Letting Your Kids (or Adult Children) Experience Suffering
At SCHC, we offer a family and couples program in addition to our primary drug rehab and alcohol treatment programs. Once a month, families of our clients (plus those who don’t have family members in the program) gather together with our counsellors to discuss and learn what they can do to prepare for their loved ones post-treatment and how they can play a positive role in relapse prevention and better quality of life for the recovering loved one and substance-affected family.
One major theme we see a lot among parents at SCHC is utter confusion to how one of their children developed an addiction. This is usually worded in ways such as “what could we have done more of or differently?” It’s possible that it wasn’t more of anything he needed, it was what you could have done less of that would have made a difference.
As parents, it’s natural to want to go above and beyond when providing for your children and making sure they succeed and flourish as they develop through life. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing! That is not something to be ashamed about. While some people use the word “enabler” to describe parents as people who led their child(ren) to this “destruction”, this is not how we see it. The parents we see have the best of intentions. They want to be supportive and accepting of their child’s life and they want make sure they can coach their children in certain ways that prevent them from making poor decisions. Even parents supporting a child’s addiction financially (sometimes referred to as a codependency) are only trying to ensure safety because they worry that the alternative is their children living on the street and resorting to criminal activity to support this addictive lifestyle.
You may have already guessed, then, that our suggestion to many parents is to “pull back”. Not pull back on emotional support, but on involvement. Being a private organization, we generally see very affluent families attend our family program who have paid for their adult children’s vehicles, homes/apartments, way through university/college, vacations, wardrobes, etc. Some of the things we hear from parents like this include:
“We keep giving him more and more and he keeps getting worse”
“He needed more help growing up. You know with friends and school. The rest of our kids didn’t need extra help and they turned out fine. We can’t figure out why Jack* continues to struggle.”
Do you identify with these reflections? Are you feeling a bit down about your situation? Don’t worry; there’s hope. We’ve seen it in the families at SCHC many times. A lightbulb goes off and they have immediate clarity.
For example, one mother told us that she continually bailed out her son whenever he ran into trouble. He’d call her upset and needing money for rent, food, utility bills, etc. Each time she’d respond by visiting and taking him out for lunch, talking about solutions and options, and then giving him some money before leaving. While attending our Family Program, this mother was advised to stop taking part in the “dance” (relationships patterns – he does this, you respond that) and next time instead of going in and essentially “saving the day”, just talk to him and provide encouragement. Sure enough, one day her son called her in a panic about finances, finding a job, and how everything around him was falling apart. This time, she replied “That’s too bad, Ben*. What are you going to do about it?”
If this sounds like a worrisome task to you as a parent, that’s because it is. She had some very anxious nights after making this decision. In fact, she phoned after the phone call worried that she made a bad decision. After a few conversations, she relaxed and was confident that Ben would be fine. A couple days later Ben had a job. Today, Ben has worked his way up to being a sous chef in a Vancouver restaurant and lives in a nice apartment with in stable, healthy, and happy relationship. Ben was able to become the author of his own life by no longer depending on others to determine his path. While Ben is just one example, doing less in situations like this is often the most effective tactic.
And did we mention he isn’t resentful? Many parents resist to decrease the amount they give to their child in fear that he or she will be mad. Even if they do get made initially, it is short term. The longterm gains they will receive from you stepping back will have far more benefits than continually providing for them.
For further information on this topic, take a look at the articles below and visit our family program webpage. Each article discusses ways to help your adult child embrace adulthood and pursue a meaningful existence that will ultimately result in a satisfying quality of life.
*Not his real name