As addicts, we like to believe that our behaviors only damage ourselves. What we do is nobody else’s business. But this is a delusion crafted by the disease of addiction. In reality, our behaviors affect friends, relatives, co-workers and everyone we come into contact with. Most parents strive to be the best parents they can be. Given the hectic nature of our lives, this is not always an easy feat to accomplish. Parenting in addiction recovery makes thing even more difficult.
When we finally get sober and begin the lifelong journey of recovery, we set out to make right by our kids. But without positive role models and new parenting skills, we tend to inflict the same emotional injuries on our children that we swear we will never pass on. How can we put an end to the cycle? Parenting in addiction recovery is possible through education and a conscious effort to develop the tools for positive parenting. Parents in addiction recovery can become the parents we want to be rather than the parents we had. Read on to learn helpful tips for parenting in recovery.
Parenting in Addiction Recovery Issues
Research has shown that effective parenting is one of the most critical influences on healthy adolescent development—and for parents in recovery, parenting might be an even more critical factor given children’s heightened risk for problems with substance use. Parenting issues that appear to be especially relevant to parents in recovery are:
Overindulgence as a coping mechanism for guilt
Parents in recovery, just like all parents, should be encouraged to set limits, monitor and supervise activities and friends, and provide a structured environment that encourages responsible behavior.
All parents find it difficult to balance warm and supportive parenting with having to hold a child responsible for his/her behavior. But parents must realize that age appropriate rule-setting and positive discipline are necessary and will most likely lead to better child outcomes in the long-term.
Overcoming stigma from Parenting in Addiction Recovery
From a clinical point of view, there appear to be no clear strategies for helping a child—or recovering parent—overcome the stigma of drug or alcohol abuse. Recovering parents should expect to have to deal with the challenge and focus on the positive aspects of their recovery (for themselves as well as their children) and the new behavior patterns they have or are trying to establish.
There is no one best strategy for confronting the sensitive topic of past parental absences during the time when the parent was in the active stage of addiction. Many families find counseling helpful to overcome these issues. Ongoing open and honest discussions between parents and children can help as well. Parents need to keep in mind that children differ in their responses to such stressful life events, with some being much more sensitive than others. Also, as children grow older, their capacity for processing information and having discussions about such past events might improve.
Impact on Children
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 25% of American children live in a household where at least one parent has a drinking or drug problem. Substance abuse is involved in up to 61% of cases where Child Protective Services out-of-home placements. Problematic alcohol and drug use affects more than the substance abuser. Everyone close to the addict often suffers just as much – or maybe even MORE. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they have been victimized by someone else’s addiction.
This is particularly true in the case of young children who have an addicted parent. Children do not possess the necessary emotional maturity and life experience to allow them to separate from their parents’ illness. These children grow up with a warped perception of what normal life and healthy relationships should look like. The dysfunction they witness can follow them for the rest of their lives.
Parenting in Addiction Recovery – Tips for Success
Parenting Tip #1: Practice Self-Care
Like the airline flight attendants remind us every time we fly, we are of little use to our children if we don’t put our oxygen masks on first and then tend to their needs. Parents in recovery often feel a great deal of guilt and shame, particularly if their children have been exposed to their addictive behaviors, and overcompensate by setting aside their own needs. In order to preserve their sobriety and keep their families intact, it is critical for parents to take care of themselves and continue working their program of recovery. “Once sober, parents often feel that they should now be ‘super parents,’ says Dr. Corbitt. “But learning new parenting skills is a process that unfolds over time. While it requires ongoing effort and awareness, perfection is not the ultimate goal. Just as there are no perfect children, there are no perfect parents.”
Parenting Tip #2: Have Fun as a Family
Families struggling with addiction typically do not know how to have fun as a family, says Dr. Corbitt. While getting sober is a major milestone, it doesn’t mean parents have a clue how to prevent their children from facing the same obstacles they did. “Parents in recovery typically didn’t learn important life skills from their family of origin,” Dr. Corbitt explains. “Without education and role models, they have no reason to know what healthy family relationships look like.” As simple as it sounds, parents best serve their children by spending time with them having fun. Whether they spend the afternoon roller skating, walking the dog, baking cookies together or doing some other family activity, children need to learn that they can have fun without drugs or alcohol.
Parenting Tip #3: Focus on the Positive
In alcoholic or addicted families, parents expend a great deal of energy when a child does something wrong, but very little when they do something well. Dr. Corbitt advises, “Catch them doing something right.” Praising children for positive behavior rather than focusing on the negative promotes self-esteem and reinforces healthy behaviors.
Parenting Tip #4: Build a Sense of Community
“Addicted families tend to be terribly isolated,” says Dr. Corbitt. In an effort to avoid airing their dirty laundry, parents in recovery may retreat from relationships with other people. Instead, Dr. Corbitt recommends building a sense of community by participating in athletic teams, taking classes at the community center, joining a church or other religious organization, or otherwise taking advantage of whatever community opportunities exist. This way, both children and parents gain life experiences and role models in the broader community and feel a sense of belonging.
Parenting Tip #5: Accept and Validate Feelings
Whereas addicts think they’re responsible for the emotions of others, parents in recovery best serve their children by teaching them they aren’t responsible for anyone else’s feelings, says Dr. Corbitt. While they must treat others with compassion and empathy, they don’t have to “fix” it if someone else is struggling with difficult emotions. Similarly, children can be angry, sad and frustrated without their parents needing to rescue them.
Overcoming the Stigma of Substance Abuse
Our society’s opinions about substance abuse play a big part in the way we respond to those who get addicted to intoxicating substances. Although addiction is now recognized as a chronic disease of the brain, many substance users who desperately need help are still judged or condemned. Parents, in particular, are vulnerable to judgment, criticism, and legal repercussions because of the effects of substance abuse on their children. Condemning parents does not necessarily help them or their children. Instead, the social stigma against addicts and alcoholics discourages both parents and children from reaching out for help. As a result, many of the kids who grow up in households affected by addiction continue to suffer poor mental and physical health as adults.
Help for Parenting in Addiction Recovery
If you are a parent struggling with addiction and you want to work toward healing in your and your children’s lives, now’s the time to get help. Here at Daylight Recovery Center, we understand the importance of family involvement during treatment as addiction affects every family member. To talk to us more about how we can help you and your family, contact us today.