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Sometimes I think about how 2019 Emma would feel about her 2021 self. 

I think she’d be surprised about how often I still go to church. She’d ask me about my GPA and give me a fistbump. She’d probably ask me if I was still dating my high school boyfriend and say, “yeah, that makes sense,” when I’d shake my head. 

But more than anything, I think she’d do all those things after an absolute mental breakdown over COVID-19.

It would be a lot to process all at once: a global pandemic, online college, political upheaval over regulations, anti-vaccine protests and Gal Gadot attempting to bandage our broken world with a John Lennon song. So much of our world has changed in the last few years, and we have changed with it for better or worse. 

For many of us, this will be our first Thanksgiving with our families since 2019. As COVID-19 vaccines make it possible to gather together, we return to homemade dishes and family traditions. Unfortunately, it also leads us back to the constant tension and disagreement that taint the holiday season. After over a year of solitude that tested us to our core, Thanksgiving and Christmas 2021 may be more tense than ever before. 

Especially for college students, it can be incredibly difficult to battle family expectations with our own identity and need for space. However, we have every right to control that space by setting boundaries with our loved ones during the holiday season.

Nobody deserves to be uncomfortable and disrespected — especially during this time of year. After a year of distance and change, setting boundaries with family members over the holidays can create a welcoming and safe atmosphere through which everyone can enjoy the festivities. 

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve been forced to grow, learning to adapt to the “new normal.” COVID-19 has changed us all, and that’s not just anecdotal. Since August 2020, Pew Research Center has monitored how COVID-19 impacts Americans and their daily lives. What aspect of everyday life was dealt the most damage? Personal relationships.

This year, we have the fortune of being together again, but even if the holidays skipped a year, our lives didn’t. We are now profoundly different people about to collide together. Perhaps this will bring nostalgia and joy, the family crowded around the roast turkey and singing in four-part harmony. Or perhaps this holiday season will bring intolerance and bickering. 

As a young person, this is a fear that especially resonates with me, as I’m sure it does with my peers. We are often told that college is a place to explore ourselves and our identity. In that way, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has allowed me the privilege to expand my beliefs and solidify who I am. I am happy with the person I’ve become and the way I’ve changed, but will my family see it that way? Will they recognize and respect me not just despite my changes, but because of them?

Love and boundaries go hand in hand, and setting them can be important to protecting yourself while still embracing the affection you have for your relatives. Change and growth doesn’t sanction discomfort during the holiday season. Instead, setting boundaries can allow the holidays to pass by without friction and confrontation.

As someone who struggles with boundaries, I understand that often the most difficult part of the whole ordeal is setting them in the first place. Every “How To Set Boundaries With Family” article accessible from a quick Google search tells you that setting boundaries is hard, but you got this! You’re going to be okay! Go be the girlboss you are!

I’m not going to tell you that because those of us who set boundaries have usually had them broken before. We understand the frustration that comes with the violation of our space. We understand that we’d all prefer to girlboss our way into comfort and acceptance, but it’s never quite so rosy.

At a certain point, the boundary setter can only do so much. In all their candy-coated empathy and brightly colored stock images, these boundary articles seem to skip over the responsibilities of the person whom the boundaries are enforced upon. After all, the burden is not one person’s; that is unsustainable. Instead, share the boundary — that’s what families do, right?

So don’t fold to your grandmother’s underhanded comments or your uncle’s uncomfortably tight hugs. Tell them this instead: relationships change and evolve over time. Especially after a year break, our interactions are changing, and that may feel bizarre. But love of any kind is still love. A relationship of any time is still a relationship. Boundaries can feel new and odd, but they are better than the alternative — the complete dissolution of the relationship, which the boundary setter is well within their rights to do when faced with disrespect.

In the end, we’ve all changed since the last holiday season together, which may mean more tension than usual. Whether setting boundaries or learning to adjust to them, we each have a duty to protect our relationships and ourselves. 

This year, the holiday season may challenge you. Use it to become a person your 2019 self would praise and embrace.

That is, after they process the whole pandemic thing.

Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com.