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Setting Boundaries During the Holidays: A Gift to Yourself

Millions of Americans travel to see family each holiday season. Yet, many of these individuals find staying with family makes it the most difficult time of the year rather than the most wonderful. Whether your apprehension around the holidays stems from over-committing, family drama, or political debates at the dinner table, setting boundaries during the holidays with your family can help preserve your holiday cheer.

It can be difficult and daunting to set boundaries with your family this holiday season. That’s why we have created a list of steps to get you started.

A cheerful group of people holding up glasses and gathered at a festive table filled with various serving bowls of colorful food.
Setting boundaries during the holidays can help preserve your holiday cheer.

1. Know Your Limits

When it comes to setting boundaries during the holidays, you must first know your limits. How long can you spend with family before you are mentally, emotionally, and/or physically drained? How much time, money, and energy can you realistically put into hosting the entire family for the holidays? Would it be more fulfilling for you to not host or to set hard time constraints around how much time you’re spending with family members? These are some questions you should reflect on as you begin to outline your limits this holiday season.

Acknowledging these limits through boundary setting is an act of self-love. By protecting your needs and your peace, you will safeguard your emotional energy, build your self-esteem, and strengthen your relationships.

2. Practice What You Will Say

It is important that you are assertive, calm, and direct when setting your boundaries during the holidays. That is why practicing what you will say is key to effective boundary setting. You can rehearse in the mirror, with a friend/partner, or with a therapist. Regardless of which you choose, preparing what you plan to say will help you build your boundary-setting muscles.

Here are some examples of what you can say to effectively communicate your boundary:

“I’d love to host this year, but everyone will have to help by either bringing a dish or helping clean up afterward. I don’t have the [space/time/energy] to do it by myself.”

“I’m honored you asked me to host again this year, but unfortunately, I will have too much going on to swing it. Maybe we can create a hosting rotation!”

“We’ve talked about this before; this is who I am, not a ‘lifestyle choice’. If you cannot engage in another topic, I am going to remove myself from this interaction.”

“We are all entitled to our own opinions, so let’s make sure that we are staying respectful of that and move on to another subject. This one is making me upset, and I don’t want a conversation to ruin our fun.” [Then change the subject.]

“Please stop saying that to me. It makes me uncomfortable even if you mean it as a compliment.”

“Please refrain from making those types of jokes in front of the children. They like to copy what others say, and jokes like that could get them in trouble at school.”

3. Follow Through with Your Boundary

Now that you’ve determined what your boundary is and have practiced what you will say, it is time for you to follow through and communicate your boundary to others. Make sure you stay calm and direct in your delivery, so you can ensure your boundary is clear. Note resistance may occur when setting your boundary, especially if you have never set a boundary with this person before.

When met with resistance, here are some assertive responses you can use to reassert your boundary:

“I wish I could do that but I really can’t right now. Thanks for your understanding.”

“I appreciate your passion for [insert topic]. I feel strongly about it too, but I think we would preserve our fun if we put this discussion on hold.”

“I get that this maybe isn’t a big deal for you, but it is to me, so thank you for respecting my wishes.”


Boundary setting is a continuous process that might change over time as your needs and relationships evolve. It requires practice and self-advocacy. Because of these things, boundary-setting is not always an easy process. However, it can be quite worthwhile as it protects your emotional energy, strengthens your self-esteem, and builds your relationships.

As you go into this holiday season, remember that assertiveness, clarity, and self-love are your friends when setting boundaries during the holidays.

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