I’m A Recovering Parent – But Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Sitting quietly at home one evening, I got to thinking deeply about how my children have survived the many adverse social situations that having an addicted parent brings. They have lived in chaos and violence, witnessed the divorce of their parents, suffered financial hardship and insecurity – basically far too much for their tender years. My children are resilient to say the least and I’m beyond proud of how they managed to remain balanced through it all. However, I went from contemplating their miraculous achievements to wondering which one of my children is going to become the next active addict in the family. Can anyone relate?

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picture courtesy of sobermommies.com

I realized that I watch for signs all the time. As a mother in recovery I find myself being hyper vigilant regarding the behavior of my children. My son for example; he’s 14 and generally finds life a bit baffling.  He is a great kid, full of compassion and care, funny, polite but doesn’t understand things like competition and why people, including his peers, need to beat each other down.  He is ambitious and intelligent and knows what he wants in life, but he sometimes feels he doesn’t fit in and can be self-conscious.  My gut’s turn somersaults sometimes because I relate to all of this so much.  We have long conversations about his feelings and he comes to me with his worries and thoughts and I reassure him it’s all part of being human. I tell him we all feel insecure about stuff at different times in our lives.  I sit there trying to be strong, but I know he is hurting and I want to protect him and shield him from all the painful situations that infiltrate life!

Do I attribute his feelings about himself to the fact that he is navigating the teenage years of his life, or are they the first signs of an addictive personality?  Maybe I’ve failed him as a mother – that all the early trauma has led him to be insecure and unhappy. I want to fix it. I want to fix him.

Then there is my daughter. She is the barefoot feral child I was at her age. Unlike me she can make friends at the drop of a hat and loves to be involved in everything that’s going on. She is full of determination and won’t back down from any challenge or fight.  However, she is a huge people pleaser in some regards and I notice that she seeks approval and struggles with that. Like her brother she hates injustice and can’t understand why everyone just can’t get along. She hasn’t had the best example of how to have relationships with men, because her mother, is a complete disaster at that and is about as mature as a 16 year old when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Will that damage her chances at ever having a successful relationship when she gets older? Okay she is only 9, but isn’t that when girls are most impressionable regarding the males around them and the relationships those males have with the females in their lives? What if my example has tarnished her idea of what a male female relationship should be? Will it trigger active addiction in later life?

Sometimes I feel like they should be parenting me. I feel totally out of my depth on many occasions and the thoughts of them going through the hell of active addiction just makes me want to die. I understand and believe that addiction is not a choice and even though nothing could have stopped me being an addict I want to prevent it for my kids so badly that sometimes it consumes me. I don’t want life to be difficult and heartbreaking like it was and still sometimes can be for me.

I know that all I can do is lead by example and be there for them at all times – and of course stay clean and sober. In my home I promote being fully human, with all its good and bad bits, so feelings and talking about them is not an alien concept to my children. They realized from very early on that there is no such thing as generic perfection and that being true to yourself and who you are is the most important tool for happiness.  “Be true to who you are, never doubt your inner voice, never let anyone make you doubt yourself, I am always here for you and love you no matter what” are the affirmative messages they hear from me on an almost daily basis.

Regardless of all the positive stuff I try to plant in their impressionable minds and hearts, I still want to be better.  I still feel I cannot do enough for them. I have huge regrets about my choices in the past that have affected them massively and I believe that they deserve a far better mother than I can ever be.  But, I am their mother.   I struggle with parenting in a massive way sometimes. Making choices for their wellbeing is such a huge responsibility. Sometimes I don’t know what the right thing to do is until it’s too late and I have already done the wrong thing.

Of course the up side of parenting is that those moments of exquisite joy and pride in your offspring far outweigh the difficult times. For example when your son’s friends mother calls you just to tell you that your son is an absolute pleasure to have in her house.  And when I see my daughter celebrate at her sports day, not because she won the race; she came last, but she was the only one that didn’t drop that egg off the spoon. In her mind she was a winner!

And maybe that’s what it’s all about! Making sure that in their own minds they are always winners despite outward situations. Encouraging the fact that their best is always enough, always perfect, just might deter them from diving head first into self-medicating like I did.

Nicola O'Hanlon

About Nicola O'Hanlon

Meet our Editor-In-Chief, Nicola O'Hanlon. She created this website, along with the help of the InTheRooms team in September 2015. Her work has been published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine, AfterPartyChat.com, Psychology Today and Reach Out Recovery to name but a few. She has also had her work published in two Feminist anthologies and a book of personal recovery stories. Born and raised in Wexford, Ireland she still lives there with her two children, Christopher and Jessica. Her background is in healing through Massage Therapy, Reflexology and Sechiem Energy Healer. She has combined her professional and life experience and now coaches women on how to empower themselves. She runs the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle meeting, on InTheRooms.com every Sunday (Noon est 5pm UK & Ireland), which is a non program specific gathering of women seeking support, encouragement and healing. Already an expert on how not to live life she is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. Nature is her Higher Power and she believes in magic, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multiple personalities.
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6 Comments

  1. I felt as if you were writing my story. My 14 year old son is sweet, sensitive, and just wonderful. I worry all the time that I’ve made him weak or insecure. Planted seeds that will grow into something terrible… Then I remember this- What if, my mother had taken me under her wing, into her heart, In a positive way? At ANY time?? How incredible that would have been. You are showing a sensitive child firsthand how how to conquer the toughest of all foes -addiction. He may or may not encounter it at some point. If ever he does, however, you have already shown him a way out! How incredible is that? You’re giving him the gift of honest imperfection, unconditional love and a firsthand education in how to ask for help, make changes, and move on. Thank you so much for this article.

  2. I clearly remember a short period, as a boy, when my mother was sober. She wasn’t nearly as fun, but there was something… something there that I wanted, that I needed. I’m still not certain what that was – maybe recognition, maybe authenticity – but I do know that I would have traded all of the perceived fun times to have her heart fully available to me in whatever imperfection it chose to show up in those few days.
    The gift you are giving your children is priceless.

  3. Hi Nicky
    I don’t see you doing anything wrong as a parent. You are attentive and listening to your children which is something I would hazzard a guess at, that you didn’t have. I didn’t feel I had it. I can make all the difference that we talk out our feelings with others. Who said girls are most impressionable at age 9? Looking at my daughter she is impressionable all the time 🙂 . The joy and difficulty in reading this article is that as an alcoholic and a parent I can relate completely and see as well the hole we all fall into. Don’t criticise yourself any more is the action I had to adopt it’s not easy, but I try. Nicely written piece.

  4. Fantastc article. I really relate to it. Thank you.

  5. How blessed they are to have a mother that cares to the depths you do! It is never ever too late to be an example to you children. The parent thing is not an easy tasks, and each kid is different.
    Sounds like you are doing a great job! Thank you for sharing! Keep on keeping on!

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