I have been asked by many people lately about how to meet the needs of so many others during the holidays. I am re-posting my 2012 response to the question:
Between my parents, my sister and her family, my in-laws and my husband’s cousins who live an hour away, our holidays are filled with too much traveling, hosting and trying to make everyone else happy. I would love to spend Christmas day at home with just my husband and kids, but I know it would kill my parents, as they expect to be invited for breakfast and gift opening, and my in-laws expect us for dinner at their house later that same day. What can I do to satisfy everyone?
My one word answer is this: nothing. You cannot satisfy everyone. And I strongly suggest you stop trying. I do believe there is a way to honor and respect your family relationships while still establishing some boundaries around your core family time.
The simplest and most dramatic way to accomplish this is to go away for the holidays. Travel with your husband and kids to a destination far away where you can relax and enjoy the holiday together. Plan to celebrate with various family members on a few select days before and/or after the trip. People may respond with shock, hurt, jealousy, excitement or well wishes. Let them have their reactions. Those reactions belong to them and it is their responsibility to deal with their feelings, not yours. As long as you are open to creating space for them in your schedule to celebrate, you don’t have to over-function to make sure they are totally pleased in every way.
Some people decide that changing plans like yours on Christmas Day is just too hard and painful on everyone and the backlash isn’t worth it. In a case like this, I recommend choosing a day in the holiday season to celebrate with just your husband and kids. You may want to hang and fill stockings, light the tree, play Christmas music and exchange some presents three days early, so that opening your home on Christmas Day doesn’t feel so intrusive. If you have young kids, and Santa is still an important factor, you may want to skip the stockings and presents and create some new traditions to share as a family, so that you get the time together you are yearning for. This day is sacred and no other plans should trump yours, no matter whose party you might miss. No one else is invited, not matter how much your mom pouts and says she wants to come along. I am going to repeat myself here: People may respond with shock, hurt, jealousy, excitement or well wishes. Let them have their reactions. Those reactions belong to them and it is their responsibility to deal with their feelings, not yours. As long as you are open to creating space for them in your schedule to celebrate, you don’t have to over-function to make sure they are totally pleased in every way.
I want to give you, and everyone else, permission to set boundaries. It is okay to slow down, say no, and get creative. Maybe you see your husband’s cousins in January, after the rush, to extend the fun even longer. Maybe you host everyone at your house for one big dessert party, and stop running from house to house making sure everyone gets a piece of you. If people can’t make the party, it’s okay to not see them until after the holidays are over. Healthy people will express all kinds of feelings about your boundaries, but at the end of the day, they will accept and love you, even if they are disappointed. Unhealthy people will express all kinds of feelings, too, but they may try to punish you or guilt you into changing your plans to accommodate their wishes. Don’t accept that guilt. It is an ugly gift that you should immediately place on the ground and walk away from. No one needs to pick it up and deal with it—it can just sit there, unattended forever.
I wish you a wonderful, rich, and balanced holiday season, filled with many “No’s” because you intentionally decided what to say “Yes” to,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.