I’m a really picky eater and struggle with trying new foods so this brings on extra stress during the holiday season. Food brings most Latinx families together, so you can imagine the comments that I receive over Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. I usually retaliate by sticking a spoonful of white rice sans beans in my mouth. With a mouthful of food, I say, “Mind your own plate” to set clear boundaries that what I put in my mouth is none of their business.
Food is one of many topics discussed during the holidays among family members. Latinx families also love to opine about our love lives (or lack thereof), our bodies, and every life choice we’ve ever made. Add toxic family dynamics into play and it’s a recipe for a Stressball Soup. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you set boundaries with your Latinx family, you not only stand up for yourself, but you can actually enjoy the holidays.
To start, set boundaries with your family before the holiday fiesta. You don’t want to ambush your tia when she’s passing the pernil. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Katheryn Perez, suggests “informing family members that there are specific topics that are completely off-limits such as your dating life, career, your body and anything else that you do not feel comfortable talking about.” If that doesn’t do the trick, Perez shared some great comebacks to ensure your family stays out of your business.
If they ask about your dating life, say, “Thank you for asking about my dating life. That’s a topic that I do not want to focus on or talk about today.”
If they mention weight gain or make any remarks about your shape, respond with, “My body is not up for discussion. It hurts my feelings when you say these things.” If your relatives are relentless and refuse to respect your feelings and privacy, don’t stick around. Instead, say, “I will be leaving the family dinner at 7 p.m. I hope you’re able to understand.”
Maybe you don’t want to leave early because you have a great time with your family other than their prodding. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, April Mayorga, suggests a different approach: to seek an ally within your family unit. When you identify a supportive family member, they become your support system during the holidays in your moments of need. So, identify a relative that will help and “inform them of topics that are uncomfortable or not up for discussion.” If another relative brings up said topics, your support system can restate your boundaries and help put an end to the conversation.
But what if you’re not comfortable with speaking to your family about your wants and needs? Mayorga advises that you practice saying your boundaries out loud before the holiday festivities. This way you stay strong in your convictions because “holding boundaries and setting limits with family members can activate feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation.” In Latinx culture, we are often taught that family trumps all. We place our families needs and desires before our own. Family becomes the priority, so “when individuals put themselves first it can be viewed as selfish and disappointing,” Mayorga explains.
Although it’s easy to feel guilty for standing up for your needs and saying no to your family, Perez believes it’s important to pinpoint your needs over that of your relatives. Do so by asking yourself what you really want to do this holiday season. “Do you need to stay home and rest? Or do you have the physical and emotional capacity to be around family members?” Perez asks.
You might realize that you don’t want to spend your holidays with your family. And that’s ok. In fact, deciding to follow your intuition and setting boundaries is very empowering. Setting “boundaries can even have long term benefits towards our mental health,” Mayorga shares. Because it’s our way to “honor individual needs, increase feelings of safety, and build confidence.”
As for me, I’ve decided to enjoy Thanksgiving with my best friend sans family. I can eat what I want and how much I want without stress or feeling like I have to defend myself. My family isn’t all bad, I love them dearly and we have a blast. But sometimes you just need a little break from the commentary and that’ okay.