How to Navigate and Set Boundaries This Holiday Season
While the holiday season can be a time of joy and connection, it can also be a time of anxiety and awkward conversations. For many Latinx folks, showing up to a family gathering can often mean being faced with sometimes well-meaning, but totally inappropriate, relatives who insist on getting all up in your business. From the tías asking "Y el novio?" to the ones vocally judging your sexual orientation, calling you a jamona for still not being married, or asking invasive and insensitive questions surrounding body image, fertility, pregnancy loss, and having children, it can be a lot to navigate — especially during the holidays.
Latinx people are raised to show respect to our elders no matter what, but oftentimes, we are not offered basic respect ourselves. And instead of standing up for ourselves when we're put in these uncomfortable conversations with relatives over the holidays, we often let it slide and end up feeling not so good about it afterward. It can actually be really emotionally taxing to be faced with this kind of scrutiny from relatives you don't even see that often, especially if you're already struggling with aspects of your personal life. Our worth and success should never be judged by our relationship or family status.
Some of us might have even felt relieved when we didn't have to attend family gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The holidays should be about connection and enjoying quality time with people we love. They should not have to be marred by these frustrating interactions. The bottom line is, no matter how commonplace comments like these are within Latinx extended families, it's really not acceptable if it makes you feel uncomfortable or causes you emotional distress.
So considering that many of us are vaccinated this year, and we'll once again be expected to show up at Abuela's house on Easter Day, we've talked to Latinx mental health experts Dr. Lisette Sanchez of Calathea Wellness Coaching & Psychological Services and Jasmine Cepeda, LCSW, of Better Now Therapy to get their best tips on how to navigate these awkward conversations and set boundaries with nosy relatives during Semana Santa. "Setting boundaries is already a challenge on its own. Setting boundaries during the holidays with a Latinx family might feel impossible," Dr. Sanchez says. But míja . . . we've got you!
Be OK With Being Uncomfortable
"Accept that setting boundaries is going to be uncomfortable. Remind yourself that you are teaching your relatives how you would like to be treated and how you prefer to connect. It is not something that you should feel guilty about. Give yourself permission to take up space," Dr. Sanchez says. Because, yes, the end goal is to minimize uncomfortable encounters with relatives in the future. But in order to achieve that, we may have to first put ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. Standing up for yourself almost always involves some level of discomfort.
You know what's going to happen, and you likely already know who is going to start it, so when you get to the holiday family gathering that you're concerned about, you should be prepared. "Have a script ready to say, like, 'I don't feel like talking about that,' or 'Everything is going well, thanks for asking, how about you?,' and continue to repeat your script if they are being pushy," Cepeda says.
Change the Subject
You do not have to engage. We repeat: you do not have to engage. "Redirect the conversation. When your relative asks you the dreaded question, shift the attention away from the topic and share something that is important to you. 'Tia, I have been meaning to share something that I am very excited about that happened to me . . . '" Dr. Sanchez suggests. "If they give you unsolicited advice or their opinion about your romantic life, you can say thank you and change the topic," Cepeda adds.
Most of our family members don't intend to hurt us, they're just not accustomed to having boundaries with other family members, even for themselves. It's OK to be the one to instigate positive changes within your own family culture. "Initiate a private discussion ahead of time with the relative in question. In this conversation, you can be more direct about the boundaries you want to set. Just remember to use 'I' statements when expressing your needs," Dr. Sanchez says, since you don't want anyone to feel attacked and consequently shut down or react in anger.
Both Dr. Sanchez and Cepeda say it is absolutely OK to literally just walk away from disrespectful family members. "If they still continue, communicate that you will have to walk away because they are not listening to you, and walk away," says Cepeda, who also suggests stepping outside and going for a walk or, if you're really uncomfortable, going home. "Excuse yourself. Create a physical boundary from yourself and the person who is asking you the unwanted questions," says Dr. Sanchez, who also advises presenting a united front with other relatives in similar situations. "Share your boundaries with trusted loved ones, and look out for one another at the gathering. What else are primxs for?"
Not one of us should have to feel ashamed about our relationship status or life situation, especially not because of antiquated ideals. It's up to each of us to prioritize our own well-being so we can escape generational trauma and make better futures for ourselves and for the future generations of our families. So let's go into the upcoming holiday season empowered, informed, and ready to establish boundaries with confidence and conviction.