Parenting After Addiction: Regaining Respect

You have been diligently working in whichever recovery model you have chosen for an extended period of time and have tried to be sensitive not involve yourself too rapidly in areas in which you may not be ready for.  But, after serious discussions with your therapist(s), family, and friends, you feel ready to begin to parent again. 

The decision to become more active in parenting after addiction has been met with some trepidation, as you walk ahead with more uncertainty than most parents (keeping in mind that most sensitive, intelligent parents do feel unsure of themselves from time to time.  It’s what keeps the self-help book industry going in the parenting area).  While this is helpful to remember, and you’re in the good company of all good parents, your anxiety is appropriate: substance abuse is the number one contributor to family conflict and “…the rejection of family members,” (Gruber & Floyd-Taylor, 2006).  Depending on how you play it, you could really lose someone.

Stepping Back In After Addiction

When you begin to resume your parenting role you may feel many, many things, but primarily you may experience guilt and difficulty carrying out your parenting plans, making it all the more difficult to regain respect.  It’s important to remember here that the goal of parenting is always to make the child feel valuable, rather than to become hyper-focused on their interpretation of you. 

As you step back into parenting after addiction, pace yourself.  Parenting after addiction has its own challenges, not the least of which may be a lack of continuity (you may not live in the same home as your children, and you may have to deal with that pain as well as a properly disciplined child’s wrath).  Likely, you will all have a lot left to say to each other.  it’s just not time to say it yet, nor is it appropriate to say it all at once.

When Problems Arise

Depending on the age of your children, you can expect to hear their anger and hurt boiled down into insults that sting. Often you’ll find that this will come when you may need to correct them or reinforce the rules. In moments when arguments arise, ask yourself: Is this about a child not listening or is this now about a parent not being present three months ago?

When you sense this may be the case, don’t be afraid to address it head-on: 

“Right now, we are talking about how you did not listen to me earlier.  I asked you to [insert request].  I asked you to have that done by [insert timeline].  I informed you that if you did not do [request] by [timeline], then [insert consequence] would be given to you.  I just informed you that [consequence] was going to be carried out.  You are now [insert description- enraged, crying, throwing things, threatening me, referring to old behaviors, etc.].  Can you- meaning, are you able to, draw a line/make a connection between your failure to carry out my request/and your current reaction?”

Obviously, the above should not be yelled, but said in a firm, but calm manner.  It may feel fake or unfamiliar to you- but it may also feel like what you always wanted your parents to say to you.  

Wait.  As long as it takes for your child to respond. This may mean going no further with your day- cancelling fun plans, not answering the phone or answering it briefly, delaying dinner, etc.  

Remember, the goal is to make your child feel valuable.  It’s not a trap to get your child to say what you want, but, generally parents are more aware of childish behaviors than children are, whether parents are former addicts or not.  It’s likely your child will respond that there is no connection, preparing you for the following comment:

“OK, well, it sounds like you may be [angry, hurt, feeling lost about…].  Let’s plan a time and a back-up time (The Parent’s Zone, 2013) to talk about your feelings.  But this issue is about you listening to me.  We will never get any better or make any progress with me as the parent and you as the kid if we don’t start treating each other that way.”

Have a discussion with your spouse or partner prior to parenting the first several times and plan for the following:

  1. An older child’s efforts to manipulate your feelings of guilt or frustration over past behavior
  2. An older child’s efforts to manipulate your feelings of inability to parent or your sense that your spouse/partner can parent more effectively
  3. Your spouse or partner becoming anxious, wanting things to work out between you and your children/step-children, and intervening
  4. Your spouse or partner becoming frustrated with you (because you’ve forgotten something that the two of you discussed or because you changed the plan slightly) and taking over or intervening for another reason; what to do if you change the parenting plan

You are not the parent you were, neither before you used nor when you subsequently became addicted.  Now that you are parenting after addiction, you will need to be flexible and kind to yourself as you discover a new way of being in the relationship with your kids. 

Begin with small goals for your parenting.  You’ll have built a good foundation during your time in recovery by steadily sharing what you feel comfortable with your partner, and they will have done the same, as guided by your treating provider or treatment team. Rely on the skills for good communication that you learned in recovery, and remember that family sessions are available to help support you as you return to parenting after addiction. 


Reach out to us today for more support in your recovery, and learn about the programs we offer here at The Haven at Pismo. 


Gruber, K. J., & Floyd-Taylor, M. (2006). A family perspective for substance abuse: Implications from the literature. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 6.

The Parent’s Zone. (24 December, 2013). How recovering addicts can raise healthy kids.

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