When some kid is screaming for candy in the checkout line and the mother is reaching for the Hershey’s bar, I want to grab hold of her, like most people, and say, “Don’t do it!” However, because my own children had serious problems with drugs and I was so unaware during their teen years, I feel very uncomfortable even discussing parenting, let alone giving advice. But I can offer some thoughts on what a mother might do for herself. Much of this learned from positive experiences gained through years of therapy and going to Al-Anon and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meetings.
My first suggestion: Don’t isolate. It’s important to connect with parents who have similar troubles and fears in some sort of support structure that keeps the sharing healthy: mainly that there is no cross-talk or advice giving. No cross-talk advice is the rule at Al-Anon meetings. Advice can be shaming. “Why don’t you just say no?” (If I could have just said no, I wouldn’t be here!)
One of the most common themes when parents open up is their feelings of guilt. Many of us who have children whose behavior is negative, causing concern and tension for all involved, often blame ourselves: What did I do wrong? And since none of us have been perfect parents, it is important to accept responsibility for ways that we have truly failed. But it is also important not to think it’s all about you. Once a counselor said to me after a self-blame session, “Do you really think you have that much power over your children’s lives? They live in the world. There are other factors.”
Another important Al-Anon lesson: One of the greatest contributions you can give to your family is for you not to get pulled into the craziness, to minute by minute rebalance. Also it is essential to develop counterbalances in your daily life, practices that offer you personal refuge and happiness. Practices that interrupt the obsessive thoughts which steal your present moments.
As the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says: Be aware of all the non-toothache time. For me that counterbalance has been writing. I am now working on my third novel: a trilogy-in-progress. Not writing as therapy, but writing as a place where I can dance in the moment of words. “Now” is really all we have.