I am 2 weeks away from giving birth to my second child. I also have a son who is 3 ½ so you could say I think about parenting a lot. As the first one wasn’t born with an instruction manual I’m suspecting the second one won’t be either. Because I knew next to nothing about babies and children I’ve had to read a lot of parenting books to try and figure out what the hell I’m doing.
As a recovered drug addict and alcoholic I’m also very grateful for my second chance life and the opportunity to be a parent.
However, I don’t mind admitting that parenting sometimes terrifies me.
When I was pregnant the first time I went through all the normal fears any pregnant women has, miscarriage, birth defects etc. I kept thinking to myself, all I need to do is get through 9 months and everything will be ok. Then I gave birth and held my son in my arms, and I realized, I would never, ever, not know fear, again.
It struck me that my job as a parent, would be to manage my fear, for the rest of my life. Because when you love someone that much, your fear of something happening to that child can be overwhelming.
Fear is something I’m quiet familiar with, I have spent most of my adult life dealing with it but nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for the level of fear I felt when I fell in love with my child.
Did you feel the same as a parent?
Armed with my parenting books and experience as a therapist I thought I was totally prepared to be the best parent I could be. I was also determined to never make any mistakes with my precious angel child.
I guess we all go through that right? That’s the second shock of parenting just how many mistakes you do make.
Just the other day my son was asking me to draw pictures for him. I’m terrible at any kind of art so when he was asking me to draw a picture of a racecar I told him, ‘Mummy’s not very good at this.’ Later that day I asked him to get dressed for me and he replied ‘I’m not very good at that.’
Oh hell. Right there, I had a really good example of how my behavior had impacted him. I resolved then and there to say “I’ll try my best’ next time he asked me to draw anything for him.
The point is, no matter our intentions, we are going to make mistakes with our kids. We are not always going to get it right, our behavior will impact them. They observe us responding to the world and internalize what we do. They adopt our behaviors.
As we all know addiction starts long before we pick up drugs or alcohol. It starts in our thinking and in our emotional responses. There is a genetic component of course but even with a genetic pre-disposition it doesn’t guarantee someone will grow up to be an addict. It just means they are more susceptible to the disease than others.
Emotional intelligence for kids
I firmly believe that the best way we can protect our kids from going down the same path is to ensure they have a really strong attachment to us and we model emotional intelligence. It was the gaping hole of pain inside of me as a teenager, with absolutely no tools or resources to deal with my feelings, that lead me to misuse alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.
Which is why I believe it is vital for kids to learn appropriate methods to deal with fear, insecurity, disappointment, anger and all of the other emotions that make up human beings. So few of us are taught how to manage our emotional lives well.
I want my kids to strive to live their truth and help them figure out ways to do this when they are surrounded by a peer group who wants them to conform.
I want my children to see me have honest emotional reactions to events. I’m not going to hide my sadness or pain from them; I’m going to talk to them about it. I’m not going to hide or suppress my emotions because I want them to know its ok to feel what you are feeling; right at the moment you are feeling it. I don’t want them to be scared of their feelings, but to understand they are something we can learn to interpret and use to make better decisions.
Luckily my kids will have plenty of opportunities to see me mistakes and I hope I can model to them how we can learn and grow from our mistakes and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. I hope I can demonstrate humility in making amends where I need to.
I’m also not going to pretend I’m perfect. I want them to be raised by someone who loves themselves and tries their best but is far, far, from perfect. I want them to know that’s ok.
And I want more than anything to show them how to deal with fear, as I believe above all other feelings it is fear that is the engine of addiction.
Will that be enough? God, I hope so. I know my children are likely to have the genetic pre-disposition to addiction. When appropriate, we will have to have a conversation about drug and alcohol use.
And I hope by then I have given them some protection against this fatal disease through developing strong emotional intelligence.
But of course I’m frightened that I will mess up or I won’t do a good enough job. That I will fail them in some way.
It’s just one more parenting fear I will have to manage.
How about you?
I know this is a subject that all parents who are in recovery think about and worry about. I would love to know your thoughts about protecting the next generation from our disease. What do you think? What are your struggles in being a parent in recovery?