Being a Mother to an Addict

The role of a mother is no small thing.  It can be a heavy burden but can come with immeasurable rewards.  Nothing will challenge a woman more and nothing will reward her more.  From the moment a child is born, a mother takes on the feeling of having a huge responsibility but is given the ability to love more fiercely than she had ever loved before.

I have a brother who began to make some bad life choices in his teenage years.  He began to experiment with alcohol and drugs.  He abandoned almost all of the morals that my parents had worked hard to instill in us.  If there was a deep end to go off, he was looking for it, rigorously.  Needless to say, my mother experienced the deepest and most cutting pain she would ever experience during this time.   She took on a lot of guilt and responsibility for the lifestyle my brother was choosing to live.  Even now, over a decade later, she is still wounded daily by what happened.

There are two essential truths that every mother should understand and accept.  The first is that all parents make mistakes.  They make a lot of them.  It is true – ‘good parents’ does not mean ‘perfect parents.’  There isn’t a mother or father out there who couldn’t be doing better in some way.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to be better parents, but it does mean that we accept that we can’t be perfect and that all we should expect is to keep trying to be better.

The second truth is that at a certain age a child will have the power they need to make their own decisions.  Yes, a child’s decisions may be influenced by their parent’s teachings and example, but there are also no children who have not gone against some aspect of their upbringing.  There are no perfect children.  Your child cannot be a perfect decision maker and they will make some bad ones.

To the mothers of children with addictions, these two truths are crucial to your own healing process.  My mother should no longer hold my brother’s poor choices over her own head.  He cannot blame his decisions on her either, even if he thinks he can.  Your healing is as important as theirs and there are some things you can do to cope and heal yourself.

Remind your child that these were their choices, not yours.  You are willing to stand by them and support them, but these are consequences to decisions they made.

Offer assistance and support to the degree that you are able, both emotionally and financially.  Many parents go broke helping their children and in the end have only fueled and enabled them.  Some parents don’t give money but instead buy what their child needs.  If you are worried they are going to starve, buy them groceries instead of giving them money, as an example.

Offer to help your child get professional help and support, but if they refuse, don’t blame yourself.  No matter the relationship that exists between two people, one cannot help another if they don’t want to be helped.

Love your child.  Loving does not mean enabling.  Just as you loved your child when they were younger, you stand by them but expect them to be accountable for bad behavior.  Be consistent with how you have always loved them.  Make sure they know that being disappointed in someone doesn’t mean you love them less.

Don’t assume you can fix or rescue your child.  This is hard as a parent to realize, but trying too hard to fix them can cause them to create more distance or continue with bad decision-making.

Protect yourself and the rest of your family.  Even if your child may have to hit rock bottom, it does not mean that your family does.  Keep your family and your home a place of love and happiness like it always was and don’t allow your child to bring their fall to rock bottom to the rest of the family.

Love yourself.  Don’t put yourself on the hook for your child’s free agency.  Your role as a parent has no end. As your child grows older, the amount of responsibility you have for their actions decreases.  Their decisions and actions should not be tied to your worth and value, or to you as a mother.

Mothers, keep your heads up.  Thank you for the good you have given to so many of us.  Thank you for taking on your role with a bottomless love.  Thank you for never giving up.  You are more important than you know!

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