While parents play a critical role in a teen’s recovery from addiction, the cycle of addiction itself often disempowers the entire family in such a way that recovery and reconnection become almost impossible.
In her new book, Parenting the Addicted Teen: A 5-Step Foundational Program, Barbara Krovitz-Neren contends that in reconnecting and learning to be present for their families, parents may hold the key to their teen’s recovery.
“The lack of support for parents in the addiction and mental health field during, and even more so, after treatment astounds me,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
When children withdraw into their addiction, parents often feel wounded, emotionally and physically. Teens can also feel wounded when their parents focus solely on their addiction, becoming consumed with their stressful and anxious thoughts.
“Many parents tell me that living with the addiction challenges of a loved one is like living in a war zone. They never know what is going to happen next and feel disempowered and defeated by fear and uncertainty,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
Even in the midst of an addiction, the key messages teens want their parents to know remain the same: I want you to understand and value me; I want you to create time for me in your day; I want you to be in charge of our family and not let your moods influence you; I don’t want to take care of you emotionally; If I am moody, mad, or upset, please don’t take it personally; I want you to protect me and be sure my needs are taken care of; I want you to teach me to be independent and responsible; I want you to love me and show me that you care with actions not words.
What often confounds the role of the parents is their entanglement with the addiction, and their difficulty in stepping back and learning to forgive.
“When addiction and family stress drive the family’s dynamics, the parents’ energy becomes drained and they have little if anything left for the rest of life, including for themselves. This is one of the main reasons teenagers become detached from the most significant relationship in their lives and feel blocked from their parents’ true selves,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
Some parents, like Jerry, who drinks all day and uses stimulants to stay awake, and his wife Annabel who covers for him, are struggling with their own addictions. Others, like Shelly, a single mom with an out of control adolescent daughter, are depleted from constant worry. Other parents may try to “buy” their children into recovery, which only enables their irresponsibility.
The goal for all parents, however, is to become more aware of the behaviors that block effective parenting.
“Becoming aware of your particular habits and unhelpful repetitive behaviors, and then letting go or redirecting them, is an essential step in creating stable roots. Stable roots ensure that your children will feel all of the integral elements of a healthy family life,” Krovitz-Neren writes.
The first step for parents is to practice being present. Through pausing, noticing their teen’s needs, and being totally available when they are together, parents can help their children to feel loved and important – even in the midst of an addiction.
Parents must also learn to become emotionally attuned to their children.
“Your role is to see them as they are, not as you wish they would be,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
This often means responding to children without judgement – which is the third step. As teens have expressed to Krovitz-Neren over the course of more than thirty-five years of working with them, they don’t want the power to make their parents upset, and they also don’t want the job of taking care of their parents emotionally.
More often than not, what children really want is sacred family time where laughter, joy, and shared positive experiences create lasting memories.
“Sacred family time is crucial for reestablishing trust. It’s your responsibility to begin to put lightheartedness back into your family, as intensity has likely ruled much of the time during your child’s active addiction and the many stressors it brought,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
Yet children also need to know how the family operates. For that, clear rules and boundaries, and consistent enforcement of them is critical. One major factor in a teen’s development and recovery is how parents disagree with them.
“To reestablish a healthy family, your children need you to be present, to support them and hear them, to keep the boundaries clear, and to keep them safe. The best way to teach values is through example,” writes Krovitz-Neren.
To do this, parents must move from blaming their teen for family problems to seeking help, taking steps to begin self-work, sustaining new strategies to maintain recovery, and helping the teen reclaim their old selves to help prevent relapse.
Through pausing, noticing, and untangling themselves from unhealthy dynamics, parents can learn to develop new responses, recognize what is underneath their child’s addiction, remain present through the process of recovery, and recover their healthy families.
With clarity, depth, and tremendous insight, Krovitz-Neren offers parents struggling with an addicted teen a powerful, enlightened way to view their child and their addiction, and it starts with simply showing up and being present. Parenting the Addicted Teen is an invaluable resource.
Parenting the Addicted Teen: A 5-Step Foundational Program
Barbara Krovitz-Neren, MA
Central Recovery Press
Softcover, 128 Pages