Parents give unconditional love, which is one of the most powerful and purest things in the world. Parents just want to help their son or daughter; they want to do everything they can to make life better, no matter how their adult child has treated them throughout their active addiction. If you have an adult child in addiction recovery, there needs to be some awareness of behaviors that could harm your loved one or hurt the relationship.
This purity in rooted in good intention and unconditional love, but sometimes, the behaviors of a parent need to be re-routed to do what’s best for their adult child— no matter how hard it may be. What happens with families who are strained from addiction, is a distortion of natural parenting. Things parents have an instinct to do, are taken advantage of by their adult child and also, these instincts make work to hurt their adult child as opposed to help them.
What is Natural Parenting?
Natural parenting is essentially the natural parenting style in which parents work to seek and fulfill their child’s needs. Natural parenting techniques are nurturing and strengthen an attachment-type connection.
Addiction distorts natural parenting because addicts and alcoholics use the style of getting their needs met, to their own detriment. For example, if an addict asks their parents for money for food, but instead they use the money for drugs. Parents are eager to meet their child’s needs by providing the money, but then the money is funding self-injurious behavior on behalf of the addict.
Some Behaviors Resulting from Natural Parenting
It is a natural parenting instinct to seek and meet an adult child’s needs. As a result, some problematic behaviors ensue, including…
Enabling is when you help your adult child do something. You could be enabling them to behave in a certain way, enabling them financially, etc. Parents who enable often keep their adult children from experiencing the consequences of their actions, which over time leads to a complete lack of responsibility and accountability. Enabling parents will help their adult children too much, in the wrong ways. Enabling parents also leads to manipulative adult children. You must let your adult children take care of themselves.
Co-dependent parents have the tendency to help their adult child do something that the adult child could do for themselves. The reason for this is because helping their child do something, gives the co-dependent parent the feeling of accomplishment— their actions are often driven by both good intentions and the need to feel needed. Co-dependent parents often have self-esteem that is dependent on their adult child; the parent’s ability to successfully “help” their child gives them self-esteem.
Cheerleading is when parents excessively provide words of encouragement and positivity. This is an extremely natural instinct for parents, but the affect is less than helpful. You could be “cheerleading” your adult child if you constantly provide words of wisdom, encouragement, and spend most communication with your adult child trying to motivate them. “You are so smart” “You are special” “Anyone would be lucky to…” etc. Cheerleading parents spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to help their child be happy and avoid pain. This sounds like a non-issue, however, cheerleading parents don’t let their adult children fail— which is an essential part of life and independence. Parents need to move away from being their adult child’s cheerleader, and more towards empowering their adult children.
Because addiction often leaves adult children in the dependent position, parents have a natural instinct to swoop in and help. Micro-managing your adult child can make you feel like you have control over an unmanageable situation, but it works against you and your relationship with your adult child. You cannot take charge of your adult child’s life in a helpful way, your adult child needs to learn how to take charge of their own life.
Many times, a parent’s response will change on behalf of their adult child’s behavior. This is a normal and natural instinct, like a model of behavior and consequences, however, to avoid inconsistency, parents need to set boundaries for clarity. Setting boundaries instead of changing reactions based upon behavior, will show your adult children how to properly operate in healthy relationships. Every healthy relationship needs boundaries. Boundaries also serve as the indicators for a change in circumstances, for example— “if you relapse, do not call me for help” may be a boundary, which speaks to a negative behavior meeting a consequence. Inconsistency can be shown as an example like unspoken disapproval for using, followed by ignoring your adult child’s phone calls if they choose to use drugs again. Boundaries will provide clarity, like written rules for certain behaviors and their consequences on the relationship.
Invalidation is countering emotional disclosure with advice or evidence that contradicts or dismisses your adult child’s emotion. Invalidation can come from the intention of making your adult child feel better, which is why it’s a behavior that can stem from natural parenting. If your adult child is sharing how they feel with you, like for example telling you that they are sad, it is a natural parental instinct to try and make them feel better, make sense of the emotions, or offer evidence that contradicts the emotion in an attempt to change their mind. This behavior is invalidating. You may be invalidating your adult child’s emotions without even realizing it. Some examples of invalidation include: (AC = adult child, P= parent)
AC: “I feel depressed.” P: “But you’ve been smiling all day! It seems like you had fun today.”
AC: “I’m scared about my future.” P: “You have always gotten good grades, you always had a clear direction, you’ll be fine!”
AC: “I feel like you aren’t listening when you interrupt me to say something.” P: “You’re wrong for feeling like that because I am listening.”
It is natural for parents to know how their adult child is doing, and wanting to know more about their adult child’s circumstances in order to better grasp how they can fit in and help. If you are asking your adult child probing questions, you could be doing more harm than good. Excessively asking probing questions can make your adult child feel a lack of privacy, a lack of boundaries, and leave them feeling like a child. It is important to respect and protect any boundaries your relationship with your adult child adheres to. Give your adult child space to build their life and gain a sense of stability in self.
It’s hard to disregard your natural instincts to give advice to your adult child, however, you need to resist the urge in order to give your adult child room to grow. It is so important to foster a relationship that allows for independence. Your adult child will always be your child, but you can’t treat them as a child forever. Give your adult child space to grow and learn for themselves. This includes keeping unsolicited advice to yourself, no matter how hard that may be. A good rule of thumb is only to provide advice when it is explicitly asked for.
The recovery process will be a series of trials and tribulations that your adult child needs to navigate by his or her self. Of course, they will have guidance and support, but your adult child no longer needs someone to step in and take care of things for them. Recovery requires making some mistakes, the degree of those mistakes and their impact is up to your adult child in recovery. Our guests learn all about building sober support networks, which will consist of strong and sober individuals who will provide guidance, support, advice, dependability, etc. to help you adult child through the recovery process.
For family members, restructuring the nature of your relationship with the recovering addict or alcoholic is one of the most challenging things to work on. Royal Life Centers offers services for family members to ensure this transition is successful, for the best interest of both the recovering addict and their families.
How Can You Support Your Loved One in Recovery?
Here are some ways to support your loved one as they recover from addiction:
Instead of enabling your adult child, empower them. Help them help themselves. This is the most loving thing you can do for your child or loved one in addiction recovery. Empowering your adult child requires you acknowledging that your adult child can and will make mistakes, recognizing that they have that freedom is empowering them in their choices.
If your loved one is visiting you, stay sober in their presence. Even if you yourself are not an alcoholic or have any addiction issues, it is necessary to protect your loved one’s sobriety by not triggering them.
Encourage, without cheerleading
Offer some words of encouragement that are laced with empowerment, like “I know you can do this!” “I am confident in your capabilities!” and “I know you will figure it all out”. These words of encouragement are empowering, and support your adult child taking on a role of independence as opposed to dependence.
Setting boundaries will clarify and strengthen your healthy relationship with your adult child. You can decide which boundaries to set, based upon your own needs and wants from the relationship— your adult child should also set their own boundaries for the relationship. An example of a boundary you might set could be: “I go to sleep at 10 pm, if you call me after 10 pm then I won’t answer your phone call— unless it is an emergency.”
All healthy relationships should have reciprocity. This means that there is equal give and take efforts for both people in the relationship. Fostering reciprocity is supportive to your loved one, because it sets a solid example for how healthy relationships operate.