All parents face challenges, but those faced by parents in recovery can be particularly daunting. Addiction is painful and damaging for the addict, and all of the people in the addict’s life.
The children of people struggling with chemical dependency are especially vulnerable to the pain of addiction because it often robs them of the parental care they need.
The children of recovering addicts may be feeling abandoned and wary of their parents’ ability to care for them, even if they’re unable to vocalize these feelings.
In addition to learning how to navigate their lives without drugs or alcohol, recovering parents must help their children grow into healthy adults who will not themselves succumb to addictive behaviors.
To raise healthy children, parents in recovery must remember to remain accountable for their shortcomings. They must present themselves as reliable and trustworthy, teach their children appropriate emotional boundaries and relationship roles, and help children learn to have fun and foster a sense of belonging.
If you are hoping to become a social worker, you may encounter some of these issues with your clients who are recovering addicts. Let’s take a look at some parenting strategies for parents in recovery.
Take Responsibility for Previous Poor Parenting
Addiction can cause parents to check out of their children’s livesand can lead to neglect, absence and sometimes abuse. Even having a parent seek treatment can be traumatic for children, who may struggle to understand what’s going on.
Different children respond differently to stress. Addicts must talk to their children about their behavior while they were suffering from active addiction, and apologize for any harm they may have caused.
If the children in question are old enough to vocalize their feelings about their parent’s addictive behaviors, they should be encouraged to do so. Young children may not be able to express their feelings vocally, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Rather, they should be encouraged to express themselves in other ways, such as through art.
Relinquish the Need to Be Perfect
Once an addict is in recovery, he will probably struggle with guilt over the things he put his children through in the past. He may feel the need to make up for these shortcomings by becoming the perfect parent. Not only is this unnecessary, it’s impossible. No one can be a perfect parent because there’s no such thing. Being a good parent,though, is possible — and that’s all that matters.
The Importance of Having Fun
One of the most effective methods of raising healthy kids is to teach them how to have a good time without substances. Families should do things together everyone can enjoy — bake cookies, go camping, play sports or go for a bike ride. Not only will these activities teach children how to have a good time without drugs or alcohol, but they’ll also help repair relationships with their recovering parents.
Foster a Sense of Belonging
The children of addicts may feel the stigma of addiction as keenly as the addicts themselves. Furthermore, addiction can make children feel isolated from their community. That’s especially true when addiction becomes a family secret; even after parents enter recovery, they may choose to withdraw from others to hide their past.
This isn’t healthy for children. Not only do they need to feel a sense of belonging to a community, but they also need to learn how to build and maintain relationships with others. Recovering addicts should reach out to their community and encourage their children to do likewise.
Instill Healthy Emotional Boundaries and Coping Skills
People who succumb to addiction often don’t have healthy emotional boundaries. They may feel responsible for the feelings of others and may have a hard time coping with their feelings. Children should be taught that they’re not responsible for how others feel.
When children express their feelings, they should be acknowledged. Parents should express compassion, empathy and acceptance — but not treat their children’s feelings as problems to be solved. Instead, parents should teach them how to respectfully express their feelings. Allow them to explore ways to cope with negative emotions, like talking it out, exercising or making art.
Parenting in recovery may feel overwhelming, but effective parenting strategies can help raise healthy, happy kids. Effective parenting can repair the damage addiction may have done to a family and ensure children avoid succumbing to addiction themselves.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Marie Hendrix has been a social worker for the past decade.
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