11/15/2012 04:52 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2013

Boundaries for the Alcoholic Parent/Grandparent

I have been working with Lila, a lovely lady who is married and has two small challenged children. She came to me as she was concerned about what kind of boundaries to implement when visiting her alcoholic father, as well as during phone conversations.

She stated that she loved him very much and grew up in an alcoholic household and the family turned away from the situation more times than not. She felt she was alone in her discomfort about his drinking, and recalled spending more time in her room as quickly as dinner was over then with the family. Sadly, her father has done nothing about his alcoholic disposition then or now, and continues to drink irresponsibly.

Lila has put much of this behind her and today enjoys visiting her father with her husband and two small children, but each visit made her more anxious as she didn't know how the evening would play out. She felt it was time for her to implement some boundaries even if that meant taking a leave of absence from the visits if her boundaries were not adhered to.

We talked about the best way to communicate these intentions with him, and we thought the good old-fashioned way of writing a letter on paper and mailing it would be the most productive. So, together we composed the following:

Dear Dad,

It has been a few months since our last visit. I have spent some time thinking about you and where we stand in our relationship. I love you, Dad, but my thoughts are torn between allowing myself to be available to you (and you're out of control behavior) and my taking care of my family and myself.

Currently I am sad, confused, angry and, frankly, frightened. I'm sure your intentions are not to have me feel this way, but I do, nonetheless.

With that said, I have carefully put together some boundaries that I think will help both of us enjoy a more respectful and healthy relationship.

  • No one can be around my family under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If I feel uncomfortable, I will leave and take the boys.
  • I won't respond to your calls threatening suicide anymore. If you call me, I will call the police and ask them to take over. I can't be of any service to you, as I am not a trained professional in the area of suicide.
  • I no longer will help you if you are arrested for any incident or are in legal trouble. Again, I am not a trained professional in the area of legal matters.
  • I am uncomfortable when you argue with your wife (Lila's stepmother) in front of the children and me. If you do, and my family or I feel compromised, I will quietly leave.

I hope you can understand and respect my wishes. My plate is full with my career, my husband and my two young boys who have developmental challenges that you are very aware of. I neither have the time or energy to have my father as a burden instead of a joy.

I will wait for your response.

Much love,

This letter is loving, yet strong and presents a determined posture. Lila can feel good and accomplished that she is being true to herself and getting her point across while staying neutral and not opening herself up to defend and justify her position.

Lila and I talked about the consequences and or outcome of sending this letter and if she was prepared for the following:

1) Having her father react poorly and punish her by cutting off communication for who knows how long.

2) Was she going to be able to keep to her commitment to leave an uncomfortable situation and not be swayed by her children's desire to stay and be with their grandfather?

3) Was her husband on board with these boundaries, as it is extremely important for them to be a united front?

4) What was the discussion going to be with her children as to why they were not going to visit Grandpa for a while, or why they would have to leave his house so abruptly if that scenario presented itself?

It's one thing to implement boundaries on your own toward one person or a whole group, but when those boundaries involve others, it is important to calculate each step, think it out, talk it out and try and prepare for any outcome -- good, bad or indifferent. Though scary and difficult, you will appreciate your own self-respect and dignity (and so will others, even if they don't show it) that comes from staying true to your boundaries no matter the outcome.

Though that road may seem lonely to walk at the moment, remember that no one can take that honest feeling away from you staying on your intended course.

If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict at or on Amazon. In addition, my book is available as an audio on my website only.

For more by Carole Bennett, MA, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.