Ah, the holidays. That most wonderful time of year when you cram everything in your vehicle, tell your kids to stop touching each other 1000 times while refereeing who picks the music to spend a few, sensory-overloaded days with your family, sleeping on lumpy pull-out sofas or getting bounced off the airbed when your partner returns from peeing at 2am.

Let’s not forget the family circus trying to create the perfect photo wearing matching pajamas while drinking eggnog in front of the fireplace where moments before, there were impatient commands and crying kids. Then, just as you got everyone posed and the camera timer went off, the dog jumped up and knocked the tripod over having heard your thoughtful neighbours who dropped by with home-baked treats.

Yup. You’re living the dream.

Spending holidays with family is a welcome return to normalcy after the last 18 months of Zoom meetings, FaceTime and travel restrictions; a chance to embrace traditions that bring deeper meaning to even simple things.

Can we be honest for a second?

All that Griswold-like family together time and traditions that are more like unwritten laws aren’t working anymore and pretending isn’t helping. You feel like you’re on a one-way guilt trip and constantly silence or abandon your feelings to keep the peace. At this point, you’d rather be home for the holidays – and by that I mean in your own home without extended family or drama.

When does a tradition become an expectation?

Expectations are a projection of how you want to feel on someone else. They need to be a certain way or do certain things for you to have the emotional experience that you want. There are only two guaranteed outcomes from an expectation.

  1. You’ll feel disappointed because no one will ever create the specific feeling or experience you wanted
  2. The other person will always feel judged as a failure because they’ll never get it right

Being on the receiving end of expectations feels like manipulation and coercion which only builds defensiveness and brewing resentment, both of which DO NOT pair well with turkey dinner for 16.

The Antidote? Boundaries.

Respecting yourself enough to express your values and feelings through healthy boundaries doesn’t make you selfish or bad. It means you’d rather say what’s true for you and build a relationship on honesty than fake it till you make it on your worn out, people pleasing ways.

Watch the full video here

Here’s 2 options to get you started.

1. The Negotiation

Your family’s holiday plans create unreasonable hardship for you to attend, such as unpaid holidays from work, expensive or extensive travel.

You: “My relationship with you is important and I want to spend the holidays with you. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have the vacation time or savings left to take a vacation in the summer. This year, I’d like to suggest……”

Your family: “But this is how we always do it and you know how important it is to us when we live in different cities.”

You: “I understand this is important to you and I appreciate you want me there for holiday traditions. I love you and I’d like to find another way that works for both of us.”

The conversation continues until you find a reasonable solution which may include not attending every year or they change up their plans every now and then. There isn’t always a happy medium.

2. The Hard Line

It’s come to your attention that your family is making derogatory remarks to your partner or child and you’re stepping up to advocate and draw a line.

You: “I heard you tell (our daughter) she looks fat in her outfit and her choice of clothing isn’t flattering now that she’s put on weight. Regardless of your intentions, any remarks about her body size are hurtful and unacceptable. In our family, we love each other no matter what container we come in and understand that weight doesn’t define our value as a human.”

Your family: “That’s not what we said or meant at all! We’re just concerned about her health and don’t want other people making fun of her.”

You: “I appreciate you want well for her and this isn’t negotiable for us. Judging her based on your standards is shaming, erodes self-esteem and doesn’t create the connection you’d like. If respecting our boundary around this isn’t something you’re willing to do, we won’t be staying.”

Your family: “Well that seems a bit harsh to be judge and jury!”

You: “I love you and want to spend this time together. I understand this might feel difficult or hurtful to hear. This isn’t negotiable for us.”

Ideally the above conversation can be done in advance getting together.

Setting healthy boundaries with your family feels hard, especially in the face of heavy expectations and long-standing traditions. It can feel scary as your lips turn to concrete for fear of upsetting those closest to you.

Being firm, clear and compassion without trying to control is the only way to create understanding and build connection at a new level with greater respect for what works and what doesn’t for everyone involved.

Becoming a Boundaries Boss is my online program that walks you through specific examples to create the mindset needed so you lower conflict and resentment and improve communication in your relationships all year long. You’ll get lifetime access to the video, audio and transcript, plus a worksheet and other resources so no matter what the situation, you’re prepared.

Click below to get started!

I want less family drama and more holiday joy!

Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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