thinking, “HOW ARE WE EVEN RELATED??” Or when your dad burns the pie. Or whatever else really grinds your gears. Choose to give the benefit of the doubt. Choose to remain unoffended. Choose to still think of that person as a flawed, unique, good-hearted individual. Choose to love.

All well and good, I know. But HOW??

Own your shit. And just yours. Which is step two in smoother holidays, if we’re counting here.

Part of the reason we fall out of loving interactions is that we’re really trying to control. We’re working on a barter system (e.g., “well, if you got back from the grocery store on time, I wouldn’t be behind in cooking and then I’d be less angry.” Or, “if you decide to respect my feelings on this issue, then and only then will I respect yours.”). We cannot freely give expecting love in return: both because people don’t work that way, and because it’s manipulative. We’re portraying the version of ourselves that we think people want to see in order to earn love from them. That’s not love; it’s business.

Owning only our stuff means that we recognize what we’re responsible for in each relationship…and what we’re not. Now, this isn’t an excuse to forget all tact and manners (coming from arguably the most direct person on Earth, so you know that’s real…because, trust me, I’ve abandoned tact completely before, and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve done it a few times, just to make sure. Market research.). It IS, however, an invitation to remember that we are, at the end of the day, only individuals. We own our feelings, our attitudes, our behaviors, our choices, our limits, our thoughts, our desires, our talents, and our values...not those of others. Others’ feelings/attitudes/thoughts/reactions/desires/priorities are theirs, not ours, and, while we may have influence in relationship, at the end of the day, those are not controlled by us.

Step three to smoother holidays (and a smoother life, because this is arguably the most important step): set some boundaries. Which may seem counterintuitive to my woo-woo love messages, but, actually, without boundaries, we will end up feeling like resentful little Grinches, because we’ve given and given and given until there is nothing left (ever done that? Hands up. Both of mine are.). Trying harder to make a relationship work all by ourselves, being nice out of fear (of abandonment or punishment, either way), and/or taking responsibility for the other party: all signals of poor (or lack of) boundaries, which means we can’t take control of our own crap, because we’re too busy taking responsibility for (and cleaning up) everyone else’s.

Boundaries are like fences: a mental, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual delineation of what is ours and what is not. While it’s okay to have expectations of people (sort of like wishes…good to have, good to communicate, dangerous if placed out of our own control and into the hands of others), those aren’t deal-breakers if not met, necessarily; someone failing to meet our expectations might be disappointing and hurtful, but it is not harmful (changes the way we look at the world, changes who we are, etc.). Boundaries are nonnegotiable: they are what we will (and will not) tolerate. They are 100% our responsibility to set, communicate, and enforce. If our boundaries are repeatedly crossed, we end up resentful and even angry. Boundaries are there so that we remain whole, loving people: they’re our reasons to say “no” without feeling guilty, taking responsibility for ourselves to be treated as equal, and protecting our ability to behave according to our values and beliefs. Once our boundaries are not shown respect in a relationship, we have a decision to make about the relationship, remembering that the boundaries are there to protect our personal peace and ability to love (aka bring other people in), not keep them out.

Setting and communicating boundaries (and expectations!) is key during the holidays, as this is often one of the only times we’re in the same home as the people who know how to push our buttons the most for an extended period of time. After all, our parents gave birth to us: they really know what makes us tick. Knowing where our control ends (over ourselves) and another’s begins (everything else) while clearly communicating what we will and will not tolerate (and walking away from the situation when the need arises!) is key to peace.  On that note, a quote (okay, paraphrase) from my dear friend Bex ( if another person sets my bridge on fire, it’s not my responsibility to put it out. Moving on…

We can’t control if a person respects our limits, but we can set them to protect our ability to love others.

We can’t control if someone is “fixed” or healed, but we can learn to love them.

We can’t control how people behave, but we can control how we treat people.

Not that it’s that easy all the time or necessarily this sappy, but, at the end of the day, remembering your crazy uncle deserves the benefit of the doubt as much as you do or choosing to remain unoffended in the face of an opposing viewpoint (which is an extravagant act of love if you’re anything like me) or any other act of love in between is a choice to operate in the way God intended for us. It’s a choice- one that takes incredible strength!- to rise higher, to see the potential in people, and to treat those closest to us the way we’d like to be treated: with grace, respect, and belonging.

The spirit of the holidays is exactly this: inclusion and love. Making that happen is UP TO US. Go forth and enjoy!

Comment below with either your #1 holiday survival strategy (I expect to receive some alcohol-related ones here. It’s cool.) or your biggest insight from learning how to protect your peace.

Enjoy the season!




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