For Maltese couples, there are the early dating days – and soon enough there’s that must-have discussion about the holidays. More specifically, who to celebrate Christmas Eve with, where to attend midnight mass, where to eat Christmas lunch (and dinner) and the same conundrum for the New Year. Keeping up with both sides of the extended Maltese family is tough and it doesn’t get any easier when you add kids to the equation. With that in mind, check out our tips on setting healthy boundaries this holiday season (and safeguarding your sanity).
Get on the same page with your partner
The root of many disagreements lies in assuming – as an example, don’t just assume your other half knows you always do Christmas day with your side of the family. Set aside some time to plan out Christmas and the holidays. Settle the kids with some screen time if that can give you more time for a proper, level headed discussion. Get out your calendars, talk about each of your family’s traditions and what’s important to them and to you, and schedule everything accordingly. And if you find yourself at an impasse, especially if both sides have similar traditions, try to reach a compromise by alternating years – or creating a new tradition specifically for your own family on that day.
Communicate your plans
We know how insistent parents can get. And it’s so easy for nanna to take offence if you don’t attend midnight mass in her own town. Once you’ve settled a schedule with your partner (first line of communication!), let your families know of your plans well ahead of time. They’ll hopefully appreciate you’ve put much thought into it and it’s a way for them to adjust their expectations. Admittedly, it can be hard to opt out of a family gathering, especially if it’s been happening since forever. Rather than a dry ‘we’re not coming’, take the time to explain why and how you’ll still be celebrating together, just on another day.
Planning out Christmas and New Year’s in Malta isn’t just about taking out a calendar and slotting things in. There will be pressure – from all sides imaginable. You may have communicated your plans early on, but this doesn’t exclude family members potentially guilting you into changing your mind, amending your plans to best suit them, or – unfortunately, taking offence and ignoring you. And all during a time synonymous with peace and joy. In all of these, remember your family’s needs, and why you decided to proceed as you did. Your priority should be your own family and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself – and them. We love this tiny buddha line: “When we refuse to set a boundary, we prioritise other people’s comfort over our own needs”.
Set boundaries during get togethers
Family get-togethers involve an extra dose of exposure to uncomfortable questions, unrequested advice, and sometimes unnecessary comments on everything from your relationship and how many kids you should have, to your parenting values. It’s A LOT. The holidays are a time when we’re surrounded all the more by people close to us in terms of relationships, but who are potentially far off when it comes to belief systems, values and feelings.
Get-togethers can easily generate an internal struggle of ‘Should I say something?’ or “Should I insist this is not how we do things?” to ‘It’s Christmas, I shouldn’t ruin things”. There is middle ground here: you can share your boundary while still being respectful. Explain why you don’t agree with that, especially if it involves your kids, and acknowledge that things may have been done differently back in the day, but this is not what you want to do with your own child.
Praise others for respecting your boundaries
It sounds child-like, but what are adults if not kids in disguise (minus the innocence)? As Clinical Psychologist Dr. Holly Symons notes, “research shows time and time again that praise changes behaviour”. So next time someone in your family respects the boundaries you set, let them know you appreciate that: “Thank you dad for accepting that we need to set new traditions for our own family on Christmas Eve”. A thank you goes a long way.
Family dynamics can be hard to navigate, especially during the holiday season. It can also be hard to uphold the set healthy boundaries this holiday season for yourself and your family. However, there is a reward to having these oftentimes difficult conversations: it sets you up for a calmer, guilt-free and beautiful holiday season. We hope these tips help you achieve this!
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