Healthy Recovery IRL – A Case Study in Nurturing, Affirming, and Setting Boundaries

Issue 47. November 3, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Kyle Nieber

One afternoon at the beach nearby, I happened to sit next to a couple of women who were just bitching up a storm. Before recovery, I would have stayed there and been pissed off that these assholes were sitting next to me. It would never have occurred to me to get up and leave.

BTW, that’s called victim mentality—when we feel like we have no choice other than to put up with stuff.

Instead of listening to those women bitch and complain, I moved. Here’s where my Higher Power rewarded me for having the “courage to change the things I can,” as the serenity prayer says: I sat near a young mom with her two little kids and a friend. I witnessed some of the most incredible parenting I had ever seen in my life.

Through my recovery journey, especially the reparenting aspect of it, I learned that healthy parents nurture, affirm, and set boundaries with their children. That was precisely what this young mom was doing!

She was nurturing her two and four-year-old by speaking very lovingly to them and continually referring to them with loving names like sweetie, honey, baby, and darling.

She set boundaries by saying to her four-year-old, who was playing by the water, “In about 15 minutes, we’re going to go home and have lunch.” Then she gave the child a 10-minute and a 5-minute warning. When it was time to go, the kid threw a fit.

She affirmed the child by saying, “I know. You’re having so much fun. We’re going to come back later, but it’s time to go home for lunch, so we’re going to go now.”

The child continued to throw a fit, and she said, “Yeah, I hear you. You’re having so much fun, and it’s really difficult to leave when you’re having fun. But we’re going to come back later. Right now, we’re going to go home and have lunch.”

I was so flabbergasted by this beautiful display of healthy parenting that I took notes! I wanted to capture what she was saying so I could remember it for my own reparenting journey.

When she acknowledged that her child was having so much fun and that it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun, she was affirming that child’s feelings. That’s what most of us want, especially children. When she set boundaries by staying firm to the deadline for when to go home and have lunch, she also added some hope by giving them something to look forward to by saying, “We’re going to come back later.”

As they got up to leave, I walked over to her and told her that I’d been listening to her interacting with her children and that she’s a fantastic parent. I told her how I’d grown up in a dysfunctional family and didn’t hear things like what she said to her children.

I told her about what I’d learned about healthy parenting through my recovery—that healthy parents nurture, affirm, and set boundaries with their children—and that she just gave really perfect examples of that.

Her friend agreed that she is an amazing parent, and the mom got tears in her eyes. She was extremely grateful and said, “This means so much because I often wonder if I’m doing and saying the right things.” I told her she absolutely was!

I said, “The most important thing I think you did was validate your child’s feelings.” I didn’t get that as a child, and it’s affected me deeply. I also mentioned the importance of letting them know that you’re in charge by setting the boundary about going home for lunch.

I’ve carried that encounter with me for years. It’s a perfect example of recovery in action. If you’re sitting in the chaos, drama, or negativity that’s going on around you, get up and leave! You don’t have to stay there and be victimized by the situation or by your thoughts about the situation. You just might get rewarded by a beautiful display of what healthy relationships look like, so you can use that as a model for your relationships.

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