Have you needed to set boundaries at Christmas?
After our third Christmas as parents, my husband and I felt exhausted and at odds with one another.
As the only family with children, all our relatives wanted a piece of us. We visited five places in three days. By the third celebration, our weariness was hard to hide. We felt pressure to put on smiley faces and stuff our feelings so our children could see all their grandparents at Christmas.
My husband, not afraid of conflict, felt like lashing out. But I was afraid of conflict and felt like withdrawing and people-pleasing. We weren’t happy with ourselves or with each other’s ideas. But we knew things had to change because we were in the same unhappy mess we’d endured growing up, the mess we’d vowed not to put our kids in. We needed help.
We met with our pastor who taught us some negotiation skills. After several difficult conversations, my husband and I agreed on a solution. On alternating years we would either go south or north, visiting two sets of parents each time. Every year we would host an open house at home for the parents we weren’t visiting that year. Since our children were little, this was the happiest solution for us so we could keep them on regular sleep schedules.
When we informed our families, not one person accepted the news well. Blame was thrown around, criticism flew, jabs stung. We were raked over the coals. We had set a firm boundary and everyone tried to keep mowing it over.
During the first Christmas after we set our boundary, our family members acted out. Pouting ensued. Silence and distance grew. Hostility multiplied. No one understood, no one showed support. My husband and I felt angry, frustrated, and exasperated. In our effort to bring peace to Christmas, we had staged a battleground.
But we have never once regretted setting the boundary. It’s been ten years since we set it, and a few family members still haven’t gotten over it. Yet our siblings who now have children of their own have thanked us for paving a road for them. They now see how hard it was for us to take so much flak.
Other family members admit our boundary was hard to accept at first, but in time they understood why we set it. The boundary wasn’t set against them; it was set around us. It was the only way we knew to preserve our sanity during Christmas.
The boundary granted us a measure of peace. We had to say no to some gatherings to be able to say yes to other gatherings. We said no to people-pleasing and yes to preserving self-respect.
I wish Christmas didn’t need boundaries, but I know it’s better with them. We are all sinners in need of God’s peace at Christmas. Jesus’ birth offers us peace. Sometimes we must set boundaries in order to find it.
How have you dealt with family conflict at Christmas?
How have you handled pressure to visit relatives at Christmas?
Do you believe boundaries will help you find peace?
Blessings to you, Sarah
P.S. Today is Day 9 of 12 Days of Reader Tips for Christmas Peace. Be sure to leave a comment on my related Facebook post with your tip!
Copyright 2016 Sarah Geringer