If you grew up with an addicted parent, creating a new family of your own can bring up a whole range of unanticipated emotions.
Parenting is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking for everyone. But if you grew up with a parent with an alcohol or drug problem, you may be saying, “I don’t think I’m doing this right” more often than your friends. Without healthy role models or parental support to guide you, you may have questions and frustrations that set you apart from others.
But just because you feel unsure and incompetent as a parent doesn’t mean you are. One of the most important lessons for adults who grew up in substance abusing families is that there is no one way to be a family, no one right way to parent. And there are skills – trust, communication, problem-solving and discipline – that can be learned and developed, and can make the going a little easier.
Does coming from a substance abusing family influence me as a parent?
Adults whose own parents abused alcohol or other drugs do not all have the same level of knowledge about parental substance abuse and how it has affected them as adults and as parents. While you may know that with alcoholism or drug abuse, a person loses control of his or her use of these substances, you may also still believe (incorrectly) that somehow, you were responsible for your parent’s alcohol or drug problem.
As a child, you might have relied on a “coping style” to get you through things. While this behavior style allowed you to cope with your family situation back then, they might be causing problems for you now as a parent. Below is a list of situations that might feel familiar:
- Try too hard to be the perfect parent
- Demand more from a child than is realistic
- Take over tasks or problems the child could handle by him or herself
- Be overly concerned about the child’s health and safety
- Experience unusual stress or guilt
- Be afraid to set age-appropriate limits
- Have difficulty with child’s dependency needs.
- Be less emotionally available to a child while sad or depressed
- Find it difficult to pay attention to own needs
- Make light of a child’s feelings or deny your own
- Avoid intimacy, using humor to keep a child at a distance or to avoid dealing with problems.
- Be overly concerned the child will get into trouble, break the law
- Use one child as a scapegoat for family troubles
- Be physically or verbally abusive or fear doing so
These experiences do not have to last forever.
You can make changes that will affect both how you feel about parenting, and how your family interacts as a whole. Look into taking a parenting class. Talk with a counselor. Chat with a friend who also was brought up in a family challenged by addiction. Read up on the issue. Try to make connections between your own anxieties and fears about parenting and your experiences growing up. And remember to pay close attention to:
- Feeling unsure that you recognize “normal” when you see it
- Accepting both your own feelings, as well as those of your children
- Knowing what is age appropriate behavior for your child
- Maintaining authority, but avoiding excessive control
- Remembering to have fun with parenting and your children