Family and Boundaries

This past week many of us had the opportunity (some may use another word) to spend time with our families. Whether we celebrate Easter, Passover, Higan, Noruz or the Spring Solstice, many of us get together this time of year with our families.  In an ideal world, family events are happy occasions. In reality, they are more complicated. Perhaps part of the time spent with one’s family is glorious but some of it may be filled with anxiety and disappointment.

When the majority of the time spent with one’s family brings more heartache than joy, it may be time to reconsider the frequencies of the visits. What happens when it’s time to visit with your extended family and preparing for your trip makes you feel vulnerable rather than excited?


Every spring, Penny (not her real name) travels to the Midwest with her husband and her daughter to celebrate Easter with her mother, father, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Penny is generally a confident and serene woman. However, once she enters the town where she grew up and where her parents still live, she breaks out into hives. Penny’s body is telling her that something is not right as she prepares herself for the jabs about her weight, the teases about having “only” one child and the dinner that generally leads to yelling matches.

Last year Penny finally had enough. She understood that although she may always feel obligated to visit her parents, she actually has a choice. Even if it is our family that makes us feel poorly about ourselves, it is ok not to interact them. In fact, it may be better to set limits. These limits can range from visits every few weeks (instead of everyday) to never. We are practicing self-care and teaching our children that no matter who it is, we do not have to put up with people who are consistently unkind.

Maya Angelou

The great poet and author, Maya Angelou wrote that: “When people show us who they are, believe them the first time.” We may want to see our relatives as kind and interesting but they keep showing us that they are close-minded, unsympathetic and hostile. See them for who they really are and create your own family and celebrate the holidays with them.

Last week, Penny and her new family consisted of her husband, her daughter and their friends. Their Easter celebration was a joyous occasion. Everyone felt heard and loved. They all had a great time and decided to make a tradition it.