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Running from your family’s past

Parenting is difficult enough without having to deal with the sins of the past. Still, plenty of parents must grapple with a history of addiction.


Some moms may choose to bury the past and never look back — especially when addiction is in the rearview mirrorbut is this the best course of action?

It is possible to establish an effective parenting plan that respects rather than ignores a history of addiction and gives children an opportunity to thrive beyond the shadow of the past?

A unique challenge

Overcoming addiction is a process with no defined end. As a mother works through this process, she faces unique parenting challenges. “Mothers with a history of addiction may find it hard to act as role models for their adolescent children,” says Tatiana Sporea, substance abuse and family program counselor at Gateway Foundation Chicago West. “Women with younger kids can be emotionally unavailable for their children when they are dealing with mental health issues, trauma, grief or abuse.” Still, the responsibilities of parenting do not ease just because of a burden we may carry.

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An open book

Plenty of moms must decide how to handle their addiction and their parenting responsibilities simultaneously a task that is not often easy. While sometimes tempting, trying to bury the past is not usually an effective course of action. “Being truthful about her addiction and letting her kids know addiction is a disease is an appropriate way for a mother to address the issue,” says Sporea. “Validating children’s emotions is another tool that mothers could use when addressing their past drug use or family addiction patterns.” It’s important to create an environment in which a child feels safe to talk about his concerns without shame even if one of those concerns is his mother’s addiction.

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A successful parenting plan

With so many variables in life, and in parenting, it’s helpful to have some sort of parenting plan especially when addiction is in play. Sporea offers the following suggestions for moms wanting to establish a parenting plan while still respecting the addiction struggles she has endured:

  • Make sure children know their mother’s addiction is not their fault and they can’t control it. Let them know that addiction runs in the family so they need to be extra careful not to follow in Mother’s footsteps. Let them know Mom is going to a recovery group for support because addiction is a life-long issue.
  • Identify sources of support in raising the children and enlist close family members to get involved in the child-rearing. Empower, don’t undermine, parenting practices of family members who are helping out.
  • Kids need to know they can have fun without drugs or alcohol. Whether it’s playing kickball or a game of Scrabble, doing a puzzle or baking cookies, do things together as a family and show your kids they are deserving of their mother’s time.
  • In order to preserve their sobriety and keep their families intact, it is critical for moms to take care of themselves and continue working their program of recovery. By taking care of themselves, their children can grow up in a healthy and protective environment with a positive role model.

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