Navigating the Holidays with a Complicated Family
Updated: Jan 19
This year has been the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family in person. I usually get to see them three to four times a year. But with the pandemic and my Dad being high risk we haven’t wanted to risk my Dad getting sick for a small trip. I’m lucky to live close enough where driving up to see them safely is possible. I’m happy to get to spend two and a half weeks together. But with saying all that, this year apart doesn’t magically erase years of complicated history. Creating an environment that is healthy for me, and for them, is incredibly important and something that I’ve learned over the last couple years.
I’m not going to pretend that my family dynamic is healthy and normal. I think all families have their own sort of drama. I was wracked with guilt preparing for the trip because a part of me was dreading the family drama that I was undoubtedly walking in to. Every member of my family is incredibly opinionated and strong willed and because of that we clash often and it can be a bit exhausting at times. I want to be very clear though: I love my family! I am very happy to be here. However, for my own mental health, and to maintain the work I've done within myself this past year, I knew that setting healthy boundaries and expectations was important to have a good trip for everyone. So here it is, my “guide” to setting healthy boundaries when dealing with family.
Step 1: Figure out what the core of your needs are.
This may seem like a "no duh" step, but when I first started thinking about communicating with my family what I needed to feel comfortable on my trip I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted. I knew I was unhappy and feeling some anxiety about coming home, but getting to root of that was hard. To figure out what your core needs are, start by asking yourself what exactly makes you uncomfortable. Ask yourself, what actions or words causes you to feel uncomfortable. The thing that causes me to feel the most uncomfortable is feeling like I'm a child when I come back home, like my opinions or thoughts is less than because I'm the youngest of the family. Knowing this, I'm able to think about what would help me not feel this way when I'm around my family.
Step 2: Find your ideal situation & know why you feel this way
For me, being able to come home and give my opinions and not be shut down. To be included in adult decisions, and getting space to be independent. Once we've figured those steps out, learning how to communicate that to the people we're setting boundaries with (in this case it's my family) is vital. When you're setting healthy boundaries with other people, it's important you're able to express to them why you are creating these boundaries. For example, if I am to say "I would like space to be independent, I want to be able to borrow the car and run errands if I need to. Without this I feel trapped at home and makes me feel like a child again. Having the option to drive a car and do errands by myself gives me a little bit of independence and lets me know you trust me." Coming in hot with demands and boundaries without being able to express why you want these boundaries set can make other people feel attacked and can hurt a relationship. Healthy boundaries don't need to be a bad or scary thing and with open and honest communication it won't be.
Note: Communication is key
I say that communication is vital because it's not just our feelings that we're dealing with. Despite what we feel, to be able to set a healthy boundary you have to make an agreement with other people. Disrespecting their feelings, not explaining yourself clearly, or not being willing to compromise can create a hostile environment and in turn will make the boundary unhealthy. That takes us to step 3!
Step 3: Be ready to compromise
Coming in to the conversation ready to hear the other person's perspective is very important. While setting your boundary, know that the person might feel like they're not able to give you exactly what you're looking for. Opening up the conversation and learning why they feel like they can't give you those things and what they feel like they could give is a huge part of the process. If they feel like they can do a modified version of what you're asking for, and you are comfortable with this modified version, communicating how they're honoring your boundary will create clarity with the situation. People have their own feelings and boundaries and it's unrealistic that everyone will be willing and able to bend to the boundaries that you are setting, compromising is a perfect solution that allows all people to be happy together.
Setting healthy boundaries doesn't make you selfish and it's not something that you should be ashamed of doing. Your mental health is the most important thing and having the tools at the ready to diffuse situations that compromises your mental health is smart. Understand that the holidays, especially right now, can be incredibly exhausting and taxing on one's mental health. Managing that can also help, you can read more about managing emotionally taxing times and environments in my blog post: Spending Emotional Energy Like Cash!
Until next time!
A Whelmed Christy
(I don't know if I like this sign off, I'm just trying something new)