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Summer boundaries: vacations, family events, FOMO, and more

  • June 27, 2022
The Book of Boundaries by Melissa Urban

Summer is officially here! Cue the vacation plans, cabin preparations, cookouts, drinks on patios… and the tension you’ll surely feel between doing what you want to do, and everyone else’s expectations.

The summer season can feel especially fraught: We’re excited to be social and traveling with no restrictions again, which means the invitations will be plentiful and there’s temptation to say yes to everything. But we also want to be able to relax and enjoy the season without feeling guilty or experiencing FOMO! You know what your summer could benefit from? Some clear, kind boundaries, with other people and yourself.

Many of you have written to me asking for advice about how to set limits around the ways you’ll allow others to engage with you–and how you want to engage with others–this season. Here are some common summertime scenarios and my advice for preserving your space, time, and peace with boundaries.

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“I live in a desirable summer tourist destination (think mountains, lakes, and Instagram-worthy views). I love showing people around, but last summer I had basically no weekends to myself, and people are already inviting themselves back this year. Help!” –M.A.

You’re looking for a boundary with yourself first, then the words to set a boundary with others when you aren’t accepting visitors. Let’s start with the self-boundary: Block out all of the weekends you know you’ll want to yourself. If you’re not sure, think back to prior summers. Did you want guests half the time, one week a month, or even less frequently than that? Was entertaining guests two weekends in a row too hectic, but spaced out more was fine? Was it fun to have guests over the holiday weekends, or do you prefer enjoying those at your own pace? Was there a time limit on when guests stopped feeling fun and started feeling like work–maybe two nights, or three? Write down your own limits in a notebook or on a calendar, and stick to them unless you have a “hell, yes” opportunity. (More on that soon.)

Now, your boundary with friends and family: When guests inquire about visiting during your blocked-off periods, try saying, “Oh, that weekend isn’t available for guests,” or “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any open weekends left for visitors,” or “You’re welcome to stay here for two nights–I can recommend a hotel or Airbnb if you want to extend your visit.” If they push back, you can simply say, “Yes, we have a lot of plans for the summer,” or “We’re a popular spot, but there are some great Airbnb’s near the lake.” It’s none of their business whether you have other guests coming or just want your space, and you don’t have to feel guilty for prioritizing your own comfort in your own house.

“We love inviting friends to our summer cottage, but I don’t want to entertain them during their entire visit. I want the ability to sit in a chair and read or go for a walk alone.” –M.S.

My number one tip for any boundary situation: Set the expectation ahead of time whenever possible. In this case, include it in your emailed or texted invitation: “We’d love to have you visit our summer cottage and spend time in the relaxing environment we’ve grown to love. We may be staying there at the same time, but we prefer to leave our guests to themselves so we can all enjoy the weekend at our own pace. We’ll have everything you need so you can truly make yourselves at home.”

Then you have zero pressure to hang out or do anything with them, unless you want to! If guests are visiting and you find yourself wanting company, you could always say, “I’m going for a walk later if you’d like to join me,” or “We’ll be heading into town at 6 PM if you want company for dinner.” And if they invite themselves along on your walk, please do reiterate, “Thanks for the offer of company, but I need some alone time.”

“We take a lot of group/family vacations in the summer, and everyone always wants to do everything together—but I need my alone time/want to do my own thing sometimes/like exploring on my own too.” –So many of you

Again, set this expectation ahead of time, especially if it’s been a point of contention in the past. “When we get to Mexico, I want a balance of time together and solo time. I need time alone to recharge, and I won’t always want to do what the group is doing. I’d really like all of us to allow each other the space to enjoy our vacation in our own way.”

You can also identify the vacation events that are important to others and make accommodations. Maybe dinner together as a family would mean a lot to your parents, but you can explore during the early morning while others are sleeping or taking their time. If they’ve booked a special activity like a sunset cruise, make an effort to be there, but skip the souvenir shopping if you’re not feeling it. Compromise here if it means you can have more autonomy with less guilt-tripping.

