Firm Boundaries Help Parents During the Holidays

bigstock_afro-american_family_celebrati_6414714-1With the holidays nearly upon us, families often spend more time together than is typical throughout the rest of the year. During all that family time, individual and family needs mix, and it is more important than ever to keep personal boundaries intact. And yet, it’s also the time when people are most vulnerable to boundary violations. 

In relationships, boundaries are important because they allow us to protect ourselves, and they define what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to us. As parents, we need to protect the needs of the immediate family by setting clear boundaries.

Personal and family boundaries are especially prone to violations when current family priorities conflict with family of origin priorities. Parents have to negotiate the needs of their spouse and children with those of their parents and siblings. Parent-personal boundaries that are not well-defined are most vulnerable to violations and can lead to resentments, conflict, and dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships.

Having intact boundaries and being able to maintain them in different familial relationships allows parents to feel in control of their decisions and actions. Here are some ways that parents can develop and preserve strong boundaries between their needs and the needs of the other people in their lives:

Acting in ways that makes others happy doesn’t help anyone. People pleasers are notorious for allowing boundaries to be violated. Parents who attempt to please others at their own expense and at the expense of their immediate family often feel defeated and resentful when they are not acknowledged for their efforts and have also let their family down.

Parents should try not to rescue others. Parents are in a unique position of being the caretakers for their parents and their children, and often they want to do everything for everyone. This doesn’t work, and it’s not good for anyone. While it’s important to be helpful to ailing parents, it’s also important to take care of yourself and put your own immediate family first. On the flip side, overdoing it for kids and taking on responsibilities that kids can manage breeds dependence, which is the opposite of the self-reliance skills that parents want their children to develop in order to be healthy. In the end, all that effort leads to parent burn out and frequent dissatisfaction in others. One person simply can’t fulfill the needs of so many people.

Understand how you feel and what’s important to you. Be aware of signs that your boundaries are not working for you, such as chronic feelings of resentment and stress in relationships. Resentment comes from feeling like you’re not appreciated or that you’re being taken advantage of, and it indicates a feeling of pushing ourselves beyond our own needs to meet somebody else’s needs.

Allow yourself permission to have the boundaries that you set. In order for relationships to feel healthy, they have to work for both individuals involved. People often don’t set clear boundaries in relationships because they’re afraid they’ll get rejected if they say no or if they disappoint the other person in some way by setting limits around what they have to offer. People should be able to set limits in relationship and still have the respect and acceptance of the other person.

Practice self-care. Being able to truly commit to caring for your own needs first will provide you with a sense of how much is left over to give to others. Being in touch with your body and understanding where your energy comes from and how you can practice stress management is important.

Learn to say “no” comfortably. It’s important that people understand how to communicate skillfully when they say no. It’s OK to set limits and say you are not able to do something that someone asked you to do. For example, if an in-law asks to get together with your family, you can try saying, “As much as we’d love to see you, we’re so preoccupied with the tasks we have to get through this week that we’re not going to be able to truly be present, and we don’t want you to commit to us under those circumstances.” Be skillful and respectful and accept that others may be disappointed, but they will get over it once they know where you stand.

Start small. If you are someone who hasn’t set clear boundaries, establish a couple of new areas where you can implement new boundaries. Once those are firm, take on more areas where you can place limits.

Give up the guilt. Setting limits by putting your own needs first does not mean you are selfish; rather, it’s an indication that you’re smart and healthy. Being guilty because you had to say no to someone undermines healthy boundary setting. Know your priorities and be comfortable with them without the guilt.

Once you set and maintain clear boundaries, you can balance the needs of your current family, your family of origin and yourself, and enjoy a wonderful holiday season.

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