How To Set Boundaries With Your Family at Thanksgiving

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Holidays are great for many reasons — they bring people together to connect over food and traditions. But, they are also a time for family drama, arguments, and stress. If you are one of those people that dreads family get-togethers for this very reason, then it is time to set some boundaries. 

Your stomach doesn’t have to turn at the very thought of Thanksgiving dinner with your family, you should be dreaming of turkey and mashed potatoes instead. You are in charge of you and it is time you show your family exactly what you will tolerate. Dysfunction is something every family struggles with but you don’t need to let it ruin your holiday. 

How To Set Boundaries

So, how do you do it? How do you establish boundaries without compounding an already uncomfortable situation? First things first — remember that boundaries help to keep you safe. Even if they make others in your family angry, they are healthy for you. Keep in mind that boundaries shouldn’t be so firm that they harm relationships, but they should also not be so loose that they are easily crossed. They should be a healthy balance that helps you to maintain healthy, fulfilling relationships. 

Good Communication is Key

Be open with your family about what you will or will not tolerate. If there is a topic you really don’t feel comfortable discussing with them, it can be helpful to call or send them an email ahead of time letting them know that you prefer to not talk about the situation. If there is pressure for you to host the holiday but you are feeling overwhelmed in life and don’t want to take on anything else, tell them that.  If your parents always expect you to stay into the night for games or other traditions you share, but you have a long drive and want to get the kids home for bed, let them know. Being silent about your preferences only makes your family continue to do the things you don’t like, while you hold on to negative feelings internally. 

Boundaries are also about compromise. They are not “you can’t do this or else.” For example, if you are feeling tired of traveling to multiple homes for dinner and being expected to stuff your face at each place, then stop. Make it clear to your family that you would be happy to see them the day before or the day after, or let them know you have decided to alternate every-other-year so that you aren’t spending a good part of the day in the car. 

What It’s All About

Before you get out of the car or airplane or have the family over, think about exactly why you want to see your family, what do you want to get out of these moments together, what do you not want to happen? Focus on these. Thanksgiving should be a time to celebrate what you have, honor those who have passed, be grateful for all the positive and good that life has given you. It is not a time to put others down or to give guilt trips about never seeing them, having children, or dating, etc. It should be a time to cheer each other on, to celebrate each other and enjoy the little things.

Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice in Salunga (East Hempfield), PA. She loves helping clients find practical solutions to improve their lives and her therapy is cooking. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.