Tell It Like It Is: Six Phrases for Holiday Boundary Setting


Hi, my name is Stephanie and sometimes I do too much! It’s been about two weeks since my last people-pleasing moment.

I’m that girl – tempted to be everywhere and do everything for everyone. I will foolishly sacrifice sleep to do someone a solid. I will stretch myself again and bend a bit further just to get it done. I’ll make myself sick with overdoing. I have a long mental list of marvelous things I would like to do, a list of what I feel I should be doing and a much shorter list of what is realistic and possible in a 24-hour day.

Sometimes I wish the word “No” would roll off my tongue with ease – no guilt and no explanations needed. But that’s not me and frankly that’s not real life.

This time of year is my favorite, but it’s also the hardest; full of social events, family, friends and celebrations of all sorts. At home, we decorate and spend our time together making memories and establishing traditions. It’s also a season of asking – for time, for money, for favors and it can feel a bit obligation heavy.

Boundary setting doesn’t have to be difficult or gut wrenchingly awkward, so I keep a few phrases in my back pocket for quick and repetitive use. These help me set healthy expectations for myself and help prevent burnout.

Sometimes the timing is just BAD! An unexpected phone call with a sudden ask for time and energy that I simply do not have is my worst enemy. I want to help, but I know that saying, “not today” has to be my response. Maybe I can do it tomorrow or even next week. I won’t make a promise of when, but I know that I will get back to you when I have the capacity.

I was the fun aunt for several years. I had no children and disposable income. Now, one child, seven nieces and nephews and two home purchases later, I’m feeling the weight of adulting and financial compromise. I’m not embarrassed to say, “that’s not in my budget.” Instead, we focus on providing quality time and special experiences.

Unfortunately, the holiday season increases the likelihood for lifestyle clashes and misunderstanding. Someone’s going to be offended at some point in time. No longer will I be ultra-polite while biting my tongue and grinning in anguish. I’m quick to throw out a “please don’t” or “I’m not comfortable with that.” I’m perfectly okay with the glaring side eye that may follow. At least I won’t be up all night, debating with myself about what I should have said.

There’s also the downright to-the-point open and honest “I don’t feel like it.” I don’t use this one often, but when I do, I mean it! Yes, I’m home, but you cannot come over. I don’t want to socialize or get dressed. I need some time without the expectations of others and now that it has arrived, I’m not giving it away. I still have love for you though. If you have something for me that you insist on bringing, please drop it on the porch. Thank you!

And then there is the impressive and brave “I need a minute” (aka I need a break) – from you, from this moment, from my own children, from life even! I am suffocating and I need to be in a mental and physical space where I can breathe. No, I’m not going to explain all the details right now but allow me to step away and when I am ready, I will be back. Most importantly, when I get back to you – in a few minutes, in an hour, in a few days – I will be better.

Last, but not least is the phrase I use most often with my mom friends, “yes, but you owe me.” It’s not wrong. It’s not petty. It is what it is. If I keep your four kids for you while you run errands, you WILL return the favor!

These words carry weight, but they keep me lighter, brighter and more centered. Give them a go. Better yet, try them on your kids for practice! No apologies required.