Living: To Do or Not To Do


By the time you read this, you’ll be in the midst of holiday hustle and bustle, but it’s not too late to enjoy the season.


Eight weeks is a long time to maintain the energy it takes to continue a “normal life,” as well as the addition of all the activities involved in holiday celebrations. Thinking about what I might offer to help, I came up with a one-word solution to help us all thrive during what can be, and is to many, a time of stress: boundaries. Setting good, clear, firm and simple boundaries for yourself and your family through the season of merriment is the solution. Try it, do it, and you’ll become a believer.

A boundary is an emotional and intellectual concept based on a person’s knowledge and awareness of what works for him or her in terms of the need for time alone, time with others, time for rest and sleep, and the need to respect what you know about your energy level and where you want it to be spent. Also being aware of what’s real and what’s unreal in terms of what you should do during this special time of the year is crucial. Ask yourself: “How many gifts do I really need to buy?” “How much money can I spend?” “How many people can I scratch off my gift list?”

The goal of this line of thinking is to get you in touch with your boundaries and how closely you can manage to honor them. Look at your to-do list and be certain the items listed are really each a “must-do.” You may find you’ve not examined the list in quite some time and that a few or several of the to-dos belong to your mother, your grandmother, your bionic-woman best friend, or may actually be the result of something you read in a very old Good Housekeeping magazine.

Seize this moment to start making your holiday season your own. Let the holidays reflect your own version of how you want them to play out, from decorations that fit your style, to how much socializing you want to do, to what you want to serve for Christmas dinner. If you’re not hosting and have five or six family members who expect you to break bread with them, be realistic and spread the cheer over several days before and after the big day.

Here are some tips to help you set those boundaries: Simplify. Prioritize. Be flexible. Be realistic and respectful of your time. Do not expect or try to do everything. Ask for help; delegate when you can, and go back to the first tip — keep it simple. Remind yourself that this whole holiday bonanza is not about keeping the economy afloat, but keeping your personal values about the whole thing. If you want to share extra time with friends, make it happen. If you want to lessen time with folks who stress you out, make it happen.

Where there are indeed “gottas” and “musts” and “shoulds,” part of being an adult is sorting through them to make certain they are truly necessary.

Consider the story about the granddaughter whose husband asked her why she always cut off the ends of the ham, and she replied, “My mother cuts the ends off.” When he asked his mother-in-law the same question, her reply was the same: “My mother cuts the ends off.” So he asked the grandmother, and she said she cut the ends off to fit her pan. It’s your pan — it’s OK to be different.

Sit down with your family and tell them what you’ve discovered about your boundaries and how you’d like to structure the holidays. Ask them to share their visions of how they want to spend the time and work as a family so each of you has, at the very least, “enough” to make the holidays work for you.

When you set boundaries, you must be able to say “no” to others’ requests. They may not like being told “no,” but they will survive. I’ve never heard of anyone who died because they didn’t get their way. Saying “no” is not a lethal action. Try it. I think it will give you a whole new outlook on life!

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