Most parents in recovery struggle with the urge to control their teenager’s behavior. Having witnessed the self-destructive path of their child, along with hearing stories of young people dying from overdoses or being sent away to prison, can bring the most well adjusted parent to his or her knees. This phenomenon is not necessarily “co-dependency.” Usually the urge to control is born out of a fearful demonstration of love and concern.
The Guilt Game
In his book Beyond The Yellow Brick Road, Bob Meehan describes a list of traps parents fall into that comprise the “Guilt Game”. These pitfalls include:
- You must assume responsibility for your child’s actions
- You must place high expectations on your child
- You must feel like a failed parent when your child does not reach your expectations
A parent living in feelings of guilt will inevitably attempt to control the behavior of the child for whom she feels responsible. One of the problems this creates is that the young person who is acting out already anticipates this reaction and is prepared. A drug abuser is a master at both avoiding control and making others feel their reactions are unreasonable. Remember, a young person who is using mind changing chemicals has one goal in mind: to keep getting high.
The Three Cs.
Parent recovery depends on the understanding of the three Cs: You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. This philosophy has been used in Al-anon for decades. A young person develops a substance problem because of his own decisions. It is not the result of something a parent did or didn’t do. Although a parent may contribute to the problem by not addressing it, he or she is not the cause. Parents will often react to their children’s drug problem by trying to control circumstances. No matter the lengths to which a parent tries to go, if a substance abuser wants to get high he will figure out a way. A parent is not the best person to counsel a young person through recovery. Mom and dad are too emotionally involved to effectively maintain the objectivity necessary to provide adequate guidance. Not only is there not a cure for substance abuse, if there was, a parent would be the worst person to administer it.
Parents have a difficult but important role in substance abuse recovery for young people. By understanding how to let go of control and find better ways to demonstrate love, the relationship between the parents and the child begin to heal. Long term family recovery requires a deep mending of fractured bonds. The decision to relinquish some control is a big step in that direction.