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Parenting for parents in recovery

September 24, 2013
by Charlene Marietti
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Parenting is tough. And it’s even tougher for parents in recovery, maintains sociologist Phyllis Abel Gardner, PhD, and president of IC&RC, the Harrisburg, Penn.-based credentialing organization for prevention, addiction treatment, and recovery professionals.

The number one problem, she told attendees at the NCAD conference in Anaheim, Calif., is guilt. Often parents have unresolved guilt and shame for their past addiction and a guilty parent is an inconsistent parent. Their feelings of hypocrisy may keep parents from confronting their children’s behavior—even if it involves drug abuse.

Essentially, Gardner told her audience that developing parenting skills is the same for those in recovery as for any other parent. The only difference is that those in recovery must accept responsibility for past personal behavior to provide guidance to the child. “Kids will be kids. Overreacting to their missteps is not the same as holding kids accountable for their behavior,” she reminded them.

“Parents need to know their kids,” she advised. “Kids get stupid sometimes. That’s what they do. That’s their job. It’s important for people in recovery to remember that it’s not about them or their guilt. It’s about the child.”

Counselors can assist parents by understanding their client’s needs and helping them develop good parenting skills. It is important to talk to clients as they’re leaving treatment or entering an aftercare plan.

“The newfound respectability of recovery is not enough to make someone a good parent,” she noted. No one can learn good parenting skills by osmosis. It takes practice. And for those in recovery, support will be important.

Gardner cites universally accepted best practice tips and tactics. All parents will find them useful and effective in dealing with difficult situations that typically arise between parents and their children. They include:

  • Choose battles carefully
  • Control emotional responses
  • Balance the punishment with the crime.
  • Consistency is essential, especially for consequences.
  • Use humor appropriately to break the tension. One of the problems with teenagers is that they will dig themselves into a hole and never give up. Humor can provide an escape hatch.

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