In an ideal world, every child would have an equal chance at life. The ability to succeed or fail would be solely based on their own choices.
Unfortunately this is not the ideal world, and before we mothers even get the chance to nurture our children, nature will have its say.
Genetic factors take a toll on children in ways they can not possibly understand, and this is even more so true for children of addicts.
My husband is an addict. He is also the father of my two children. Because of this I’ve had to be very conscious and careful in how I raise them.
Studies indicate that children of addicts are 40-60% more likely to become addicts themselves.
My husband’s drug of choice isn’t always a drug.
Sometimes its the high of junk food. I once found several empty pints of ice cream hidden in our home even though he insisted that he hadn’t had ice cream in months.
Sometimes its the high of a video game. Many times I have fallen asleep waiting for him to come to bed, only to wake up at 3 am and find him still playing his game.
Sometimes its the high of excessive drinking. I remember feeling sorry for the long hours he had to work once when he was away, it wasn’t until a year later that I found out he wasn’t working long hours but just drunk the entire time.
Sometimes its the high he gets from spending money. Our basement is full of things he bought that he didn’t even want, I can’t even tell you how many DVDs he owns which have never even been taken out of their case.
Sometimes its the high he gets from watching hardcore pornography.
That last one surprised me. There was a time when I thought “porn addiction” was a made up thing. Something that insecure women said because they couldn’t handle their husbands looking at other women. I was wrong. Porn addiction is real and it hurts the whole family.
The truth is, when you have an addictive personality, you could become addicted to just about anything.
Risk of becoming an addict greatly increases when someone who is genetically prone to addiction also has poor coping skills.
You know those things you do when you’re upset? Journal, talk to a friend, listen to music, go hiking, paint- all the ways you manage your emotions? Those are all coping skills. Addicts don’t have coping skills, thats why they get high. Getting high is their coping skill.
They get high to deal with sadness. They get high to deal with frustration. They get high to deal with stress. But they also get high to deal with happiness and boredom and anxiety. Basically any emotion that they can’t handle. Which is every emotion.
Besides this, addicts are narcissists. Healthy people know that other people matter. Healthy people have empathy. Healthy people understand that no one’s life is perfect. Addicts believe that they are more important, more deserving than others. Addicts place themselves above all others and, try as a recovering addict might, they never fully understand the pain that they cause other people. Addicts believe that their lot in life is somehow worse than everyone else’s and thats part of what drives them to believe that they deserve more than others.
Does any of this sound like a person you’d be proud to call your child?
I know I want to raise children who can cope with their emotions. Children who care about other people. Children who aren’t addicts.
However the world is against us. The average age for an American child to view pornography for the first time is 11 and the average age for an American child to try alcohol is 13. Over half of our nation experiments with drugs and/or unprotected sex during their teens and 20’s.
Studies have proven time and time again, the younger a child is first exposed to these things, the higher risk they are to become addicted.
So what is a mother (and the wife of an addict) to do?
Talk to your children.
It is never too soon to start setting up a strong foundation for them. As infants, they need to know they are loved and secure in your arms. As toddlers, they need to know they can safely express any emotion they are having. As preschoolers, they need to be encouraged in their passions yet still taught moderation and balance in their life.
My son knows that his father has a mental illness. In the past we lost our home because of my husband’s addiction and we had to explain it to our son. “Daddy does bad things sometimes not because he’s a bad person, but because he can’t help it. There is a part of Daddy’s brain that makes him do bad things even though he doesn’t want to. He is a good person, he’s just sick. Daddy needs to talk to a doctor to help him with that. He can’t get better on his own.”
Now that I have asked my husband to leave our home and go get help for his addiction separate from our family, we must explain that to our son as well. “Momma and Daddy love you more than anything. You didn’t do anything wrong, you are a wonderful little boy. Daddy is sick and he needs some time alone with a doctor to get better. It might be a long time, but he can still visit sometimes and you can call him every day.”
The biggest part of all of this is making sure that my son has healthy coping skills to deal with everything he is going through. Having a parent who is an addict is stressful for a child and it makes them very sad and it makes them very angry. They have every right to be sad and angry. If they don’t have the ability to talk about their feelings in a safe and loving place, then they are more likely to become addicts themselves later on. My son has to know that there are better ways of managing his emotions, I have to teach him that.
As he gets older, I’ll have to talk to him even more. Before he has the chance to view porn, I have to be there to tell him the dangerous part of it. Before he has the chance to drink alcohol, I have to be there to tell him why it is more risky to him than it is to his peers.
I won’t lie to him, I won’t downplay how good the high feels. But he has to know that there is a crash further down the road, a crash that is not worth the initial high. He has to understand that while some of his friends might be able to do these things in moderation, it will be harder for him to control himself and its probably safer for him to just abstain from risky behavior.
Most importantly, he also has to know that I’ll be there for him if he screws up. I don’t want him to be an addict. I hope more than anything that he will be smart about his choices but, if he makes a mistake, I will still love him. I will still support him. I will still be there for him. No matter what. Because I am his mother. Nothing he could do would make me ever stop loving him.by