Spending time with your family can be fun and restorative, but, let’s be honest, it can also be very stressful. Child-focused events, time with extended family, and celebrating with friends may be emotionally difficult when your family-building or parenting journey hasn’t gone the way you had imagined. 

What are boundaries—and why are they important? 

When we think of boundaries in the physical world, we often think of a fence or a border. This applies to emotional boundaries as well—a boundary is a way to keep certain areas of your life separate to protect your wellbeing and facilitate emotional safety. Boundaries can look different for everyone, including: 

  • Physical boundaries: Physical boundaries include your personal space, bodily needs, and touch. This might center around creating limits about who can touch you and how, and who is permitted to enter your space or your home.
  • Emotional boundaries: Emotional boundaries encompass the protection of your thoughts and feelings. This can look like declining to talk about topics you’d rather avoid, expecting respect in your relationships, and communicating when you feel uncomfortable.  

Boundaries help keep us safe emotionally and physically, so we can move through the world with more presence and ease—which is how we all aspire to feel during the holiday season. 

While we can't control what other people do, feel, think, or say, we can control our how we respond to it. Focus your energy on understanding:

  • What do I need in this moment?
  • How well am I effectively communicating my needs? 

If you’re anticipating conversations around infertility, pregnancy loss, parenting decisions, or other touchy topics, setting boundaries ahead of time can help alleviate some stress around the holidays. Read on for four tips from Maven Mental Health Provider Lauren Lenke, LCSW, on how to set healthy boundaries. 

Act early when possible

Effective boundaries protect our physical and mental health and our personal space. You don’t have to wait until you’re physically with family to set a boundary. Set yourself up for success and communicate your needs ahead of time. For example, if you want to set a boundary with your parents around the topic of starting a family, give them a heads up that it’s an off-limits subject before you arrive. You can reiterate this boundary when you’re physically together, but letting them know ahead of time can help solidify the concept in their mind. 

Identify your allies

If you and your partner are setting a shared boundary, make sure to discuss what to do if someone brings up an uncomfortable topic so you know you’re on the same page in advance. If this is a solo mission, share your concerns and needs privately with a sibling or another trusted family member. That way, you can ask them to pull you aside or change the subject if the situation becomes uncomfortable.

Have an exit strategy and don’t be afraid to use it

If one of your boundaries gets crossed, equip yourself with tools to care for yourself in the moment. . Jot down some coping or grounding skills in your notes app beforehand, and keep your phone handy. 

It’s totally OK to excuse yourself if you need a break from the action. Even a quick trip to the bathroom, going to the kitchen for a glass of water, or stepping outside for fresh air can help you push the reset button.

Practice self-compassion 

Think about how you can practice self-care during this time. Setting boundaries can be challenging, and they may not work perfectly the first few times you try them. Have compassion for yourself, and remind yourself of these truths:  

  • Time with family can be stressful.
  • Setting boundaries takes practice.
  • Feeling emotionally unsafe is hard.

You're doing the best you can, and you’re taking care of yourself. Give yourself kindness and celebrate the small wins. 

Boundaries help you show both yourself and your family respect and love this holiday season. But it’s okay if there are still times when implementing boundaries feels hard. If you need support, find help with 24/7 virtual care and support from Maven. Talk to mental health providers, fertility specialists, career coaches, and more—right from the app. Sign up today for access to Maven’s specialized virtual support and on-demand content and community today.

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