The holiday season is often a time to spend with extended family making memories. Spending time with extended family can also be a negative experience for some. For a teen in recovery, the holidays can be particularly triggering. Finding a balance between making memories and supporting your teen’s recovery can be particularly challenging, but ultimately, this year, your teen’s recovery may need to come first.
When Holidays With Extended Family Are Unhappy
Even in the healthiest of families, the pressures of the holidays can lead to tension. In families where there is dysfunction, there is often a lot more than tension happening when extended family gets together. For many adults, the unhappy memories fade, and the good memories remain. However, for a teen in recovery, many of the aspects of family gatherings around the holidays can be triggering and lead to relapse.
First of all, being aware of your teen’s triggers regarding the holidays and extended family is essential. Some aspects of family holiday gatherings may be obvious, such as increased drinking or other substance use, or loud or escalated conversations that are uncomfortable or may even become violent. There may also be triggers related to specific family members or past trauma. In addition, the long hours, travel, and sleeping arrangements may also create anxiety for your teen around spending time with family during the holidays.
Holiday Traditions vs. Your Teen’s Wellness
Most families have traditions of spending time with extended family during the holidays. To do otherwise is not something that is even considered. When your recovering teen expresses concerns about travel, holiday traditions, or extended family, though, you may want to reconsider.
Family holiday traditions and the opportunity to see loved ones can seem very important. Certainly, the media and holiday movies place a lot of importance on extended family and the holidays. You may feel a lot of pressure from your extended family to keep these traditions, too. On the other hand, is keeping a tradition worth sacrificing your teen’s wellness? Is keeping a tradition, appeasing the wishes of loved ones, or keeping up appearances as important as the health and well-being of your own child?
What It Means to Put Family First
The holidays can create a lot of situations that test your priorities. For many families, the opportunity to gather as an extended family only comes during the holiday season and thus can seem like the highest priority. While this is an opportunity that can be difficult to miss, the concept of putting family first has a different meaning when your child is in recovery.
Putting family first during the holidays may mean that you need to reconsider your holiday traditions and put your teen’s recovery needs ahead of spending time with extended family. During early recovery, listening to your child and supporting them in their needs can make a world of difference for them. Particularly during the holidays, when being in recovery is so difficult for most people, putting your teen ahead of holiday traditions can prevent a relapse.
Setting Boundaries With Extended Family to Protect Your Child
For those families who still choose to spend time with extended family during the holidays, setting boundaries can help protect your child. For example, you may wish to stay in a neutral location, such as a hotel, to give yourselves a safe space to retreat to. You might insist that no substances are consumed around your child, or that there be no raised voices or fighting.
If there are specific family members who trigger your child, do not allow them to be alone with your teen. Another boundary may be that you observe a certain bedtime as a family to support your child in getting enough sleep. These boundaries let your family know that your teen’s wellness is important. If they choose not to observe them, then they miss out on the opportunity to spend time with your family.
Creating New Holiday Traditions of Wellness
All traditions begin somewhere. While the custom of spending time with your extended family during the holidays may have positive aspects, chances are that there are many unhealthy elements as well. These are traditions that do not need to be handed down to the next generation.
Your family has the opportunity to create new traditions of wellness. While supporting your teen in their recovery, you can find traditions that include sharing with others or demonstrating gratitude or kindness to others. There are plenty of people who do not even have a family to spend the holidays with, and sharing with them can help improve your child’s recovery rather than risk relapse. Even just simply creating healthy new traditions with your own family unit can help protect your teen’s recovery. Having a child who is still in recovery is the best gift you can give your family this holiday season.
Prioritizing your teen’s recovery above extended family visits can make or break your holidays. Finding the right balance between making happy memories and preventing a relapse may be your most important challenge this holiday season. At Sustain Recovery, we emphasize the importance of family in the recovery process. Our extended residential treatment program for adolescents with addiction and mental health diagnoses in Irvine, California, focuses on structure and accountability. Teens in our program are offered the opportunity to transition back home gradually, with support, for a more successful long-term recovery. We also connect them with support in their area to help them where it matters, which is at home. Call Sustain today at (949) 407-9052.