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How Can I Establish Boundaries with My Family During the Holidays?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified

The holidays often present situations in which you need to establish and maintain boundaries with your family. This process can be difficult, as setting boundaries can feel frustrating, uncomfortable, and scary. Yet, boundaries are necessary in order to protect yourself and improve your relationships with your family. Consider establishing boundaries with respect to a number of sensitive and potentially inflammatory topics, such as safety, child-rearing, housekeeping, religion and politics, food choices, health issues, and body image, and so on.


 During family gatherings, a child’s primary caregiver is ultimately responsible for their discipline and welfare. Your family members may or may not be biologically related to your child, have close relationships with your child, or expect to be in charge of your child; but they are not your child’s primary caregivers, and they are not ultimately responsible for your child. If you are a child’s primary caregiver, then you have every right to establish any boundaries that you deem necessary to care for your child.

Here are examples of phrases to use to in order to establish such boundaries:

  •     “Please ask me first before you ask for my child’s input.”
  •     “Do not use that word in the presence of my children. They will mimic you and I don’t want them to say that.”
  •     “You may ask my child if they wish to hug you. You cannot force them. Please, allow them to decide.”
  •     “I make the decisions regarding my child, not you.”

Household Tasks

Over the holidays, you will likely participate in gatherings that require various tasks to be delegated and completed. You should decide how you wish to participate in the division of labor and communicate your decisions to your family.

Here are some examples of ways to establish such boundaries: 

  •     “I will cook, but I’ll need help cleaning up afterwards.”
  •     “I cannot do that. Here’s what I am able to do instead”
  •     “I’d love to help, but I have too much going on, and someone else will need to do that this year.”
  •     “No.” (That’s it, an explanation isn’t always needed)


Politics, religion, death, and trauma: these are a few of the uncomfortable topics that may come up in conversations during family holiday gatherings. You decide how you participate in these conversations (if you choose to participate in them at all).

Here are some examples of phrases to use in order to establish boundaries concerning difficult conversations.

  •     “I’m not going to discuss or debate this with you.”
  •     “I hear you and I’m not going to discuss it further.”
  •     “I’d like to talk about this, just not in this setting.”
  •     “I appreciate how strongly you feel about this. I feel strongly about it too. I think it’s best that we not talk about this for the sake of having a good time.”


You might need to establish boundaries in order to promote your safety or the safety of others. A pandemic and abusive family members might be a few instances that require boundaries.

Here are some examples of ways to establish such boundaries:

  •     “I cannot visit this year due to safety concerns.”
  •     “I will spend time with you outdoors, but not indoors.”
  •     “I will keep my mask on while indoors. Please respect my choices.”
  •     “I will not sit next to them or be left alone with them.” 

Food & Weight

There is often food at family events, and this can create situations in which you feel that your boundaries are being crossed. In addition, family members might make comments about your health, weight, or body, which may not be appropriate.

Here are some suggestions of ways to establish boundaries concerning food, health, and weight:

  •     “No thank you, I’m full.”
  •     “As an adult, what I eat or don’t eat is my choice.”
  •     “I appreciate your concern, but I will not discuss my weight or appearance.”
  •     “I respect your food choices, but I do not share them.”
  •     “Any further comments about my health or appearance will result in an end to this conversation.”

Try using these statements when you need to establish boundaries with others over the holidays. If you need help to establish boundaries consider participating in individual or family therapy. Contact Symmetry Counseling to make an appointment.

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