4 Mistakes Parents Make When Their Children Get Sober
Early recovery is a tumultuous time for both the individual who just got sober and their parents. There are enough hopes, expectations and fears to make anyone look twice. While the ultimate success of someone’s recovery is going to be heavily dependent on their willingness, there are definitely factors on the side of the family that play an impact. Knowing what these are and understanding the biggest mistakes that parents often make in the beginning of their kid’s early can help prevent them from happening!
1. Expecting a Newly Sober Addict to Know What’s Best for Them
For those of us working in the addiction recovery field, it is surprising how often this happens. This is because for anyone dealing with active addiction, it is immediately obvious how fundamentally flawed this expectation is. The easiest way to explain this concept is with a sentence – “You cannot fix a problem with the same thinking that created it”.
Addicts in early sobriety are still trying to figure out which way is up and which way is down – a normal part of getting sober. So while there is nothing wrong with going through this phase, placing an expectation on the individual that while they are in it, they will be able to make healthy choices and decisions for themselves is setting them up for failure.
So what is the better way to handle this? Having a plan as a family. When parents take the time to do their research and get educated on the ins and outs of addiction, they are empowered to act as a unified front and guide their child down a path towards success. If education hasn’t taken place and their is no course of action to follow, the recovery process can easily get derailed by the addict. Parents should instead come up with a game plan and reach out to addiction specialists to help guide them through this process, instead of letting their child dictate the terms of their treatment.
2. Not Getting Involved in the Recovery Process
Following up on the previous point, many parents think that once their child has made their way into primary treatment or aftercare, they can leave everything up to the facility or program that their child went into. While parents are not expected to be addiction experts (a point we’ll discuss further a bit later), being in involved in the recovery process is hugely important.
Here’s why. Your child is going to go through a wide range of ups and downs throughout the first year or two of their sobriety. Parents that have taken an active role in learning about what recovery looks like, how the 12 steps work and what to expect as their child grows and changes are much better equipped to handle situations that will invariably arise much more effectively.
A big part of this is parents getting involved in their own recovery. Al Anon and other support systems are very important here. Many parents approach their child’s recovery with the mistaken belief that they don’t need to do any changing themselves. While it is not a parent’s fault that their child struggles with addiction, addiction is a family disease. When the whole family gets involved in their own recovery, unhealthy family dynamics that can contribute to relapse have a chance to get addressed and the whole family can heal. In the recovery field, we love watching this process happen! Entire families begin to recover, grow closer, and develop deeper, more authentic relationships.
3. Trying to Control the Recovery Process
Strange to recommend getting involved and then make a point to say don’t try to control things? While it may seem that way, these are two very different points. Parents often find themselves wanting to direct their child’s recovery -this is where the line between involvement and control is crossed. Take the time to learn about addiction and recovery and know what to expect, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the process is under your control. Once a loved one has gotten sober, understand that there are going to be times where you may not agree with direction they must take.
This can commonly come in the form of expectations that parents have about what should happen once someone has gotten sober. Rushing a newly sober loved one back into college or a career can be detrimental to their recovery. While parents want the best for their children, they often don’t have firsthand experience with actually getting sober. Patience is key here – trying to push a loved one to move towards things you want for them outside of their recovery can actually sabotage the process.
On an emotional level, Al Anon is again very helpful with this. Learning that as a parent, you didn’t cause addiction, you cannot cure it and you cannot control it can be very freeing. Al Anon can help you to understand where those lines exist and what a healthy amount of involvement looks like, without letting co-dependence color the relationship with your child.
4. Worrying Too Much About a Child Being “Comfortable”
If a parent has followed the first 3 tips, this one is much easier to understand! Al Anon, understanding how recovery works, and proper planning and up front work will usually leave parents in a place where they understand why creature comforts and luxury are less important in terms of helping a loved one achieve long term sobriety than internal work and character change. Even so, it can be hard for loving parents not to respond emotionally to a child’s cries that they need X, Y or Z.
A cell phone, a new car, more money, new clothes – none of these things are going to help someone get and stay sober. It is important for parents to understand that early recovery is always going to be uncomfortable. This is because maintaining sobriety involves looking at and changing internal issues that have been covered up by years of drug and alcohol use. To try and mask that discomfort with luxury provides a distraction from the work that inevitably has to be done if recovery is going to be sustained.