Substance addiction and abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer. It wreaks havoc to everything and everyone it touches without any discrimination.
When addiction touches families, specifically parents, the outcome is devastating. It damages the family dynamics and erodes trust, a vital component for children’s development. As such, kids with parents battling substance abuse are deprived and do not get their needs met.
Parenting means caring about your child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs, but when a parent is in the grip of an addiction, caring for children takes a backburner. Regrettably, drug-endangered children display certain emotional and negative behaviors like aggression, school failure, relationship problems, depression, and apprehension.
Equally frustrating, the hopelessness and fear for a parent battling keep children in a flight/fight mode, which is devastating physically and mentally.
However, not all is lost. Many parents start on the difficult journey of addiction recovery but without learning new parenting skills and having the right support, the parent in recovery risks inflicting further injuries to their kids.
But, can we end this emotional cycle?
Yes. Through conscious effort and sobriety, parents in recovery can adapt and learn positive parenting skills to break the emotional cycle and build a robust parent-child relationship.
With that in mind, let’s explore how parents can cope while dealing with addiction recovery.
Challenges parents in recovery face
Parenting, on its own merits, is quite difficult. When you throw in addiction recovery, the task becomes overwhelming for any individual.
The recovery process comes with a ton of challenges that can cause you to relapse. Identifying the challenges enables parents in recovery to be aware of them and nip them in the bud. These challenges include:
- Having unrealistic expectations;
- Overcoming the stigma associated with addiction and recovery;>
- Re-creating broken family dynamics, trust issues, and communication problems;
- Unable to balance between their recovery needs and parenting commitment;
- Preventing relapse.
Many other factors can contribute to relapse; from boredom to financial pressure, and difficulties at work.
To overcome these challenges, prevent relapse and rebuild family relationships, some parents opt to incorporate the whole family in their recovery, therapy process, but many others, due to fear, shame, and guilt, want to undergo the process alone.
There is no good or bad choice, it’s simply a matter of finding what works best for you. Parenting and coping with recovery is a learning and relearning process.
Addiction recovery and parenting coping tips
Self-care is addiction recovery oxygen. It enables you to put your feelings and needs first, ensuring you get in touch with them and process them in a healthy manner.
Embracing sobriety means taking care of your physical and mental health well enough to fulfill other responsibilities.
Remember, shame and guilt may overtake your recovery process, especially if your kids were exposed to your addictive behaviors. Picking up the pieces is hard but avoid overcompensating for the lost time and embrace self-care first.
Integrate recovery treatment with self-care activities like:
- Eating well-balanced and nutritious meals;
- Engaging in different physical activities like the gym, walking, running, and dancing;
- Sleeping enough, roughly 8 hours;
- Embracing stress reliever’s activities like meditating, praying, yoga, volunteering, reading, or listening to music, knitting, gardening, and any other activity that engages and calms your mind.
Self-care enables parents in recovery to gather the strength needed to preserve their sobriety and become great parents.
Expect and accept dynamic family changes.
An addictive parent fosters a dysfunctional family system that causes emotional and physical barriers, creating unhealthy ways of relating.
For this reason, becoming sober entails facing the damage and changes caused by your addictive behaviour. However, accepting these changes and learning new healthy ways and tools of relating to your loved ones will enable everyone to work on fine-tuning their behaviour as well.
Rebuilding a robust family system takes commitment, time, communication, and effort from everyone. Don’t become discouraged if your child has trust issues or doesn’t adjust immediately to you. Listen, be consistent, and keep doing the right thing. They will eventually learn to trust you again.
Become aware of your addiction triggers and stressors
Identifying the situations, places, people, and emotions that threaten your sobriety will you help to cope with parenting and recovery.
For example, while a child can motivate a parent’s sobriety, parenting difficulties and responsibilities can become an addiction trigger. Maybe you have a smart-mouthed, moody teenager or a toddler at the terrible-twos phase, whose behaviour pushes you to the brink of relapse.
After starting recovery, triggers and stressors will become a regular confrontation, but embracing practical and healthy ways will reduce chances of relapsing.
However, unexpected triggers will happen; it’s normal. Tune into your emotional and physical responses to overcome such episodes. Ideally, use your support system to identify and overcome your triggers.
Express your feelings
Recognizing and confronting your emotions helps parents in recovery to accept and take ownership of their addiction. Sometimes, admitting addiction problems is the hardest part, but expressing your feelings leads to taking ownership.
Ownership involves admitting your addiction problems and the damage they have caused, identifying your triggers and taking responsibility for your recovery.
Focus on positive steps instead of negative ones. This reinforces healthy behaviors, promotes self-esteem and leads to better parenting.
For example, for parents in recovery, instead of hiding your recurring emotions like panic, expressing, and dealing with it helps your kids to understand the power of dealing with negative behaviors and emotions and serves them well in their lives.
Changing and embracing new parenting skills and becoming sober doesn’t happen overnight. You need patience.
While parents in recovery may wholeheartedly embrace sobriety, kids may be more cautious. Perhaps you tried sobriety and relapsed. It’s going to take your kids a while to catch up with you.
Remember, kids hide their pain but act out in aggressive and unruly behavior like back talking or becoming extroverts or introverts. Learn to validate and understand their pain and where there are in the process.
Being patient enables your loved ones to adjust to the newly sober you. The key remains to be consistent with your sobriety and behavior.
Embrace family fun activities
Families undergoing addiction problems typically don’t engage in family fun activities.
Show your kids you care by listening to them, talking, and doing the activities they love. This creates an effortless way of rebuilding trust and creating a sense of family.
Whether spending time roller skating, baking cookies, walking the dog, reading, watching movies, or listening to music, or supporting their interests, you need to embrace having fun without the presence of substances.
Build new routines
Chances are you weren’t around much during your addiction years.
Now that you have embraced sobriety, start creating and building new routines that incorporate your little ones.
Ask your kids about their daily habits. Don’t expect them to change their daily routines to suit yours now that you are back. Instead, it finds ways to slot into their routine.
Some routines you can embrace include:
- Cooking dinner together
- Cleaning together or packing their meals
- Driving them to their activity practice or school
Remember, don’t force all routines at once. Participate in one or two activities and slowly integrating their routines makes it easier for both you and your kids.
Rebuilding your sense of parenting after an addiction happens gradually, and it doesn’t happen on your timeline. Instead, it’s rebuilt on continued sobriety, parental love, and positive behaviour. Forgive yourself, say sorry, focus on progress, not perfection, and show unconditional love.
Remember, kids are astonishing sponges when it comes to parental love. A display of your heartfelt expression, interest, and unconditional love can rekindle the lost relationship. Besides, whether 3, 14, or 55, children look up to their parents for guidance and support. So, it is your duty to continue setting clear boundaries, expectations, and communication, it’s never late to break the cycle of unhealthy relationship patterns.
About The Author: Christopher G. Aiello
Mr. Aiello has a reputable 30+ year trajectory in law practice. Having been selected for multiple recognitions and awards, he practices in the Superior Court of New Jersey in both the trial court section and the appellate divisions, the Workers’ Compensation Court, and Municipal Courts. He has appeared in dozens of televised, print, and internet media. Now, he’s dedicated to his law firm Aiello, Harris, Marth, Tunnero & Schiffman P.C.