Enforcing Healthy Boundaries with Extended Family During the Holidays

For many families the holidays are a time for togetherness and celebration. We often associate this time of year with family dinners and joyful gift swapping, but most families are far from this idyllic image. For parents of teens in recovery, navigating the holidays may include fielding uncomfortable questions, unwelcome parenting advice, and outright judgement from extended family members. While you may value these familial connections, it’s important to prioritize maintaining a safe space for your teen’s continued recovery.

The Importance of Setting Healthy Boundaries

Practicing setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is something we can all benefit from. Healthy boundaries are necessary in all relationships, including those between a parent and child, siblings, spouses, and extended family members. True as this may be, it is often easier in theory than in practice. We tend to grant certain allowances for family members or close friends in good faith. We make excuses like ‘well, they didn’t mean it’ or downplay the impact an infringement on our boundaries may have. Most often we do so as a means of avoidance; we don’t want to create an awkward situation or have a confrontation. However, when it comes to setting healthy boundaries for your teen’s recovery, these passive tendencies can be harmful.

Here’s why:

  • Learning to disregard your own boundaries can lead to uncomfortable or dangerous situations
  • Ignoring your boundaries teaches you to prioritize other people’s feelings over your own comfort and mental well-being
  • Ignoring boundaries also impacts your self-awareness and mindfulness
  • When we devalue the boundaries we set for other people we also devalue the boundaries we set for ourselves, leading to pushing limits and slipping back into unhealthy habits

As the holidays approach and we prepare to gather with family and friends, being prepared to enforce boundaries for your teen’s continued recovery is key. Boundaries are important among extended family members in particular because:

  • They may not know what your child’s triggers are
  • They may hold harmful beliefs about teen substance use and addiction in general
  • They may intentionally or unintentionally sabotage your teen’s progress
  • There may be information your teen is comfortable with immediate family members knowing that they are not okay with others being privy to
  • Blood relation doesn’t entitle anyone to your teen’s personal information

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries with extended family may feel uncomfortable at first, but these necessary limits foster healthier relationships for everyone. When setting these boundaries, remember to:

Be Clear: Identify your boundaries clearly, both for yourself and your loved ones. Include what the outcome will be should those boundaries be crossed. Some examples of healthy boundaries include:

“We are not allowing alcohol in our home during this dinner party. If you choose to drink, you will be asked to leave.”

“Please avoid discussing X topic during Thanksgiving this year. It’s a trigger for our child and we want this time to be enjoyable for everyone.”

“We appreciate the invitation, but we aren’t able to join you this year. We’re prioritizing our child’s mental health and have decided to do a small celebration at home.”

Stay Firm: As previously noted, bending your own boundaries can quickly create uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. In order for others to respect your boundaries they must first be respected by you. This means enforcing them consistently each time they are encroached upon, especially with repeat offenders. In some cases, this may even include ending communication with someone in your life who has refused or is incapable of respecting your boundaries. 

Check-In: Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries requires both self-awareness and mindfulness. Check-in with yourself and your family members to ensure everyone is satisfied within your relationships. This offers an opportunity to address issues which may arise and to acknowledge positive change. For teens in recovery having a supportive home environment that nurtures these positive habits is essential to maintaining sobriety.

If your child is struggling with substance use and related behavioral issues, Safe Landing Recovery can help. Contact us at 855-993-6311 now.

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