I’m Dreaming of a Light Christmas: 12 Tips for Setting Boundaries During the Holidays

Ah, the holiday season. That magical time of year. The music, the lights, the gifts, the family… the stress, the pressure, the expectations. Funny how quickly Michael Buble and twinkle lights can trigger a stress response.

The holidays can be a magical time, but as y’all know, it can also be a time of anxiety. Maybe you have little kids that you want to create special memories for. Maybe you host all the family for baking, dinner, Christmas Eve, all of the above. Maybe you lead a church. Maybe you love this time of year, but there are just a couple things that make it hard.

Whatever your situation, I’m here to tell you something you may not know or believe— you, just you, have value and are worthy of love. You have value regardless of what you do for others. You’d have value if you lived alone on a desert island. You are a person with worth even when you’re just you and not doing anything for anyone.

I know that seems like a huge truth bomb to throw out there in what otherwise seems like a light post, but it’s important to establish that before what comes next, which is this— your holiday matters too. It’s not just about everyone else. You have permission to care well for your soul. In fact, that’s really the only thing in this world that only you can do. The good news is, you’re not on your own. Lean into Jesus who seeks to take away your burdens and bring you peace and rest, and let’s look at some helpful reminders and boundaries that can be set so you can care well for your heart, mind, and soul during this season.

It’s already magical.

Because Jesus. I’m starting with this one because if you read no further, I want you to get this. We celebrate because our King came to rescue us. We draw together and give gifts and eat and sing and cheer because we are redeemed.
You don’t need to bring the magic. It’s already been broughten.
(And yes, I just quoted one of the dumbest movies ever while writing about our Lord, but really, how could I not?)

Tell them about Santa.

Okay, I know this is a controversial one, but my six-year-old daughter found out from another kid this year “the truth” and I can’t begin to tell you how much relief I have. Santa was a major source of holiday stress for me. It got so bad two years ago that I woke my husband on Christmas Eve because I was certain I was having a heart attack. I was so worried my kids would find out we’d be lying to them and be devastated. Feel similar? I’m going to set you free- It’s okay to tell them. There are many, many Pinterest ideas on how to let them down gently. Spoiler alert: They’ll be fine. I mean, they’ll definitely need therapy when they’re older, but it won’t be because of this.

While you’re at it, kill the elf.

Have him meet his sticky end. Or maybe something a bit less violent. Either way, if the elf on the shelf keeps you reaching for something else on the (top) shelf, ditch it. Your kids will be okay, I promise. (See above re: Santa.)

No one is doing all the things.

Angela does Elf on the Shelf. Crystal does a new advent activity everyday. Alissa is posting beautiful blog posts. Brittany is done with her shopping AND her gifts are wrapped. Kayla is hosting a party. Tara is rocking Dressember. Sarah is reading a book a day. Mary is putting snacks out for the delivery people. NOT ONE of them is doing all of these things. But for some reason I lump them all together in my mind and they become a Christmas superwoman/elf hybrid who does everything, and I’m a loser who can’t even bake sugar cookies. The truth is there are no elf hybrids. There are, however, men and women choosing the things that are important to them during this season and focusing on those. Go and do likewise.

Tell people no when you don’t want to do something.

No. No, thank you. I’m not available. Thanks for thinking of me, but not this time. Practice saying it. Set compassionate boundaries by identifying how you can love others AND yourself at the same time. You don’t need to explain all the reasons you can’t do something or offer excuses. Just “no” will suffice. And if there’s pushback, try this one on for size, “I understand you may be disappointed but I hope you can respect that this decision is for me, not against you.” After that, pull an Elsa and let it go.

Tell people no even when you want to do something.

I’m not sure if this is harder or easier than saying no when you don’t want to do something, but it’s just as important. You don’t have to just dream of a white space in your calendar, you can and should actually have it. If you look at your calendar and feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of activities, that’s a sign that some things need to go. In The Best Yes, Lysa TerKeurst teaches us these words, “As much as I’d love to say yes, my time/situation/schedule/whatever makes it a no for me this time.” I had this on a sticky note near my desk for a long time. Powerful words with a powerful effect.

Just say no to all the gift giving.

Don’t spend money you don’t have. Or even if you have it, evaluate whether or not it’s necessary. I know this is hard because you have people you love that you want to shower with said love in gift form. But I promise none of your loved ones want you to go into debt in order to buy them presents. Well, your kids probably do, but more on that in a moment. Years ago, my sister-in-law and I decided to stop exchanging gifts long distance to alleviate stress and spending. This year, a few friends and I decided that we’d rather spend money on time together than things, and we’re going out for a celebratory drink/dinner.

