Stress is rampant in our modern day world. From a long list of stressors in families, substance abuse often rises to the top.
What strikes me most when this kind of stress invades a home and lingers is the impact on children. We often hear addiction is a family disease but fail to address the needs of children who are living in this kind of painful family system. The effects of addiction can impair a child’s psychological health and render emotional scars which may last for years.
Due to the denial inherent in the disease of addiction, children may observe their parents becoming defensive and upset when attention turns to their addictive behavior. They learn to keep quiet and avoid the subject. The’ no talk’ rule blossoms under such conditions. The fear of creating more stress holds children in a state of anxiety.
Our children’s need for frank authenticity and clear communication must be addressed. In order to improve family relations, we must learn to break the silent nature of addiction.
Of course, I must mention the obvious. The healing process is generally gradual. This does not always jive with our quick-fix mentality, but must be understood and accepted in order to make steady progress and lasting improvements.
Additionally, to be forthcoming about my position, I must express my truth. I believe children do not need ‘fixing’. Assistance, Yes.
Support, Definitely. Modeling, Certainly- but ‘fixing’ implies some outside force will adjust and alter a child to our liking. I do not find this to be the kind of long-lasting help children need.
We all realize the value of communication as a way to emotional health and healing. We claim we want our children to be comfortable with a broad range of feelings and be empowered to express themselves.
One of the best ways to help children express their feelings is to practice and model this skill ourselves. If we want to help our children, we must first help ourselves. We must do the hard work of expanding our feelings vocabulary and speak openly and honestly with children when appropriate. We must show them how to manage and share their feelings.
Some of us teach our children about feelings while we’re learning about them ourselves. No matter. What greater gift than allowing our children to witness our own growth and development in this area.
Efforts to communicate better can be accomplished by attending a self-help group, working with a counselor, relying on a support group and/or journaling.
Through these efforts we are better prepared to speak to our children about the challenging topic of addiction and recovery. We are able to engage in open exchanges and join in on-going conversations.
Conscious parenting requires us to move away from ‘automatic pilot’. We must find opportunities on a daily basis to slow down and connect with our children. Most of all, it means working on expressing ourselves so they can do the same.
We are not perfect. What at first seems daunting, becomes easier over time. We come to cherish emotional transparency as an art form that makes our lives rich and rewarding.
What greater service can we provide our children than to show them our own clear self-expression? What better place to practice our communication skills than in our own home?
Debra Alessandra has a degree in Education and Sociology from Lycoming College. She is a life-long educator, former counselor, and the author of 12 Steps 12 Stories; an insightful and entertaining collection of stories for parents, grandparents, counselors and members of a 12 step recovery program. Debra is on a mission to help families navigate the path of recovery together. For further information, visit her website at www.12steps12stories.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org