I can clearly picture the situation in my mind. It is late at night, and I am a couple of hours past curfew. The porch light and the light in the entryway are on, but the rest of the house and the neighborhood are dark. My mom is standing in the window of the front room as I pull into the driveway. I take a deep breath and head toward the door, knowing the argument that awaited me. As I stumbled in the door, drunk and smelling of smoke, I notice my mom has tears in her eyes. I start to reach out to her, but she pushes me away and tells me to go to bed and we would discuss it in the morning. Heading off to my room, I silently celebrate that once again I seem to have escaped without any real consequences for my behavior.
I spent the majority of my teen and young adult years drunk and trapped in my own world of addiction. If you asked me then why I drank, I had a litany of excuses, but the reality is that I could not and would not stop. So many nights my parents laid awake wondering if I would kill myself or someone else while driving when I clearly should not have been on the road. True recovery can only begin when the addict reaches the ultimate point of surrender, one’s own ultimate bottom. Going in and out of recovery and jail only to return to my addiction again was like a knife in my parents’ heart.
Parenting a child who is trapped in addiction is a constant struggle between letting go and intervening to help. If you are dealing with this, there is no doubt that you love your child, but focusing on the One who loves your child more is the only source for healing. Most parent recovery groups focus on “let go and let God,” but the reality of the situation is so hard. If God wants your child on skid row, physically addicted to drugs or alcohol to get the focus turned to Him, then regardless of parental intervention, that is what He will do.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. ~ Psalms 139:13-17
Many years into recovery and now sober, I have had several opportunities to discuss with my parents what we could have done to change the course I was headed on, or at least shortened the years wasted by enabling my drinking. We realize now that there are clear steps to change the course we were walking down.
- Actions have consequences. My parents (and most parents I have worked with) have—in their attempt to “help” their child—removed the natural consequences of their child’s actions. When you pay the tickets, fix the car after it was wrecked, pay bail, or bargain with the counselor to get your child back into school, you are preventing your addicted child from feeling the pain of his or her choices. You know the old saying, “you do the crime, you do the time”? I rarely did the “time” for the trouble I put myself and my parents through as a young man. In their attempt to rescue me, my parents unintentionally let my addiction go longer than it probably would have otherwise.
- Allow “it” to happen to them. Teens, young adults, and especially young men believe that “it” will never happen to them. As long as my parents did everything they could to prevent me from feeling the pain of “it,” I was going to keep doing whatever I wanted.
- Children need “skin in the game.” If a your child is old enough to drive, then he or she is old enough to help pay for car expenses. I might add cell phones to this discussion also. When your children have financial responsibility, they also have some burden of the privilege. I have heard every argument about working during school, playing sports, and maintaining good grades. But in my experience, children who are expected to contribute in some form (versus just being given everything they want without any sacrifice) will have a higher value of the privilege being given to them. When last I checked, this is how adult life works. I would have been well served had I been required to pay for car insurance, gas, etc. Instead, I was able to use what money I did earn on whatever made me feel good that day.
Finally, based on my parents’ experience and working with families, I find that those families who travel this journey with a community of people who have been there before weather the storm with more resilience. It is too easy to become isolated by the fear and shame. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the “What if” of the situation. We ask ourselves… “What if we hadn’t moved this time or that time? What if we would have followed through on those threats of rehab, boarding school, or wilderness camps? What if, what if, what if…?”
At Stonebriar Community Church, we have a parenting community called Parenting Prodigals that meets weekly. This group focuses on helping parents and/or grandparents who have children struggling with addiction. The group is led by parents who have had to surrender their children over to the care of God, trusting that He will care for them. This group will provide a safe, supportive community of parents and assist them by providing valuable tools for managing their lives and facing the challenges of having children fighting substance abuse. To find out more about this program, visit our website.
Special thanks to Daniel Lebsack, Associate Pastor of Recovery Ministries at Stonebriar Community Church. Dan is focused on walking alongside individuals, couples and families who struggle with the realities of living in a broken world, specifically around addiction and marriage. Dan has been married for 15 years, and he and his wife have 12-year-old twins. Dan graduated with his undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. He served as a Connecting Pastor in Reno prior to moving to Dallas. Dan graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his master’s degree in biblical counseling, and he is a certified Christian Sex Educator. Beyond ministry, he has a passion for almost anything that involves being outdoors.