How to Set Boundaries With Your Family This Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an exciting and overwhelming holiday.
There's nothing better than getting to reconnect with your entire family over garlic mashed potatoes and sweet pumpkin pie, but it can also be exhausting when your extended family crosses boundaries. Nobody wants to answer the question, "Why are you still single?" from your uncle again and again.
In the past, the only lines we've had to set were mental and emotional. During pandemic times, however, we now have to set physical boundaries as well. With COVID-19 cases rising in almost every state, we need to take serious precautions this year. Some family members may be upset with the changes, which is understandable, but you need to put your safety first.
Here are a few tips on setting physical and emotional boundaries so everyone can have a safe and less stressful holiday season.
Get on the Same Page as Your Parents and Siblings
Sit down with your parents and siblings before Thanksgiving to discuss your game plan. The CDC says that safest way to conduct Thanksgiving this year is to stay home and have a virtual celebration. However, your family may be planning an in-person dinner, so you all need to decide what safety precautions you will implement together. Family members who resist change are less likely to push back when most of the family supports necessary precautions.
If you feel comfortable, you can also ask your family for emotional support. You can list which topics are off-limits, like your dating life or weight. Whether it's an in-person gathering or virtual, they can help steer the conversation away from the off-limit topics if they arise. This celebration will be less overwhelming with players on your team.
Contact Your Guests Ahead of Time
Don't spring the changes on your guests as soon as they walk in the door, because they may become upset or combative. Start a group chat or Zoom call a few days before Thanksgiving so you can inform all your guests about the changes you're making this year. If you're not comfortable starting the conversation, you can ask your parents to create one for you. Your family could suggest having dinner outside, request that people wear masks, tell everyone to bring their own food and utensils, or ask your guests to get COVID-19 tests before Thanksgiving. Start an open discussion about what everyone is comfortable with and why you must stay safe this year. You can assure everyone that these changes won't ruin the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Acknowledge Their Intentions
Every family is different, but your family members' intentions are usually coming from a place of love. They want to be close to you and may not understand why you feel uncomfortable. They might even react with sadness or anger when you tell them they've crossed a line. It's important to remember that you should never feel guilty for setting boundaries. You never have to compromise your comfort level to make someone else happy.
However, instead of flat-out rejecting your family member, acknowledge their intentions. If your aunt tries to hug you despite social distancing rules, you can say, "I'm not doing hugs this year. I love you very much and I know you love me, which is why I'm trying to keep us both safe." If your grandma asks why you broke up with your boyfriend, respond with, "Thank you for asking, Grandma. I appreciate your interest in my life. I don't feel comfortable talking about it right now, but I would love to talk about something else." Acknowledging their intention will validate your family member while still maintaining your boundaries.
Put a Positive Spin on the Situation
Sometimes a boundary can feel like a wall for family members, but creating clear limits can actually pave the way for new opportunities. Instead of your classic Thanksgiving dinner, suggest that you start a new family apple picking or hiking tradition. You can still spend time together with distance and open air. Introduce a mask creativity competition and ask everyone to decorate their masks. You can also try a virtual family dinner for the safest option possible. Present your safe ways of approaching Thanksgiving as an exciting opportunity. Even with the distance, your family will feel closer because you are going through this difficult time together.
You can also do this with emotional boundaries. When a family member asks a personal question, flip the conversation and ask them a question. People are always flattered when someone takes an interest in their life. Your family members will be flattered that you're giving them your full attention, and it's an excellent opportunity to get to know them better.
Don't Feel Bad About Prioritizing Your Mental and Physical Health
Setting boundaries and sticking to them can be extremely difficult, especially with family members. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you're in the wrong because your family members become upset when you communicate your physical and mental comfort levels. However, you should never feel wrong about advocating for your physical and mental health. Your job is to take care of yourself first and the people who love you want what is best for you. They might be shocked or upset at first, but they will quickly adjust because they don't want to hurt your relationship. Creating boundaries is healthy. Remember, you are expressing your needs to not only help yourself but strengthen the relationships around you.
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