This not going overboard thing may be especially hard when it comes to our kids. I get it, we want to give them everything. But if your home is anything like mine, your kids already have so much more than they need (and than they can take care of). My kids and I are reading Little House in the Big Woods, and for Christmas, Laura and Mary got a homemade doll, handmade mittens, candy they had made themselves with syrup and snow, and they were thrilled about it. Now, I’m not saying you have to go full Little House on your kids, but maybe try setting some rules to keep spending in check. Many people I know use the “something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” rule for their kids. We tried this last year and still ended up with WAY too much. This year, we’re doing one large family gift, and my kids will each get ONE gift Christmas morning. And books of course, but those don’t count. (#whenyourmomisabooknerd)

(Speaking of gifts, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to find The Gift. People will feel loved that you put thought into their gift at all. Let yourself off the hook and give gift decisions a reasonable amount of time. Also, when people ask what you or your kids want, tell them. Don’t try and figure out what they want to get you/them, and don’t be afraid to say money, or even to tell them not to get you or your kids anything.)

Decorate how you want, when you want.

Before Thanksgiving or after. Take it down on December 26th or leave it up until St. Patrick’s Day. Put out the things that bring you joy and leave the rest in the box (or better yet, get rid of it). There’s no right or wrong here.

You don’t have to have the conversation.

“When are you two getting married?”
“When are you going to have a baby?”
“How’s school?”
“You’re still homeschooling? When are you going to put the kids in ‘regular’ school?”
“Looks like you’ve gained/lost weight?”
Or any statement that involves the words Trump, snowflake, or election.
No matter the question or statement, if you don’t want to have the conversation, don’t. Find a way to exit stage left, or, if you can’t or don’t think you should, listen politely then say, “Thanks for your concern” or “You’ve given me a lot to think about.” If someone asks a question you don’t want to answer, you can make a joke (“I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” is always a good one), change the subject (“Speaking of weddings, did you hear about…”), or act like you didn’t hear and walk away. Whatever you choose to do, you don’t have to have a conversation you don’t want to have in the name of being polite.
(Side note: I’m not saying that you can never talk about religion or politics with family. I think meaningful conversations can happen around the dinner table, even on holidays. But the people need to be safe and the ground rules need to be established. If that’s not the case, step off.)

Take a minute for you.

If you’re an introvert, or you’re some weird combination of simultaneously loving and hating social activities like me, don’t be afraid to step away for a hot minute. Make a cup of tea and find a place to hide out. Breathe deeply. Watch some funny YouTube videos. Take a nap. Read a book. Do what you do to fill back up. It’s really best for all involved.

Feel how you feel.

You don’t have to feel happy just because it’s Christmas. You may be feeling the pain of loss or you might have unhappy memories associated with this time of year. Stuffing those feelings will only cause them to brew, leading to bitterness and resentment. You probably already know this but those emotions will come out, one way or the other. Feel them as they come, honor them, maybe share them with a safe person, and release them. One more thing about feelings- they lie. If the same negative feelings keep sneaking in, hold them up beside truth to see how they stack up.
Feel the feelings but believe the truth.

Ask for help.

Delegate. Outsource. Buy the pie. Have your kids clean the bathroom. Ask your brother to bring a side dish, your cousin to bring the drinks. You don’t have to be/do/buy all. Share the joy of preparing for the holiday with friends and loved ones.

Take inventory of traditions.

Which are life giving and which are life draining? If there is something you want to try but you never have, try it. If there is something you dread but you do it because you always have, ditch it. (See “Kill the Elf” above)

A couple final thoughts about holidays and boundaries…

  • Don’t try to do all of the suggestions above. The purpose here is not to give you more to do during an already busy season. Choose the one or two ideas that most speak to you, and try them. Don’t try all of them. Really… don’t.
  • Even if you set boundaries with the best of intentions, there may still be stress during this time. Control what you can and let go of the rest.
  • Sometimes you need permission to do these things. Well, here you go, this is it. Permission granted. Set compassionate boundaries. Care well for your soul this holiday.

One thought on “I’m Dreaming of a Light Christmas: 12 Tips for Setting Boundaries During the Holidays

  1. Pingback: The Friday Recliner | Water into Wine

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