If they do complain about your independence when you’re on the trip, remind them, “We’re all on vacation here, and it’s unreasonable to expect we’ll all want to do the same things all the time. I’m going to take responsibility for my happiness on the trip. It’s how I’ll continue to be able to take vacations with you without resentment or frustration.” (Because your final-level Red boundary would be, “I will not vacation with you again, because I am not able to enjoy our shared trips.”)

“We’re visiting family this summer. They expect us to stay at their house but my partner prefers we stay in a hotel so we have more privacy. How can I communicate this?” –L.V.

First, you and your partner need to get on the same page here. Are you also comfortable staying in a hotel? If not, you two need to decide on the boundary you want to set together, because throwing your partner under the bus with, “I’d love to stay with you, but Sam wants to stay in a hotel” is not healthy for any of your relationships.

If you’re willing to agree to this for the good of your partner’s mental health, present a united front and have the conversation with your own parents. “We’re looking forward to our visit, but we’re going to stay in a hotel this year.” That’s all you have to say. If your parents balk or take it personally, simply reiterate, “You two are wonderful hosts, but we want our own space and some privacy during this visit. We’ll still have plenty of time together.” You have the power to hold this boundary by simply booking the hotel and letting them know it’s already done.

If they’re initially disappointed, give them time and grace to come around. Demonstrate during the visit that you appreciate their respect for your limit here, and be prepared to compromise by making it over in the morning for breakfast if that’s important to your mom, or staying late to watch the fireworks.

“Help me stop over-committing to plans with family and friends.” “Help me stop saying yes to every event and booking up my whole summer.” “I feel like I HAVE to plan something every weekend to take advantage of summer—but I don’t want to!” “We have SO many family events this summer—it’s too much!” –ALL OF YOU (this is the most common scenario I hear about)

I understand the tension of wanting to do All the Things and then feeling super burned out, versus saying no and then feeling antsy and left out. Here are some self-boundary ideas to buy yourself some time and capacity to find this balance more organically.

Is it a HELL YES? Then say yes right then and there. But listen—I’m not talking “That sounds fun!” It needs to be a “Holy crap, that’s my favorite band of all time/the destination I’ve been dying to visit/a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” hell yes.

If it’s not a hell, yes, this is the most important Self-Boundary you can set with yourself this summer: “Thanks for the invitation! I’ll get back to you.” You don’t have to say yes right away. It’s a lot easier (and kinder) to say “I’ll let you know” than to say yes and cancel later. It’s rare that someone needs a response on the spot. (And if they do and it’s not a “hell yes,” for you, then it’s an immediate no.) Buy yourself a minute to confer with Future You. What else is going on that weekend? How does the following week at work look? What other weekend plans are already set in stone? What would you be giving up if you did say yes? What other fun/rewarding things could you do instead if you said no? Don’t delay your response so long as to be rude, but buying yourself a few hours to imagine what Future You needs can go a long way towards making the “right” decision.

If you eventually decide to say yes, now you’re going to ask yourself, “Are there other self-boundaries I can set to help me enjoy this event even more?” Maybe you go but you don’t drink, setting yourself up for a night of restful sleep and feeling good the next morning. Maybe you go but set a hard stop, as my sister does: “I’d love to come, and my bedtime is 11 P.M.” Maybe you go, but drive yourself, so if the vibe is off or wild, you can see yourself home without much fanfare.

And if you decide to say no and stay home, know you did so thoughtfully, believing that the benefits to your mental health, happiness, and capacity outweighed the potential fun factor—so remind yourself come the day-of that there’s no FOMO to be found.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

If you liked this advice and think it’s going to radically upgrade your summer… there’s A LOT MORE of where this came from in my new book, The Book of Boundaries. Pre-order your copy today in hardcover, e-book, or Audible and save that receipt, because I’m working on a sweet package of pre-order bonus content full of advice, motivation, and scripts just like these.


Pre-Order The Book of Boundaries now. Coming October 2022.