The parent-child relationship was designed to be special and powerful. Ideally, the parent is responsible for the child and is willing to sacrifice anything for the child’s wellbeing. The parent is the caretaker, nurturer, and voice of reality for the child. Unfortunately, I, and all parents fall short of the ideal. But when a parent fails at these things because of their own addiction, the child has significant and lasting effects to deal with. Many people ask me how they can help a parent who is struggling with addiction. While the answer is often complicated, rest assured, by following these action steps, you will have a powerful impact on both your addicted parent and especially, yourself.
Forgiving your parent. In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll forgive your parent for their addiction and all the other dysfunctions and hurts it caused you. Just as it may take an addict years to seek treatment, it can take children of addicts a long time to forgive their parents. But forgiving is a gift you give yourself.
- Giving up the destructive anger (think bitterness, hatred, revenge, spite, loathing, disgust, and wishing they were dead).
- Looking at your parent as someone who is hurting and needs help, just like you are hurting on some level and need help.
- Giving up the need to extract some kind of payment (apology, consequences, pain, suffering, finances, restitution, damage in their life, etc.) and putting that in God’s hands. Let God decide how much grace and how much punishment they will get. Just like God has in the past when you have done wrong. When you give up the need to extract a payment from them, they no longer have a power over you. Your life is no longer on hold waiting for something from them.
- Forgiveness: The Reason and the Responsibility (click here)
Forgiving is NOT:
- Acting like their dysfunction never happened.
- Forgetting what they did.
- Trusting them 100% like the addiction behavior never happened.
- Absolving them from any consequences for their behavior.
- Many more myths similar to this. So know the 3 steps of what forgiveness is and don’t get sucked into bogus forgiveness traps.
- Read more about forgiveness myths (click here)
Understanding your parent’s addiction. Understanding an addiction is often easier when the addict is somebody we don’t know. The reason is simple. When it is a stranger, our emotions are not wrapped up in or trampled by the addict. But when addiction happens close to, or in our home, we are infected and our functioning is compromised, so understanding and dealing with it well is a much bigger struggle.
Compound our struggles with our parent having the addiction, and it blows our mind. Our parents are supposed to be the ones that teach us what’s right and wrong, sacrifice for us, and love us above all else. Obviously, with an addiction, your parent had trouble doing any of those with any lasting degree of success. So it is important for you to separate the wounds your parent might have inflicted on you from their addiction so you can understand the addiction for what it is, and then be able to help you and your parent the best you can.
Don’t confuse love and trust. Having a parent with an addiction can be very confusing. Our natural tendency is to love our parents as they, more than anyone else, gave us life, cared for us, provided for some needs, and brought us up in the world with some degree of sacrifice. Unfortunately when a parent has an addiction this love can be very strained. As we try to heal this broken or strained relationship, and try to grow our love for our parent, we sometimes make the mistake of trusting our parent more than we should.
You see, trust is based on track record, not based on how much you love the person. Just because they say they want to do better doesn’t mean you can trust them to do better. Your love for them should be based on your desire to connect to them and your willingness to sacrifice for them. Love is based on who you are and in what you believe. Your amount of trust in your addicted parent should only move forward when your parent shows a track record of trustworthy behavior and decisions. If this improves you can trust them more and more with each improvement and milestone achieve. When they are struggling and their immediate track record is poor, you trust less, but can still love as much as ever.
Don’t waste time blaming yourself or your other parent. Often times I see children of addicts blame themselves for years and years for their parent’s addiction, even into their own senior years or long after their addicted parent has died. Conversely, I’ve seen them blame their other parent. Sometimes they’ll blame their grandparent for how they raised their parent or some abuse grandparents allowed to happen to their addicted parent. The environment can be the object of blame, such as being an immigrant, having no education, having a poor job, marrying the wrong person, a bad experience in war, and countless other scapegoats.
The truth is, lots of things played into your parent’s addiction, but no matter what you are blaming, it’s usually a waste of time. The goal right now is to figure out how to get your parent into a frame of mind to accept treatment, and then get them to a healthy environment to learn and practice new transformative skills while getting rid of the old ‘self-medicating’ or ‘quick-fix’ addiction behaviors and mindset.
Let your parent know you want to help, but have certain limits on what you can do. These limits can be finances, time, relational depth, trust, etc. The limits are usually based on either your present life circumstances or on what is a safe dynamic between you and your parent because of your past dysfunctional history together or present functioning level of both of you.
Some things you should do when trying to help an addicted parent:
- Set clear boundaries about communications (language, tone, etc), actions (including aggression), and behaviors (manipulation, decisions, functioning).
- Let them know you want to help, and show them it is Ok to accept help from their child instead of feeling the parent should only be helping their child, but not vice versa.
- Let them know the help is not conditional on anything. You just want to help them get better.
- Helping doesn’t always mean saying yes. In fact, saying ‘no’ is sometimes the most helpful and loving response. Be prepared to say no when your parent is asking you to do something that would harm you, others, or your parent’s chances at recovery and growing in a healthy direction.
- In these actions, you will be role modeling healthy behaviors for your parent and those who also deal with your parent to see and hopefully copy.
Finally, my Ebook, How to Help Your Addicted Child, has many explanations and tips to deal with any loved one struggling with addiction. Take time to read it to learn even more about your relationship with your parent and how you can help them find sobriety and transform their lives and relationship with you.
For more information, please feel free to contact us at Lighthouse Network at 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242). Our Care Guides are standing by, ready to help.