This holiday season as you’re making preparations for family visits, school parties, church events, food drives, travel, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and general merriment, you’re going to want to include this season’s hottest dish. You’ll recognize most of the ingredients as they’ve been around for a long time and they’re not hard to access, but to be fair, the recipe can be tough to follow at times. Placed just between your stuffed turkey and your stuffed calendar, be sure to make room for boundariesthe plate of protection that everyone is talking about this year. 

The dish itself is fairly inexpensive to create, but as mentioned above, it can require skills and commitment you’re not used to exercising. Saying no to an event that you know you don’t have time for, for example, is often accomplished through clenched teeth with raised, apologetic eyebrows. Budgets are another type of boundary that is important, but difficult, to stick to, as well as idealized versions of spotlessly clean and impeccably decorated homes.

Remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish, not just with your time but your precious and limited energy, as well. 

You’ll be reminded, frequently, that not everyone likes your boundaries.

Some will find them too spicy, too difficult to digest. Some will insist on their ingredients and demand you whip up a new set of boundaries made to their specifications. You may even find yourself battling against yourself in the creation of this year’s boundaries, wanting to try to fit one more thing into the schedule or relieve yourself of the guilt you feel at insisting your boundaries are served and honored.

There’s usually some cruel aunt or competitive cousin, an abusive parent or an in-law with a self-proclaimed boundary allergy, but that’s what other tables are for, and if someone doesn’t like the boundaries you’ve served at yours, they are welcome to move on to the next one. 

RELATED: Setting Boundaries with Toxic Family Is Hard but Worth It

Familythat’s the hardest boundary of all. During a season when so much social media and Hallmark output is centered around the ideas of whole families, forgiveness, togetherness, and households with more gifts to wrap than scars to cover up, victims are expected to break bread with their abusers in the name of holiday spirit. In an already-unfair dynamic wherein the victim must be the one to put in the work of healing, the invisible sash of honor that is promised to those who are told to be the bigger person is of little comfort.

All too often the only thing we gain from taking the high road is a bunch of bumps and bruises from such an unnecessary emotional road trip. When you’ve always been the bigger person, you end up with a lot of shoe prints on your back, and no one really benefits.

The trespasser keeps trespassing because no one has enforced a fence, and the victim remains trampled upon because they’re told there’s honor in allowing it. 

Serving a healthy side of boundaries during your holidays means not inviting that abusive uncle, that cruel in-law, the family member who has always been given a pass to harm because of their age, because of their “sense of humor,” because “you don’t know how many more holidays you’ll get with them,” because “they didn’t mean it that way,” because “they’re your family.

It hits you, the pang of guilt, the punch of longing, the nagging thought that maybe you should invite Uncle Dan, the manipulative statement that forgiveness means forgetting, the idea that holidays are meant for togetherness and inclusion, the razor-edged hope that maybe this year it will be different. 

“But they’re your family,” we hear. “Nothing is more important than family!”  When you mention not wanting to invite your abuser into your home you’re met with the age-old (and often misused) adage, “Blood is thicker than water!”

Well, scars are thicker than blood, and you are not obligated to welcome the person who caused yours.

Besides, you’re not serving blood at your holiday table, so why should blood be a requirement for a seat? Sharing a branch of a family tree does not mean one is entitled to share your home, your meal, or your memories, and it especially does not mean one is entitled to harm without consequence. 

RELATED: Battling the Sting of Toxic Relatives: Why Our Kids Need Us to Show Them How

Boundaries, no matter how you’re guilted upon their presentation, are not punishments. Boundaries are not emotional coal in the familial stocking, handed out to mean family members in exchange for bad behavior. Boundaries are actually a savory savior, intended to protect you. Boundaries are what insulate a healthy family, allowing for your needs to be heard, met, and maybe for the first time ever, considered. 

You’re not making waves, you’re not causing dissension, and you’re definitely not a poor living example of forgiveness. Boundaries take the focus away from what someone has done to you and places it upon what is allowable by you and what is healthy for you. Boundaries are not revenge, they are a guideline on how best to love you, and if someone cannot find a way to love you within your boundaries then love was never their motivation. 

Don’t let this holiday season pass you by without serving up some healthy boundaries.

Disinvite who you must, rearrange the schedule as you need to, seek mental health more than community peaceespecially when the community’s peace comes at the expense of your own. Family is important, but a family without boundaries is just a wandering herd of trampling relatives. Try your hand at your own special boundaries this year and inspire the tradition in your own family of creatingand honoringboundaries for generations to come.  

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Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

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