It’s easy to think of the values you want to pass on to your child, like patience, respect and compassion, but it can be difficult to know how to incorporate them into your own day to day life. If you are both a parent and a person with substance use disorder in recovery, it might be good to know that some of the lessons your kids need the most can also help you. We know that addiction recovery can improve your parenting. Here are three ways positive parenting will help you strengthen your recovery.
- Learn that feelings don’t have to make sense. Listening to your child and validating his/her feelings is the key to helping them avoid a life of self-doubt and internal criticism. Encourage your child to trust themselves by listening to their feelings; this in turn validates their internal perspective and sends the message that they can trust their intuition. Similarly, as you embark on your addiction recovery, you will likely begin to confront your own feelings, memories and experiences that make you feel a lack of confidence in your judgment or ability to make decisions. It can feel empowering to shut down your feelings entirely, which is what drugs/alcohol do, but by acknowledging how you feel and dispassionately observing how these feelings have affected your life, you’ll have a better chance of overcoming negative self-talk and harnessing the momentum of your hope and willingness to change.
- Redirect negative behavior. Sometimes parents struggle with the difference between validating a feeling and endorsing a specific behavior. For example, if a child becomes angry and acts out as a manifestation of her feelings, often the feelings are ignored and only the behavior is addressed. However, by recognizing where your child was coming from and encouraging him/her to try alternative ways of expressing themselves or resolving a problem, you are both empathizing with your child’s feelings and guiding them toward a better path. “I understand that you are angry and frustrated, but you may not hit your sister,” is an example of empathizing with feelings while redirecting behavior. As you begin your recovery, you may be alarmed by the overwhelming urge to use your drug of choice again, especially in emotionally difficult situations. Acknowledging this feeling and guiding yourself towards healthier coping mechanisms, that is separating feelings from impulsive actions, will strengthen your ability to handle stress over time without the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Redefine failure as growth. Children who think their self-worth is tied to certain achievements in school, sports or extracurricular activities can feel especially anxious when confronted with failure. But accomplishments do not define a person’s value and children who don’t succeed as they have imagined should be encouraged to see their experience as a learning opportunity. No one always wins. You too will have failures in your recovery. By expanding your own definition of success to include growth from disappointments, you will set a model for your children that allows them to be compassionate with themselves, no matter the obstacle they face or how long it takes them to meet their goals.
Entering and maintaining your recovery while parenting can be incredibly difficult. Teaching your children to trust their intuition, to put their energy into positive outlets and to get back up when they fall will instill them with self-confidence and determination. Even when you think you’re at your worst, as a parent in recovery, you’re still modeling for your child what it takes to be a responsible adult trying to build the best future possible for yourself and your family.