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Christmas, family and boundaries

Christmas holidays are around the corner.  The expectation may be such that you do as per usual – pack your kids and partner and head in the direction of where your family of origin is and duplicate what you did last year and the years before.

You and your partner may have decided to do things differently this time around – perhaps you’ve had a super exhausting year and all you’d like to do is rest or you’ve simply decided you feel like doing this Christmas break in a different setting.  Whatever your reason, are you feeling a paralysis around telling your parents or siblings about your wishes?

If so, read on.

Before we get to how to un-paralise yourself, let’s unpack why you may be feeling stuck to begin with.

  • Fear of disappointing loved ones.

You’d be surprised how many of your decisions are driven by not wanting to disappoint your loved ones.  It’s human and very much understandable.  It becomes destructive when not disappointing them leaves you disappointed because you’ve denied yourself of a need or want – i.e., knowing you need proper rest, but you commit to plans that’ll lead to you being more tired.  How disappointing!

  • Fear of being judged.

Being judged or labelled as the unruly child feels unpleasant.   Typically, the mind helps us avoid it and sways our decisions and behaviour in the direction of what leads to being favoured – especially when it involves parents and relatives.  This is where the struggle to say no comes from.

  • Expecting resistance.

Some coaching clients have expressed that they’ve not tried discussing certain issues with their parents or siblings because they ‘know’ they would not understand.  How do they know while they’ve not even tried?    This projection is not only counterintuitive but also toxic for the relationship in question because it breeds undue resentment.  Yet, 8 out of 10 clients who’ve used my step-by-step guideline – Unpacking the Elephant in the Room, have been pleasantly surprised by the level of understanding when they’ve addressed seemingly difficult or uncomfortable issues with their families.

The truth is that you will not know until you try.  Another reality is that you can’t unwant or unneed what you want or need.  You may as well learn how to have uncomfortable conversations and how to do it in a way that nurtures and grows the relationship.

Here’s how…

  • Stop judging yourself.

The fear of being judged by others is fed by your own judgement towards yourself – i.e., judging or questioning yourself for having a different need, want or feelings from that of your siblings.  When you release this judgement, it becomes easier to own how you feel about the situation at hand.  When you own it, it means you accept it as your truth making it easier to express to the next person.

  • Set time and space for the discussion.

Don’t communicate your decision during an existing conflict or grievance about whatever else going on in the family.  Do it independently of existing drama because drama is noisy and is likely to result in your point not being ‘heard’ or understood.

  • Commit to communicating with love.

Let love and compassion be your intention when having a discussion with your family.   In other words, avoid being accusatory of anyone.

An example of love:  “Mom, we feel it will be best for us to do Christmas in Joburg this year. We decided to use our bonuses to pay off debt.  So, we’ll be sticking around to cut down on spending.”

In this example you are owning your decision, stating your reason – so that your parents understand that your change of heart is not caused by a conflict or prior misunderstanding within the family.

It is also loving to acknowledge how your loved ones feel about your decision without judging them for feeling that way.  “I understand how this is disappointing for you, dad.  I assure you this little sacrifice will put us in a better position financially – we feel it’ll be worth it.”

  • Allow them time and space to process.

Your parents may be disappointed by the news, but it doesn’t always mean they don’t understand.  Give them time and space to get used to the idea – especially if you are deviating from a long-standing tradition for the first time.

Dealing with resistance.

It’s tempting to resist resistance because being misunderstood causes frustration.  If this happens, consider seeing resistance as a response – feedback, data or information telling you where your loved ones are at in relation to boundaries.  Consider that they lack tools and experience in dealing with change.  Instead of assuming they mean to harm or hurt you – offer them understanding such as, “I understand that you don’t understand our reasoning or our decision but what we are asking for is that you understand that the intention is not to hurt you.” 

Setting and communicating boundaries need not lead to conflict – even with resistance you commit to love and compassion – and that doesn’t mean you give in or fall back on your newly found boundary, need or decision.  It means doing it with sincerity and peacefully.


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Ndumi Hadebe is the author of Handle Black Tax Like – Setting Boundaries, Improving Relationships and Achieving freedom. 

With more than a decade of corporate experience and another as an entrepreneur, she lives her passion through her coaching business, Kwande Consulting – where she and a team of specialist- coaches support corporate teams and executives with coaching programs that are geared towards bridging efficiency and productivity gaps. 

She’s also a facilitator and speaker on topics such as Boundaries = Self-Love, Boundaries for Productivity, Boundaries for Goals and Handling Black Tax Like a Pro.