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How to Set Boundaries With Family for the Holidays

You may love the idea of being with family for the holidays — or maybe not! It can be stressful! And in some family relationships, it’s awkward or uncomfortable. Personalities don’t mesh, or there’s distance or unresolved conflicts. If you want to know how to set boundaries with family for the holidays, these four steps will make your celebrations more peaceful and joyful this year.

In this article you’ll explore:

  • Jesus’ conflicts with family
  • The source of Jesus’ strength and peace
  • Four steps to healthy family boundaries
  • More resources on family dynamics

Let’s begin by looking to Jesus…

Jesus’ Family Conflicts

Experiencing conflict in your family can feel like a lonely experience. Everyone else’s family may look healthy and loving (on the outside!). But you’re not alone. Jesus experienced conflict in his family too! In my book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered we look at how Jesus deals with a great variety of stressful situations in life and ministry, including family problems.

For instance, how would Jesus respond to a guilt trip if he was you?

Recall the family trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old. Mary lost track of where Jesus was and after a few days, she understandably became quite worried and upset. When she finally found Jesus in the temple she blurted out: “Young man! Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick looking all over Jerusalem trying to find you!” (Luke 2:48, paraphrase).

Jesus responded: “Why were you so anxious and searching for me? You should have known that I’d be in my Father’s house doing his work” (Luke 2:49, paraphrase).

Notice that Jesus does not take responsibility for his mother being upset with him — he doesn’t feel bad or guilty. Nor does he react with anger at her apparent guilt trip. In fact, we read: “Then Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).

Or recall when Jesus was an adult and was ministering in a house that was jam-packed and overflowing with people and his boundaries were again tested. His mother and brothers heard about the situation and “they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:20-21)

Perhaps they wanted to take Jesus back to Nazareth to their family home and carpenter’s shop? But again Jesus did not let Mary’s (or his siblings’) desires define or control him. He spoke the truth in love and said no; he insisted that he was going to stay in the house and continue teaching the people and healing those who were sick. In fact, they should join him in doing God’s will! (Mark 3:31-35)

Jesus Responds With Strong and Loving Boundaries

How did Jesus remain a non-anxious presence? How did he stay strong and secure when his family was upset with him and tried to manipulate him?

He was in a two-person easy yoke with his Father. They pulled the plow together. He was continually encouraged and empowered by Abba’s love and this helped him know his identity and purpose and be his true self.

Four Ways to Set Boundaries With Family for the Holidays

Boundaries are like a muscle. As you practice them, you can strengthen your ability to set limits.

In our book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered I teach four ways to join with Christ in setting healthy boundaries for a non-anxious and fruitful life:

Don’t deny your emotions—

Many people deal with family conflict by negating their feelings. But internalizing stress and repressed emotion creates anxiety. When we’re emotionally honest and connect vulnerably with God and others, it helps us to receive Jesus’ grace, love, and truth.

Don’t depend on unsafe people—

Depending on unsafe people for security, acceptance, or identity is like building your house on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). When your identity and dependency rest on the rock of Jesus Christ, you will remain secure even in the face of family conflicts. Bring your personal needs to God and to people you trust and respect.

Don’t be the hero!

You can’t be super-responsible all the time. This is too much pressure for anyone to carry. In the dynamics of your family, you may be the one that everyone depends on to be strong or have all the answers. You don’t have to conform to everyone’s expectations—you can be the person God made you to be.

Don’t be sucked dry—

Sometimes you need to say no to people with needs. Jesus did this. He didn’t stop in every town or heal every person. Even in his miracles, there were steps he asked others to do for themselves. Jesus took time away to be with his Father and closest companions. Taking time to rest is essential for the soul care you need to love others well.

Want to go deeper and grow stronger in developing healthy family boundaries?

Next Steps for Growth

If these four steps have been helpful in knowing how to set boundaries with your family for the holidays, you may want to go deeper into your study of Biblical boundaries, understanding family dynamics, and repairing conflict.

Praying you will experience the peace and love of Christ in all your family gatherings this holiday season!

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