Recovery does not happen in isolation. We recover in relationship with others, and here at Northwest Counseling and Wellness we start with a recovery group. That circle expands to include our families and friends, and eventually, the community at large. Each of these “families” can support you in sobriety, and may also present challenges to that sobriety on occasion. Children, in particular, have a way of being endearing and infuriating simultaneously. They have needs that only you as a parent can meet. And if these needs go unmet they will become demands, in the form of louder or more aggressive requests, acting out, and more.
Substance abuse is often characterized by rifts in relationships, including difficulty with parent-child relationships. In fact, parents in recovery often cite their children as a primary source of inspiration to get well. Using a substance may have inhibited your ability to connect with your child, as well as your child’s ability to feel securely attached to you. And being sober when confronted with the daily challenges of parenthood may bring with it a whole host of new emotions, adding to the complexities of staying sober.
In much the same way as you learn to recognize and meet your own emotional needs in the recovery process, you will need to learn (or re-learn) how to recognize and meet your child’s needs. All children need to feel secure and loved in order to thrive. Children who have a parent in recovery may also need to make sense of a relationship disrupted or altered by substance abuse, and learn to feel safe and secure with a newly sober parent. As with adult relationships that have been changed by substance use, it can take time to rebuild trust. One way to jumpstart this process is to listen. Really listen to your child, and communicate clearly that you have heard them. This takes some practice. Just as you may have learned over time to meditate and be mindful about your own feelings, you are teaching your children to be mindful by inviting them into a safe space to share those feelings with you. When they have the opportunity to access their own emotions and share them and feel understood, they develop the capacity to trust – both in you and in themselves.
Try listening for the feeling in something your child shares with you. “I’m no good at math,” may translate to, “I’m worried I’m not smart.” Reflecting that feeling back to your child (“It sounds like you are wondering how you compare to the other kids, but I am so proud of you for always trying.”) can help them feel connected and understood. And with a little practice and a lot of love, you can be the person to help your child feel that way.
Mandi Melendez is a recent graduate of Texas State University’s Masters of Counseling program. She completed her counseling internship at NCWC in December 2013.
(512) 250-WELL (9355)
We are available from 9am until 5pm, Monday-Friday.
We are closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Northwest Counseling & Wellness Center
12335 Hymeadow Drive
Austin, TX 78750