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How to Set Boundaries and Emotionally Prepare for the Holiday Season


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This holiday season is full of memory-making opportunities, quality time with family, and fun celebrations. But, for many of us, it can also be incredibly stressful and emotionally turbulent.

While navigating this season after losing a loved one, you may experience increased intensity in your grief. And, for families facing the loss of a baby, the seasonal emphasis on family, togetherness, and social interaction can create additional stressors, trigger intense emotional responses, and make families feel even more isolated and alone in their experience.

As we prepare for the holiday season ahead, it can be helpful to gain clarity about what you need from the people in your life, set healthy boundaries with loved ones, and create a space to grieve and work through your emotions.

In this post, we’re covering how to determine what you need, establish boundaries, and communicate your needs and expectations with others. At the end of this post, you will find a practical application exercise to help you and your family prepare for this holiday season.

Identify your needs

As the holiday season begins, it’s crucial you take time to acknowledge that the next couple of months can and may be especially challenging for you and your family. Because, by recognizing that the holidays might be difficult, you can begin to prepare yourself and your loved ones to navigate the season and honor your needs as they arise

Keep in mind that every holiday will likely feel different and affect your grief uniquely depending on your connections to the holiday, your expectations, and when in the carrying to term and grief process the holiday occurs.

Here are some helpful strategies for determining your needs:

  • Take a moment to identify how you feel leading up to each holiday and the events around it. Are you anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry, or numb? Pinpointing the feelings that arise around a particular holiday can help you identify what’s best for you as the day approaches.
  • For example, you might find that being around kids trick-or-treating can be triggering, which is a perfectly normal and valid reaction. In that case, give yourself permission to forgo passing out candy. Or you may find you can attend your children’s school fall events but need your significant other or a friend to take your children trick-or-treating. Whatever the situation, recognize that you can engage as much or as little as you need. Right now, it is vital you prioritize your grief and self-care.
  • Consider how being around family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah may affect you and whether or not you feel prepared to participate or navigate their emotions about the diagnosis, pregnancy, and/or loss.
  • For example, seeing other pregnant family members, new babies, or kids, in general, can be triggering and overwhelming. You may feel exhausted when fielding questions from well-meaning loved ones or uncomfortable sharing information about how you are doing or the details of your experience. Give yourself permission to shorten your visits, limit conversation topics, or skip events.
  • Remember that this is just one year. What you do this year does not have to become the standard for future holidays. Choosing not to participate in a holiday event does not make you any less of a good parent, child, sibling, cousin, family member, or friend. Saying no to something to protect your emotional and mental well-being is not a sign of weakness or failure.
  • Many people struggle with increased grief during the holidays, and you are not alone. Opting out of events, activities, and interactions is normal and valid and allows you to hold space for your grief in a season previously filled with joy.

Communicate your needs, boundaries, and expectations

Once you acknowledge that the holidays might be difficult for you and identify your needs, it can be helpful to gather extra support from your family and friends. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask, and trust that your loved ones want to support you, especially amid the emotionally-charged season. The people in your life who love you and want to be there for you will gladly do things like provide a comforting meal or include your kids in their holiday events so you can have some alone time

Do not be afraid to let people help you bear the weight of your grief. Your friends and family want to be there for you, but some people may not know what you need or want from them, especially during the holiday season. It is a gift to both you and your network of support to identify and communicate your needs and boundaries and what they can reasonably expect from you.

Don’t be afraid to let people help you bear the weight of your grief.

Boundaries serve as guidelines to ensure healthy communication and interaction between all parties in the relationship. As a grieving parent, boundaries allow you to set clear expectations about what you are and are not comfortable or emotionally prepared to discuss or participate in right now.

Boundaries can be physical, mental, emotional, social, and/or spiritual. Their purpose is to help you prioritize your needs, protect your well-being, provide space for self-care, and preserve relationships with the people in your life. Boundaries can be temporary or permanent. They are ever-evolving and can vary depending on the holiday, situation, or relationship.

Here are three steps you can use to establish healthy boundaries during the holiday season:

  1. Consider the holiday in question and your relationships. Identify specific things you need from each of your friends and family members before, during, and after that holiday.
  2. Examine existing boundaries within various relationships and whether there are any adjustments you may want to make to better serve you during that holiday.
  3. Communicate your boundaries and any adjustments clearly, calmly, and sensitively.

Keep in mind that the holidays can be stressful and emotional for everyone, which is why you should approach discussions about boundaries with care. When setting boundaries and expectations, do your best to stay calm and be direct. If possible, try to have these conversations early in the season to give your family and friends time to understand that your grief may affect how you participate in the holidays and how it may differ from their hopes and plans. This allows them space to work through their own pain, grief, and disappointment, so they can best meet your needs and expectations with sensitivity.

You have the right to say no or express your needs and boundaries without explanation or apology.

Remember, even before the holiday season arrives, you may have already limited mental and emotional energy for anything outside your pregnancy, time with your baby, and grief. You have the right to say no or express your needs and boundaries without explanation or apology. Boundaries help you take care of yourself, and you have every right to do so.

Practical Application Exercise

This exercise will help you create a plan for understanding your needs and gathering support.

  1. Gather a notebook and pen. On a fresh sheet of paper, create three columns. In the first column, jot down all the holidays you and your family celebrate or participate in.
  2. In the second column, list the emotions you associated with each holiday prior to receiving the diagnosis or before your loss. 
  3. On a second sheet, create two columns. In the first column, write down any events you anticipate this upcoming holiday season. This might include fall festivals, family gatherings, work holiday parties, taking family photos and sending cards, or any other event or activity you are usually asked to participate in.
  4.  In the second column, write down what you need for each event. For example, you may want someone to attend social events with you for support. Or perhaps you need extra help engaging your kids in holiday activities or making meals. In some cases, you may prefer to avoid an event entirely.
  5. Finally, next to each need, write out the name of the person you feel most comfortable asking for that help.

The holiday season is hard. Navigating the holiday season when you are facing the loss of your baby or grieving that death is hard. There is no denying that reality, but the holidays can also be a time for you to feel supported, loved, and seen. By identifying your needs and communicating your boundaries and expectations to the people in your life, you can ensure you have the space you need to grieve and work through complex emotions.