What do healthy boundaries look like at the holidays?

holidays parenting self-care Nov 20, 2022

A critique of low demand parents is that we "don't have good boundaries." I find this extraordinarily false. In fact, we are exercising healthy practices around boundaries every day--including when we manage critiques of our low demand approaches.



Brene Brown says a healthy boundary is about "what's ok and what's not ok." Or as I say, "what's hard and what's too hard." In a healthy boundaried relationship, we show respect for ourselves and for the other person. Boundaries define what is ours and what is another's.


In an unhealthy dynamic, the lines get blurry, and we lose respectful practices, either for ourselves or for another person. We begin taking responsibility for the other person's stuff.


Boundary-talk may be triggering because we've been force fed a certain definition of having good boundaries: being rigid and firm with children, refusing to change your mind, and holding on until children give up or give in.


This definition is false and does real harm, but nonetheless is pervasive.



Low demand practices are all grounded in respect: respect for our children's unique brains and life experiences, for their autonomy needs, for their behavioral communication, and for their limits and challenges.


We respect our children enough to truly listen to them, in all the ways they share, and to act on what we hear with compassion and trust.


We respect ourselves enough to listen to our needs and to meet them proactively with self-compassion and nonjudgment.


The core of the low demand practice: Respecting our needs and boundaries at the same time as we respect another's.


This practice is ultimately all about meeting needs and respecting boundaries.



So what do you do at the holidays, when you enter an unfamiliar environment or host people with different views?


What do you do when people say things that hurt you, or hurt your children?


How do you handle it when the expectations are too high and your child inevitably melts down?


1) Ground yourself in who you are and what you are about.


Others will say things, things that may wound you, out of their misunderstanding, fear, anger, and pain. Part of being alive and in relationship is the vulnerability of being hurt by another human. Rather than armoring up against this with all your defenses present, you are allowed to let these things bounce off. In your grounded self-knowledge, these critiques don't need to stick. It's not true. Just because they say it, doesn't make it so. You know what you are doing and why. This is what matters most.


2) Share your needs and your plans proactively.


If you know the dinner table will be a stressful time, communicate this in advance. "I know you love my kid more than anything, so I'd love your help to support them through a tough time." Share the accommodations you'd like to make, even if it opens you to criticism. It also opens you to collaboration. This is an act of vulnerability, which creates the possibility of connection. Remember that good boundaries are also about respect for yourself, so exit the conversation if critiques are personal. Respect yourself enough to walk away.


3) Prepare your children with plans and practices.


Create an "exit plan" with your children ("I need to go to the bathroom; mom, can you come with me?" or a hand signal or code word) to check-in if they're getting overwhelmed. Create a plan for what they can do if they're bored or ready to go home before others are. Determine together what your boundaries will be; what's hard versus what's too hard. Make a plan with any partnered adults, including supportive siblings, for what concrete support looks like when things get hard.


The Takeaway


Respecting each other's boundaries and limits is the core of a healthy relationship.


As a low demand parent at the holidays, knowing and respecting your child's boundaries is key. Know what matters most: The trusting connection you have with your child. Be ready to walk away from things that challenge that bond. You are allowed to have boundaries with other adults and to keep the focus on supporting your struggling children.

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