During one of my Fibro Live videos, I discussed the importance of setting boundaries. This is important for those living with fibromyalgia because acknowledging your boundaries is a part of successfully managing fibromyalgia. Practicing boundaries is only a part of it. Here’s my guide on what NOT to do when family visits for the holidays.
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This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, December 2017. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are products I recommend and have verified and/or used.
The backstory –
The decision to talk about boundaries came after a visit from my husband’s parents in August. It was my husband’s idea to talk about it because of the way his parents’ visit left me feeling. He was right that the issue needed to be addressed, but talking about boundaries after they had left didn’t resolve the issue. Even as I write this article months later, I’m still hung up on those negative feelings.
After clearing my head with a cup of coffee, I’ve decided I’m going to tell you what not to do when family visits for the holidays, or anytime of the year. Forgive my sarcasm and brutal honesty to come, but, no matter how sarcastic I may sound, the following advice is taken from my own experience when my in-laws visited.
What NOT to do when family visits
Don’t exhaust yourself cleaning…
…. because there will be something you neglected to clean by someone else’s standards. Apparently, living in disarray is something my family enjoys because it’s constantly pointed out to me. And it doesn’t matter what the reasons are for having the mess. We could be a family of superheroes saving the planet and we would still be nagged about how there’s a stray sock lurking under the couch cushion. By the way – what makes her think there’s a sock under there?! Okay, so there is a sock under there – multiples even, but how does she know this? And what difference does it make? It’s not hindering the kids’ growth or our ability to parent. Who knows – maybe the kids were playing hide-the-sock and the game was ruined by giving away the sock’s location. Thanks, grandma!
Yes, my house gets cluttered at times, but we are a family doing family things. I will not allow my day to be consumed by cleaning because there are some crumbs on the floor, and I will not allow the way I live to be dictated by the way someone else feels about it. Crumbs on the floor is neither going to consume my day by cleaning nor dictate how I live because it bothers someone else. If anything, those crumbs land me a new Dyson vacuum cleaner. (True story – My mother-in-law once gave me a Dyson because my house always had crumbs on the floor from my four kids who were, at the time, all under the age of seven. I’ll take that insult in exchange for one of the best vacuums ever – thank you very much.)
Don’t break your back detailing your entire home each time you have a visitor. It’s your home, not just a house. A home is where you live and are most comfortable and that comfort should extend to your guests.
Don’t spend hours in the kitchen…
…because it will be hours wasted. Sure, the photos of meal plans online are awe-inspiring and look ‘easy’, but are they really? For a person like me, it takes hours from start to finish to make a meal plan for my family of six, from deciding which meal to eat on which day according to what we have going on, and what we can eat regarding special restrictions (thanks fibro and sensitive stomach), to making the grocery list, and doing the actual grocery shopping.
Now, take all that menu planning and add additional people to feed, three meals per day times the number of days guests are visiting, and special holiday meals and/or desserts. With all the time spent preparing, you imagine the guests eating your carefully planned meal and exclaiming how wonderful and homemade tasting each dish is! Reality check: Doesn’t happen.
Instead, you get passive aggressive comments of how it could have been healthier, more homemade, or any other adjective that points out the oh-so-obvious opportunities you missed to improve your mediocre meal. What makes you think you have any idea what you are doing in the kitchen, despite your husband and kids loving your food?
Let me save you some time. Grab a pen and paper. Jot down the easiest meals your family can eat, you enjoy cooking and your family enjoys eating. Increase the recipe to accommodate however many guests you have and boom – there’s your easy dinner menu. Special holiday? Limit yourself to baking whatever goodies you want and can make without overextending yourself. Don’t bake? Visit the local bakery, put it on one of your plates, and you’re done!
Oh, and go easy on that wine with dinner. Trust me when I say that too much wine equals too much talking. Which may end in you replying, “open the can and dump it into a pot?” when your mother-in-law says she will tell you how to make the best homemade chili while eating yours. Saying this implies that her homemade chili comes from a can, and even though that’s what it tastes like, exposing her Hormel secret recipe might cause conflict. Yes, it feels great saying it and the expression on her face is priceless, but don’t do it.
Don’t make sleeping arrangements…
…because no matter how many times you’ve discussed the plans with your guests and they okay it over the phone, the plans will, inevitably, change once they arrive at your house. In fact, don’t be surprised if they take one look at it and ask for the numbers of the nearest hotels. Seriously, I cannot make this stuff up.
Instead of breaking your back to disassemble a bed, move it down a flight of stairs, and reassemble it in a guest room, leave it up for the guests to decide where to sleep. In fact, make it a mystery game and have the guests guess where they are going to sleep. There’s no prize for the winners, but if you show enough enthusiasm and mystery, a prize can be easily negated.
By having them guess where they think they are going to sleep, this tells you where they want to sleep. If no two guests are in an argument about who gets to sleep where, that’s a win for you. The hard part of guessing who goes where has been done for you. And if they are disagreeing about a spot, let them sort it out. They’re adults, right? Well, so are you, so just walk away from that and let the adults handle themselves. They’ll sort it out while you’re sorting out how many hours are left to get through the rest of the day.
Be sure to be clear about which spots are not up for grabs – like your bedroom. Otherwise, you’ll wind up sleeping on a small air mattress that unknowingly has a slow leak in it. The next morning you’ll find yourself waking up on the living room floor unable to move from the neck down. You’ll be a miserable person and no coffee in the world can help you cope with a sore body and guests. Be clear: Your bed is off limits.
Don’t let their inability to understand fibromyalgia negatively affect you….
…. because it will only leave you feeling down about yourself. No matter how much I’ve talked myself blue in the face about fibromyalgia to my mother-in-law, she refuses to acknowledge it. Well, correction – she acknowledges it now because her daughter was diagnosed with fibro a few years ago. Before that, whenever she would ask about my constant body aches, sensitive stomach, or frequent headaches, my answers would be dismissed with a single look. I’m serious, friends – one look.
After her visit in August, my mother-in-law called a few days later with a ‘cure’ for fibromyalgia. She was sure that after a short visit with my father-in-law’s sister (who also has fibromyalgia and is verified to have this condition by my mother-in-law), she had the answer to all my health problems. The ‘cure’ was so simple: exercise. That’s it! Just a bit of exercise each day to get my muscles moving and my health issues would be all gone. Isn’t that amazing?!
Okay, so it did make me scream into a pillow and her words did make me feel frustrated and deflated, but why? Why did I let her have the power of making me feel bad about me? Someone once told me I have zero power over changing a person, but I do have the power to change how I react to them. Knowing that, I should place my mother-in-law’s ignorance on her, because I’ve done what I can do, which was talking to her about my condition.
I’m taking back the power and not letting her inability to understand fibromyalgia affect me in a negative way. One of my personal goals as a fibro advocate is to bridge the gap between fibro thrivers and their loved ones. It’s a process I’m still developing and until I have a working plan figured out, I’m not letting her inability to understand fibromyalgia negatively affect me. Yes, I said that already, but I purposely repeated it so you can hear it more than once. Do not let their inability to understand fibromyalgia negatively affect you.
Embrace yourself for who you are. You are an amazing person – fibro and all. You are doing the best you can with what you have right now. You cannot change the past, but you can change the direction you look. You cannot change a person, but you can change how you react to them. Take back the power and revel in it! You got this. And I’m right there with you. Maybe with a bit too much wine and sarcasm, but hey – we’ll be laughing together.