I don’t know about you, but I’m already beginning to feel pressed by the approaching holiday season. The expectations of others have already commenced their slow, grinding, painful squeeze on my psyche.
Will Grandma be in suitable condition to leave assisted living for Thanksgiving? Does Auntie need a ride from the airport? Where is everyone staying? Who has off of school or work and when? Why won’t our youngest stop with the perseveration that has already begun over her Christmas list? Can we all just go into hiding until January?
If ever there was a time to set boundaries, it is this season of the year!
Anyone who knows me in the least realizes that I am BIG on boundaries. The series of books written by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend set me free after a lifetime of growing up in a boundary-less family. They helped me discern when to appropriately assert myself. I credit these authors with teaching me to stand up to guilty manipulation.
Since I first became familiar with BOUNDARIES 14 years ago, I have grown to believe that we parents raising complex kids need more help with this issue than the average adult. With special diets, sensory overload, and treatment routines, it becomes impossible to march to the demands of others. Our children and their needs must be our first priority. Yet, how do we defend those priorities when others are continually trying to run roughshod over them?
The difficulty comes in the lack of understanding from others. Grandma doesn’t understand what it will do to your child on the autism spectrum to have their routine disrupted. Auntie is offended that your youngster is on a special diet and cannot eat her gluten-packed menu. The cousins think your kid is weird, so they get stuffed in a room alone with a television and videos in hopes of keeping them out of the way while everyone else visits.
And OH, the judgment! It never ceases to amaze me how people who rarely see you or your offspring any other time of year, suddenly become such brilliant experts on how to parent your child. They question your child’s diagnosis, accuse you of being too permissive, or remark that you are just worrying too much. More spankings and discipline are the obvious solution to these holiday armchair quarterbacks.
Frankly, it can make us dread the holidays.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can literally learn and rehearse new life skills that help us define what is and isn’t acceptable interaction related to these family gatherings. Here are just a few simple steps to make your holidays more manageable:
- Check your expectations at the door. Set the bar low for both yourself and others. Especially when children are young, these events are a matter of survival mode. Your child may just be getting used to these social settings, and extended family may just be getting used to your one-of-a-kind kid. These events take practice over time.
- Have a friend, an accountability partner, a wing-man in place that supports and encourages you as you set family boundaries. Having that other person to talk to by phone or text is beyond valuable.
- Decide with your spouse well in advance what hours you will attend a dinner or celebration with those you love. Stick to those hours without either of you wavering.
- Have an escape plan. Have a signal or code phrase to your spouse letting them know when you need to leave immediately.
- Literally practice saying, “No, thank you,” in the mirror. This will develop that “no” muscle for when a family member asks something you are currently unable to tackle. “No, thank you. We can’t be there to watch the game with everyone.” “No, thank you. We’re not able to stay late for the bonfire.” “No, I’m sorry. I can’t bring the dessert.”
- Develop non-stick emotional resiliency. Why is it that family always seems to wound us like none other? We need to realize that people are going to sometimes be clumsy or hurtful in their words. We do ourselves great good when we imagine ourselves as a non-stick fry pan, allowing the words to slide off, or visualize the words as a feather in our hand that we blow off.
- When remarks are too serious to let slide, we must assert our boundaries by privately discussing with the other person why their words were so inappropriate. If they are not willing to refrain from such behavior in the future, be willing to state you can’t be around them. Period. It goes without saying that this conversation should NOT take place right in the middle of your gathering. The odds are not in your favor for having a productive conversation at that time.
These critical steps can transform your November and December. Holidays can eventually go from dread to delight as each year becomes more manageable.