Setting Boundaries: It’s the holidays

photo by Tricia Sanders

photo by Tricia Sanders

This morning, I was behind someone’s grandma (you’ll see why I call her that in a minute) at Panera Bread, and she knew the cashier personally. As they were wrapping up the order, Grandma says to Cashier, “So, are you going to spend Christmas with that grandson of yours?”

Cashier says, “Well, they’re with his mom’s side of the family this year.”

Grandma says, “Oh yes, I know that well. It’s not OUR year. We have to share and alternate.” (BTW, you might not be able to tell, but Grandma is not happy about this.)

Cashier says, “I understand though. I did the same thing when I was young and married.”

This got me thinking about setting boundaries and being fair to everyone, including yourself, in a family around the holidays when you get married and have young kids.

First, I should share that Christmas, as in December 25, is just a day. You don’t have to celebrate CHRISTMAS on this day. You can celebrate Christmas on ANY DAY. That’s my opinion anyway.  Second, no one likes to miss the grandkids or cousins or any children on Christmas Day, but let’s be realistic–and I have to tell myself this too, believe me–the last thing little kids and teenagers are thinking about on Christmas Day is spending quality time with their parents, grandparents, and other relatives. They are mostly thinking about toys or money or their girlfriend/boyfriend, depending on the age. This is okay. This is normal. Don’t take offense.

That said, how do you set those boundaries for making Christmas Eve and Christmas Day special and not so crazy, running everywhere with young children and dreading the day that is supposed to be magical? Oh, you are looking here for answers? Okay, let me try.

Again, I have it easy. I have a small family, and my husband’s family is not in town–we usually see them twice a year. But the way, we work it out to do what is best for my 4-year-old daughter and my 14-year-old stepson. . .

1. We go to early Christmas eve service (5:00 pm) and then an open house and get home early to go to bed for Santa. No more midnight mass.

2. My stepson spends Thanksgiving with us and Christmas Day with his mom–every year. It just works out better with his school schedule and consistency. My husband usually picks him up the day after Christmas, so he can spend the second part of his break with us.

3. I host Christmas at my house, where my daughter can relax and play with her toys all day.

4. We do cousin Christmas on a different day around Christmas. This is the best idea ever! Everyone can go to their respective in-laws houses on the 25th, and then we can all get together and relax on a different day. We’ve done this 3 years in a row now.

This is what works for us.  (What also would work for me is to go on a Disney Cruise every year, but I digress.) It might not work for you. But if you are running yourself ragged and dreading a magical day because of the 5 houses you have to go to, consider setting boundaries for next year. You have an entire year to work on it!

Margo Dill (427x640)Margo Dill, also known as the Sandwich Lady because she has a 4-year-old daughter and 70-something-year-old parents, is the author of three books: Caught Between Two Curses (YA), Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (MG), and Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies. These are available at all major retailers!  Find out more about Margo’s books, speaking, and teaching at


  • What a timely post! We are in a new spot for us now – empty nesters. Though last year was particularly difficult (first year without kids at home – which made for a very lonely day), we’ve come to terms with it. We spend Christmas Eve with my parents (as we have for many years), and we are spending Christmas at home. It may be just the two of us. Others are welcome to drop by. Our youngest is planning to come for dinner after she and her significant other spend the morning with his family. Our oldest won’t be home until the weekend after. I’m being completely open to whatever happens, with no expectations, being flexible. Most of all, I’m going to ENJOY whatever the holiday brings.

    BTW – I agree with you – a Disney cruise would be a wonderful tradition! ;o)

    • Hi! First I have to say that I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to the wonderful comments on this post. My own lack of setting holiday boundaries had me running around like a chicken with its head cut off for days/weeks, etc.

      I think you have a great attitude, and I know you also have some four-legged friends I’ve seen on FB to keep you company. I hope you had a relaxing holiday season, and thanks for sharing your story!

  • I could use a little hustle bustle this year. Seriously, when I was a kid the worst thing ever was to have a house full of new toys and not be able to play with them because you’re being carted off to spend the holiday with relatives where you can WATCH the cousins play with their new toys.

    I’ll take the cruise please, but more of an adult theme. That’s my plan for next year. Something exotic and warm and far away.

    • I’m with you. let’s go. As long as I can bring KB with me. :)

  • As little, we had church on Christmas Eve, early service, since it was “the program,” and dinner before at Grandma’s house. When my sister came along, it was dinner at home, church, and then Christmas Dinner at Nana’s, then Grandma’s, then finally, years later, at our house.

    Then I got married and had my daughter and lived 100 miles away… The first year, we drove to STL to Mom’s on Christmas Eve, spent the night, left around noon to drive home and go across town to the in-laws. That was it – enough! After that, for the few years we were married, it was CE with the in-laws, and my family would drive up to see us on CD.

    Since I RE-married, it’s been rather trying. And yes, probably because of me! I like tradition, and I disagree that Christmas Day can be celebrated any time. I’m picky like that. 😉

    The older kids resist, I fight back, lol! Basically, I’m okay if someone can’t be here (4 adult kids, 3 spouses/SOs, 3 grandkids, 1 teen at home), but don’t expect me to rearrange my own holiday!

    • Tradition is important–I’ve started a few myself. I guess the it doesn’t have to be that day thing I learned as an adult because I’m married to an air traffic controller whose work never closes–365 days a year–and my stepson isn’t always with us on the exact holiday. And actually as I got older, I like LESS to do on the holidays–I like staying home and relaxing and watching parades and specials because I don’t really do that any other time of the year.

So, what do you think?