A House United
One of the first things parents who have a child abusing drugs and alcohol can ask themselves is, are we one the same page about how we want to respond?
The answer varies, but is often no.
This is one of the critical issues that will need to be addressed in order for the individual with the substance use disorder and the family to begin to heal.
Parents come into their relationships not only with different life experiences and ways of being raised; but they often have different beliefs about addiction, discipline, communication, parenting and problem solving. These differing beliefs can really stand out when dealing with an addict child as each parent operates based on what they believe and on their individual experiences.
When they disagree with their spouse or co-parent about the way to deal with the addict it is easy to play the blame game. This is often magnified if there has been a divorce. Each parent can develop a mindset of, “if we had done it my way we wouldn’t be in this mess.” The blaming can continue into “you always do (fill in the blank) and that’s why he/she is like this.” This mindset will create a further divide in the relationship at a time when unity is needed most. It leads to inconsistency in responses to the addict’s poor choices and behavior, which is easily exploited by the addict.
Divide and conquer is an easy tactic for a child, much less a grown addict when mom and dad are already laying the groundwork for them by showing disagreement. Addicts, being artful manipulators, pit mom and dad against each other. Letting their parents fight it out while they get what they want, to take the focus off of their addiction. They know which parent is sensitive to which pleas, manipulations or guilt. This creates a huge crack for them to slip through and avoid accountability for their lifestyle. All the while the parents feel more alone because they are getting more and more angry, hurt, and frustrated at each other every time they are undermined by the other parent.
The first step to make a change in this dynamic is the same as the first step in recovery, it is admitting that there is a problem. Once parents acknowledge that they are making it easy for the addict to exploit their divide, they can become willing to compromise and listen further to their partner or co-parent and get on the same page.
Another step once the problem is recognized is for parents to acknowledge all of the things they have not been on the same page about when it comes to dealing with the addict, and then discuss them with an objective third party. This can be another parent or couple at a parent support group meeting, an addiction professional, knowledgeable clergy, or anyone else who is WELL informed about addiction and recovery. This discussion will require both parents to be willing to let go of blaming each other and be ready to compromise so that both parents can feel confident in the plan moving forward. Hopefully this leads to building a true united front where the parents become a team again and can effectively navigate situations that pose potential trouble.
The following are some simple tools to avoid getting caught off guard and to obtain and maintain a united front. Some pitfalls to steer clear of are listed as well.
Responses to the addict that will help keep a united front:
“I will discuss this with your mother or father.”
“If you need an answer now, it is no.”
“My answer is the same as mom’s/dad’s.”
Helpful tools to stay on the same page with your spouse/co-parent:
Have conversations together rather than being divided.
Call on a third party if there is a dispute between the two of you, an experienced parent (not your best friend who agrees with you) is ideal.
Listen to the other parent’s point of view and try to understand their perspective.
It is more important to create and present a united front than it is to have the perfect answer, as long as both parents can live with the answer presented.
There will need to be compromise, and there should be consistency when it comes to family and parental decisions.
Tools to ensure healthier conversations with the addict:
Prepare for known conversations ahead of time.
Keep each other posted about what is going on with the addict. If the addict tries to manipulate or “get around” you, let them know that “mom/dad told me what is going on.”
It is a good idea to have the parent who is currently feeling stronger and more convicted lead or have the communications with the child.
Watch out for and avoid:
Saying things like “I wouldn’t care but we should ask mom.”
Agreeing with the child to keep anything from the other parent. It is never a good idea to keep a secret for an addict.
Buying into the “you are the only one who understands me” talk from the addict.
Sometimes marriages suffer when parents do not have a united front, the worst cases can end in divorce. Another reality is that if the child dies as a result of their addiction the parents will need each other to lean on. If they are blaming one another they won’t be able to provide this support for each other and addiction will have destroyed not only the child’s life but the entire family.
The relationship between spouses and in turn the family itself can and does withstand the stress of having an addict in the family if parents can manage their feelings and perspectives, refrain from blaming, and focus on building strength in the relationship. Not only can parents thrive and support each other, but there is a much better chance that the addict will sober up eventually as there will be less unhealthy escape routes provided for them. A healthy family to be a part of also provides a great incentive to be sober.
Josh Azevedo is a guest blogger for PAL and is the Executive Director at The Pathway Program, https://thepathwayprogram.com