I am not talking about Nancy Reagan’s 1980’s failed campaign to discourage our kids from drinking and taking drugs. That wasteful and misguided approach had the unintended effect of reinforcing the stigma that addiction and alcoholism are character traits, poor choices and moral failings, and not, as the medical profession had even then long recognized, but never (even to date, in my view) widely embraced, a chronic brain disease–“no-fault” mental illness.
Okay, so we didn’t cause our kid’s disease, can’t control it and can’t cure it. The “Three C’s” of Al-Anon, a fellowship that has helped millions affected by their loved one’s disease. And there is undoubtedly some truth in that–it is certainly comforting to hear. However, the fourth “C” is not often enough addressed. How we, as parents (grandparents, godparents and others), contribute to our kid’s disease. Indeed, all too often, we actually stand in the way of recovery. How? We enable addictive behavior. We make it possible, even convenient and comfortable.
So, how do we stop enabling our kids after having provided for them from birth? How do we start helping them deal with their addiction? First, we need to recognize what we are doing: There are many quizzes online to help you differentiate between enabling and helping. It’s not rocket science, just counter-intuitive. Simply stated, if you are precluding your kids from experiencing the consequences of their behaviors, or doing for them what they can and should be doing for themselves, you are enabling them.
Examples include taking the rap for your kid’s drunken or other addictive behaviors; bailing them out (again) when they get arrested (and paying legal fees and fines); giving them one more chance (again); calling in sick for your kids when they don’t feel like going to school or work (wonder why?); sending them to rehab for the nth time; and, one that is big in our upper-middle class largely white suburban community, how about drinking or using with your kids to build your relationship with them or letting them drink or use with their friends at your house because they are going to do it anyway and “won’t they be safer under your watchful eye?” Really?
How about we just say “No” in these situations. It’s not easy, and every situation is different (and this post may not be on point for you), but when we stop enabling our kids, the suffering can and, hopefully, will end. It may not, but there can only be recovery when we and our kids stop denying they are addicts, when it is no longer comfortable for them to continue to drink and drug, and face facts– when we stop making it easier for them to drink and use. Fear keeps us from taking these steps. What are we afraid of? Our kids won’t love us anymore? They will no longer have friends? What our relatives or neighbors think? We will be ostracized from the community? All these things can and probably will happen to some extent. What is less likely to happen? Our kids dying from drugs or from the consequences of using or their “friends” using,
Parents: Get over it. Face your fears. Talk to other parents. Seek professional help. Learn about addiction and stop denying that (as one dad has blogged for many years) you have an addict in your kid’s bedroom. Our kids have a chronic and fatal disease and we need to stop contributing to their problem and get out of the way of their solution.