Parenting in Recovery
The path of addiction recovery is different for everyone: we all have individual needs, concerns, and unique situations that impact our sober journeys. We also recognize that our recovery affects more than just our lives, but those of the people we hold dear. But what about when those people include children- your children? The decision to lead a sober lifestyle will certainly help them in the long run, but what about now? How are you supposed to parent while managing your recovery?
We’re glad you asked.
Facing the challenges and triumphs of parenting while in recovery can seem overwhelming, but sticking to these five tips can make all the difference. Here’s our how-to guide to parenting in recovery.
Assert Yourself as the Parent
This may feel wrong, especially when you are reintegrating back into the household, but you must remind yourself and your children that you are the parent. Don’t allow guilt or regret for lost time turn you into a doormat. Children need the security and structure of having adult authoritative figures who they can turn to for guidance; if that is lacking it leads to chaos in the home.
That doesn’t mean you have to come in as a dictator: screaming, harsh punishments, and super strict rules will only work against you. Assert yourself as the parent through consistency, being present, and guidance. If there is already a routine and rhythm in place, disturb it as little as possible. It will take time, but in the end your relationship will be better for it.
Be Empathetic, Not a Pushover
Addiction is complicated- so much so that most adults don’t fully grasp it unless they’ve experienced it themselves. For young children and teens, wrestling to understand the hows and whys of substance abuse and recovery is difficult and can evoke complex emotions. Parenting in recovery is about knowing this beforehand and being prepared to help your child cope.
However, don’t allow yourself to become a pushover. Harboring guilt for past mistakes or the emotional fallout of your old habits won’t help your children in the long run. Allowing them to take advantage of you under the guise of making up for the past never works. You have to be understanding, empathetic, and compassionate, but still in a position of authority as the parent. Recognize acting out as the cry for attention that it is and address that underlying cause, just like you did for yourself in rehab. Above all else, make sure your children know you are always available to listen.
Speaking of acting out, a lot of anger and backlash may come your way, especially from older children and teens. Children have not yet developed the ability to properly cope with complex emotions or understand situations involving substance abuse disorders. Lacking these coping mechanisms, those emotions often come out in the form of anger: back talking, slamming doors, screaming matches, etc.
Learn to listen beyond the anger and translate it into what your child is actually trying to express to you. There is pain in addiction, on all sides; the sooner you are able to help your child work through it, the better in the long run. And that’s not to say you have to do it alone. Resources are available to you and your children for dealing with their feelings. Family therapy, individual therapy, and family support groups go a long way in bridging the gaps between family members, people in recovery, and others who are parenting in recovery.
For Older Kids, Be Transparent
When it comes to addressing your own battle with addiction with your children, knowing when to breach the topic is tricky. Some say you should be completely honest from the very beginning, while others say not to reveal your past at all due to fear of encouraging negative behavior. Really it boils down to who your child is as an individual and when you believe they will be able to fully comprehend what you’re saying. When parenting in recovery, it’s also up to you to decide just how much of that story you are willing to share.
Taking the time to talk to older children and teens about what addiction is and your experiences with it can be just as important as the sex talk in terms of prevention. Explain how addiction impacts the brain and body, what causes addiction, and how there are better means of dealing with life and its challenges. Because substance abuse disorders have genetic ties, speaking to you children can keep them from travelling down the same unfortunate path you once traveled. Open the channel for clear, non-judgmental communication.
Lead By Example
Do as I say, not as I do doesn’t work. When it comes to teaching your children, you have to lead by example. Show your children hard work pays off and mistakes don’t define who you are or your future. Through your dedication, discipline, and determination you can teach your children to work for the life they want and deserve.
Beyond that, teach your children a lesson on being non-judgmental. Show them that people are more than what they may appear by taking them with you to recovery events and awareness rallies. Do volunteer work, especially during this holiday season. We need more well-rounded people to help shape our futures and further the fight to improve lives everywhere.