I’m in a season of my life where the majority of my married friends are getting pregnant, having babies or have one or two very young children. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit one of my best girlfriends who lives a few hours away from me. She’s eight months pregnant with a baby girl – her first – and everything about her is glowing: She was dressed in pink in honor of the baby girl, she’s beaming from ear to ear, and of course, the nursery is set up just so. She refused the decaf coffee I brought and filled me in on her prenatal exercise routine and diet.
From the moment parents find out that they are going to have a child, parents become more in tune to the fact that another life depends on their actions, words and behaviors. Parents, even-soon-to-be parents carry a heavy burden. Mothers and fathers alike realize that a tremendous amount of responsibility comes with bringing a child into this world and raising him or her. Many parents come to find themselves feeling that every choice they make from the first moment of conception and onward, will affect how their child grows up.
For the most part, these beliefs are absolutely true: We do play a huge role in our children’s physical and mental health, the choices they may or may not make, and how they are raised. As parents, however, we have no power to control unique personality traits, certain health and mental capabilities or physiological potentials.
Adult Children and Addiction.
For numerous reasons, watching an adult child slip into active addiction is devastating. As the mother or father of a person you’ve cared for and raised to your best ability, it can weigh heavier than any other challenge you’ve faced in your life.
When a child is young, you are in control: You can take things away, assign chores or discipline a young child. Regardless of whether or not the outcome was what you intended, you at least felt as though you were able to do something.
When a child is a grown adult, we don’t have that same power or control – but we still have the same maternal or paternal worries and instincts. When a child is a grown adult and is addicted to drugs or alcohol, we can feel an even more weighted burden and sense of social responsibility for them. We also can feel helpless.
With over 23 million Americans addicted and in need of treatment, only about 10% of people with an addiction actually seek and receive that help. If you are feeling hopeless and helpless towards your adult child’s addiction you may feel as though you have run out of options. Below are some things to keep in mind:
Truly Understand Addiction.
Yes, you are living through addiction and its devastating effects every single day. You know what it is like to love a person whose sole priority revolves around drinking or drugging, and you know the fallout from it. However – do you truly understand addiction?
Before you make one more plea or get into one more argument with your addicted son or daughter, compile as much information as possible to understand what your child is dealing with – and what options they have. Because addiction is so complex and complicated and can trickle through the entire family system, it’s crucial to navigate thoroughly.
If your adult child was sick with any other disease, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to research extensively and ask for help. Despite any fears, guilt or shame you may feel about addiction – the process of seeking advice and help should be no different than any other disease.
Realize You Can’t Redo or Undo.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Even the best parents make mistakes and all of us can somehow, someway do a better job. However, once a person is a grown adult, there’s no reset button to undo anything from their childhood. All you can do is move forward and find solutions for right now.
Acknowledge Your Child Is an Adult.
As an adult, your child has all the power to make his or her own decision – and also no right to blame their parents for the decisions they make and continue to make. Is your child choosing drugs over detox? Alcohol over rehab? Regardless of anything you did or didn’t do for them through their childhood, they have a responsibility each day to make their own choices – and no matter how hard he or she may try to place the blame on you, you are not responsible for their ongoing choices.
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As a parent, you’re likely not only be grief-stricken and distraught over your child’s addiction – but you’re also angry, concerned and overwhelmed. With all of the emotions cycling through your head, it’s difficult not to approach an addicted loved one in a whining, nagging or emotionally-charged conversation.
An approach that is more practical than emotional can be a difference-maker. Your son or daughter doesn’t know how to get help – all he or she knows is the drug or the drink. Even if he or she knows that a change needs to be made, it’s likely they don’t know how to do it. Be prepared to present a few real options – not just idle threats or emotional pleas. By being ready to provide answers and options, you’ll be better equipped to face his or her objects with logical answers and minimal emotions.
However, if he or she still refuses help – you cannot blame yourself.
Love Your Child.
Your child and the addiction are two separate entities: Your son is not heroin addiction and heroin addiction is not your son. You are allowed to differentiate between loving your child and hating the disease of addiction. Remember that loving your son or daughter does not include enabling; it means keeping them accountable for their behavior.
If you’re unsure of where to draw the line on enabling and loving, this is a great guide.
For some parents, this may be the most difficult advice of all. From the moment you conceive a child, your life changes forever – and that new role has no end point, regardless of the age of your son or daughter. However, as your child becomes an adult, your responsibilities and roles evolve and lessen. Loving yourself, as the parent of an addicted son or daughter means accepting your limits, drawing your boundaries and keeping yourself healthy in an unhealthy situation.