7 Tips for Parents In Recovery

Dani La Barrie,LCSW,QS,CAP

SFYB Senior Author Dani LaBarrie 

I recently facilitated a group therapy session with young adults between the ages of 21 and 28. About half of the clients in my group therapy session had children. Although there are a significant amount of resources and help for parents OF people in recovery, it took a little extra digging to find information for those in recovery who have children.

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Adults in recovery face many day-to-day challenges, and for those who are parents, maintaining good relationships with their children can be both rewarding and daunting at the same time. Addressing parenting issues during various stages of recovery can lead to enhanced quality of the parent-child relationship, especially during adolescence. Research has shown that effective parenting is one of the most critical influences on healthy adolescent development – and for parents in recovery, parenting might be an even more critical factor given children’s heightened risk for problems with substance use. I have put together a small list of tips and recommendations for those who are in recovery AND are also parents:

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Tip #1: Practice Self Care As the old saying goes, “you must take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.” We are of little help to our kids, if we are not taking care of our own needs. Parents in recovery tend to feel a great deal of guilt and shame, especially if their children have been exposed to their addictive behavior(s). As a result, they overcompensate by taking care of their child’s needs before their own – putting their own needs aside. In order to encourage a healthy family relationship, it is critical for parents to take care of themselves and continue working their program of recovery.

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Tip #2: Have fun as a family! People in recovery are typically learning how to live and enjoy life not using substances; therefore, this struggle can carry over into the family relationship and dynamic. While getting sober is a major milestone, that doesn’t mean that parents have the skills in preventing their children from facing the same obstacles they did. Parents in recovery might not have had a healthy relationship in their own family when they were children, therefore they may not know what a healthy family relationship looks like. Parents can best provide for their children by simply spending time with them and having fun. Some ideas include spending an afternoon rollerskating or at a nearby park, walking the dog, baking cookies together, or some other family activity. Children need to learn they can have fun without drugs or alcohol.

 

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Tip #3: Focus on the Positive Some parents expend a great deal of energy reprimanding children and focusing on what they’ve done wrong, but do very little when children do something well. Try to catch your child doing something right and be sure to praise them immediately afterwards. Praising children for their positive behaviors, rather than their negative helps build their self esteem and reinforces healthy behavior.

 

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Tip #4: Build a Sense of Community Parents in recovery sometimes have a tendency to withdraw and isolate themselves from others. Building a sense of community, whether that’s through joining a community athletic team, taking classes at a community center, joining a church or other religious organization, helps parents and children gain life experiences and role models in the broader community. It also helps foster a sense of belonging.

 

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Tip #5 Accept and Validate Feelings. Parents in recovery can best serve their children by teaching them they are not responsible for other people’s feelings. While they must treat others with compassion and empathy, they don’t have to “fix” it if someone else is struggling with difficult emotions. Similarly, children can be angry, sad and frustrated without their parents needing to rescue them.

 

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Tip #6 Assume Flexible Family Roles. Alcoholic and addicted families have assumed rigid and dysfunctional family roles. One is sick, another is a caretaker, another is the superhero and so on, and any deviation from those roles puts the whole family into a tailspin. In healthy families, each member plays a role, but those roles are flexible. For example, if the caretaker gets sick, others step in and care for them, and vice versa. People shift in and out of roles as the situation requires.

 

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Tip #7 Find help for them (and you). Consider family therapy (often called multidimensional family therapy, or MDFT) so you can work toward improving your relationship in a structured setting under the guidance of a trained professional. In these sessions, every member of the family has a voice, with the goal of improving relationships, communication and the family’s home life. In addition, you may need to arrange for individual counseling for your child — especially if he/she is overly anxious or withdrawn; sleeping too much or not enough (a sign of depression); lashing out at classmates or teachers; or exhibiting signs of a drug or alcohol problem. For teens, support groups like Alateen may also be beneficial.

As children get older and begin making decisions of their own about drugs and alcohol, parents may feel that they’ve lost all influence. No matter how much it feels that way, I encourage parents to continue communicating and setting clear expectations and boundaries. It’s never too late to change unhealthy relationship patterns, and our children look to us for support and guidance whether they are 2, 15 or 50.

Parents have always been and will always be the most important influence in their children’s lives. Learning how to parent with flexibility, joy, and community will dramatically decrease the number of teens finding friendship and self-soothing in a bottle.

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Dani La Barrie,LCSW,QS,CAP
Chief Executive Officer at Affinity Treatment Solutions, Inc.
Danielle “Dani” La Barrie has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Florida International University. Ms. La Barrie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as a Certified Addictions Professional in the state of Florida.

She has worked as a mental health therapist in the Department of Juvenile Justice System in Broward County, as a school-based therapist in the Florida Keys, as an in-home family therapist providing intensive therapy to at-risk youths, and as a clinical director of substance abuse treatment centers.

Danielle has fulfilled the role of clinical director at multiple substance abuse treatment centers that provide partial hospitalization programming with community housing, intensive outpatient, outpatient, and aftercare services. She has significant experience with clients who suffer from substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, dual diagnoses, personality disorders, addictive behaviors, and codependency.

Assisting in other start-up treatment centers, helping to build programs from the ground up, as well as being hired to improve programs that were running inefficiently has provided Danielle the knowledge and skill set to open a treatment center. Allowing her to branch out and utilize what she has learned to do (and not do) in order to have a successful center that also assists clients in being the best they can be. Let me help you today!

Many thanks to Robert Henslee and Stop Frying Your brain you guys totally rock !!
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