Noted author and researcher Brené Brown once said, “The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” Brown, sober for more than 20 years and a mother of two, never fails to be open about her humanness, and she stresses the courage of vulnerability.
We’re All Human
As parents, we often feel a shroud of perfection must cover us and our children. When it’s lifted to reveal we’re all simply human, it can be a bit of a shock. But Brown used her research in vulnerability, worthiness, shame, and courage as a platform for her book, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting. “It’s actually our ability to embrace imperfection that will help us teach our children to have the courage to be authentic, the compassion to love themselves and others, and the sense of connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life,” she said.
In an interview with The Fix, Brown said that decades after her decision to stop drinking, she “can’t separate anything powerful or good in my life from my sobriety…whether it’s being able to look at my kids and be proud of the way I’m raising them to [hold] onto a marriage.” After two decades, she still uses a 12-Step program to guide her through life’s trials and tribulations.
Now that you’re in recovery, how do you look at parenting? Are you accepting the opportunity to rebuild your family system, or do you feel fearful and guilty regarding past circumstances? Here are some ideas to focus on wellness for yourself and your children.
Put On Your Oxygen Mask First
As a person on a recovery journey, you have to ensure certain aspects of your health, and only then can you tend to others effectively. To do this with awareness demonstrates to your children why healthful behaviors matter for energy, temperament, and overall well-being.
However, this doesn’t mean the entire family universe completely revolves around you—your individual efforts are quite targeted:
- Review your continuum of care plan regularly with a trusted recovery advisor to make sure you’re on track, or modify it as needed to address current circumstances.
- Stay mindful of key triggers and stressors, and make time to soothe, relax, and recharge, even for a few minutes, before things get out of hand.
- Turn to trusted people in your support network who are also parents, and come up with better solutions together to avoid relapse and work through particular family challenges.
- Stick to your routines and rituals as much as possible to maintain a sense of control and balance, but learn to be flexible to accommodate what your children need.
For some people, the concept of “early” recovery might last a couple of years, not just for you, but for the entire family. It’s not enough to have your kids go to a support group—it’s important to include them in discussions about your attention to recovery, what they need to do for themselves, and how together, you’ll form a new family structure.
Allow for Honest Conversations
Depending on the age of your children, they may have many questions and opinions about addiction, your recovery, and what happened to the family as a result. Or they might be too young to really understand—but that doesn’t mean they didn’t sense trouble or feel tension.
Emotions of guilt, regret, shame, and blame are common for you and for them. So the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) stresses four messages to convey to your kids:
- Addiction is a disease. For younger children, some books help explain this, such as Stoney the Pony by Linda Myers or Daddy’s Disease by Carolyn Hannan Bell. Older kids might appreciate a more straightforward approach, such as Why Don’t They Just Quit? by Joe Herzanek.
- It’s not their fault. Children internalize so much from the people in their world. It helps them to understand they’re not responsible for the actions of others by sharing the seven Cs of addiction.
- They’re not alone. Many kids often feel they’re keeping a dirty secret about their parents’ addiction, and it eats them up inside. Introduce them to videos, such as this one produced by Sesame Street, that helps them see that addiction happens in other families, too.
- It’s okay to talk. NACoA provides numerous resources for effective discussion starters.
You can have certain conversations one-on-one, or it might be better to work with a family therapist so everyone understands that healthful living is an ongoing process, and open dialogue is encouraged. Improving communication within the family will help everyone feel better.
Make Time for Play
One of the suggestions Brown offers in her parenting book is to “engage in creativity and play as a family.” The Good Play Guide also supports this. While quiet, private play is good for children’s development and imagination, family play has benefits for all of you, including:
- Allowing everyone to relax
- Forming stronger relationships and happy memories
- Giving children a chance to contribute their ideas to feel part of the team
- Providing opportunities for better communication
- Helping kids learn different skills from all members of the family
Ask for Help
Parenting isn’t a natural ability for most of us—like any accomplishment, you can learn to do it better with proper guidance. Reach out to these resources for assistance:
- Active Parenting
- Here We Grow
- Parenting Advisor
- Simplicity Parenting
- The Family Nurturing Center of Georgia
Twin Lakes’ Family Recovery Program
Not only are we invested in your wellness, but also that of your family. We understand that the consequences of addiction trickle through every aspect of life for your loved ones. Fortunately, education, involvement, and support can create positive outcomes. Our Family Recovery Program helps your family form new bonds and embrace the process of healing and recovery for every person.