The cost of parental addictions on children

It’s tragic when a parent suffers from the chokehold of an addiction. It’s usually the case that an addiction is an unhealthy coping mechanism, or tool, a person uses to deal with painful emotions or thoughts. Parents were once children who might have experienced trauma of one sort or the other. If they don’t learn to overcome these challenges, or deal with them in a healthy way, the drugs, alcohol, or some other addiction can become their escape valve. Substances dull the senses. How tragic not only for parents, but for the children who lose their own sense of safety and connection to the adult who should be their protector.

Children in these homes often have inverted relationships; they become “parentified” too early and lose their innocence and childhood. The parent is the “child” and needing to be protected and taken care of.

In a class I teach, adult students reflect on any addiction they witnessed as a child. Thankfully, many do not have anything to report; their parents were mature, caring, and responsive. Those that report addictions have sorrowful stories. Every semester I hear them. There are the ones you expect of alcohol and drugs, but it’s amazing what other addictions these grown up children are still affected by and feel the burden of the painful past. Social science has shown that intergenerational transmission of addiction and abuse is the tragic legacy addicts are at a greater risk to leave to their children. It’s inspiring to read my students’ reports and how they have chosen to be the transitional character and break the chain of family addictions.

The following is a sample in their own words.* Are there any smaller patterns of addictions you might be indulging that you need to discard to have a fuller, healthier relationship? What are your children watching, learning, and carrying with them to adulthood? Consider these as cautionary tales of what your own children might report one day.

“I grew up with a father who was there… but not really there. He spent a lot of time playing computer games and didn’t really know how to connect to his daughters. He spent a lot of time on his computer with my brothers and had a pretty good relationship with them. My dad’s “addiction” to his computer games caused a lot of problems in my parents’ marriage and divorce has been discussed at least 3 times in my lifetime between my parents. To me, this is addiction. My dad gives so much of his time and energy to his video games that now that I am in therapy as an adult; I have come to realize that a lot of my tendencies from my teenage years to adulthood come from me being needy of male attention because I never got it as a child from my dad. I became pregnant as a teenager due to the unmet need of wanting a male to show attention to me and to love me.”

“My parents both have the same addictions. I hold the same addiction as them. They are both addicted to eating food and drinking soda.”

“I’d argue that the worst addiction my family has is tension. My dad, sister, and I all show an unhealthy addiction to creating and living with tension. That is to say, none of us grew up in environments where emotional relaxation was a luxury. When things seem to have been good for too long, we all poke at our life to find any negativity there. If we don’t find it, we create it. My sister and I have especially learned about this addiction in the past year with our own significant others and have sought out to find out why and how to fix it.”

“My parents both adamantly say they are not addicted to anything. But I have always noticed they are addicted to working. My dad has worked two full time jobs his whole life. He could retire and live comfortably but he always says he loses his mind on his days off and must be doing something. My mother is the same, goes to work, comes home, and works on the house until she goes to bed. They both never stop.”

“Within my immediate family my mom was addicted to caffeine. Her breaking point happened one day when she realized that she was happier to wake up in the morning, looking forward to having her bottles of Dr. Pepper instead of seeing her own four kids. She knew she had to stop. Once she gave up this drinking, she became more present with us. She was not as grumpy or moody when things didn’t go right. Her headaches stopped. She saw within herself that she was happier instead of depending on that addiction to bring her happiness. I learned second hand what having an addiction can do to a person as well as a family through my family being a foster home for children. It was heart breaking to see the state of these children who were ripped away from their parents because they were not being properly cared for. My parents taught me that if I do not want to be addicted to something it is better never to start. But if you were to get addicted, there is always a way to stop if you desire it enough.”

“I know that my parents can’t save money to save their lives. When I was in high school, my father got fired from a job where he made a six figure salary. My parents spent their money extravagantly, always having nice cars, a nice house, and the newest technology, not to mention making impulse purchases everywhere. Within two months of my father being fired, my family had to declare bankruptcy.”

“I inherited a negative body image from my parents. They are both fit and look nice, work out compulsively, but make critical comments about their bodies. I have had an eating disorder because of my inability to view my body as beautiful for what it is. I’ve recovered, but it can still be hard to feed my brain and body positivity when I am surrounded by comments that can be triggering. I am most definitely a perfectionist and I workout consistently.”

“My mom told us stories about her awful childhood to justify why she was always drinking. Since I can remember, my mom always had a beer in her hand, or alcohol in her cup. I knew it was alcohol when she would tell us not to drink out of her cup because it was only for adults. Drinking seemed to calm her down, her temper was not as bad when she drank. When she was drunk, she was funny and would make us laugh, we had a good time with her. After I grew up, I also found out my dad smoked weed and religiously around me and my sister.”

“My parents’ marriage ended because of lies and secrets due to a prescription drug addiction that my dad picked up when I was around 12 or 13. My mom found out about it and did everything in her power to help him for close to five years but the stress of raising a family and running a house by herself finally caused her to file for divorce.”

“My father had an alcohol addiction. Shortly after his second divorce he started to drink. It started with just a wine here and there, but it shortly led to an addiction. As a teen I would go to his business and his lips would be stained purple from his wine he drank the night before. On some weekends, he would have my friends and me drive him to Reno and drop him off to a bar. He would give us money to go to a movie or dinner so I loved taking him, but after we were done, we would sit around and wait for him for hours. Finally, we would go looking for him across town. He would end up at a different bar and he would always be so far gone. I had to drive him home and take care of him, even when I was an unlicensed, underaged driver. My dad spent all his extra money on his addiction.”

“Because of my dad’s job, we were very well off. No debt, no money issues, no problems. But because of that, we traveled whenever we wanted, we shopped whenever, ate out all the time because nobody had the energy to cook or make any food. A habit formed called retail therapy. Happy? Treat yourself to a new outfit. Sad? Treat yourself to a spa day, shopping, and whatever else you need to make yourself feel better. Mad? Angry? Annoyed? Hurt? Excited? Treat yourself. No limit. Because of that mindset, never having to cook a meal, and not having to worry about money- I have caused some financial issues in my marriage. I am learning that not every occasion needs a new outfit, not every emotion needs something to comfort and validate my actions, and grocery shopping is cheaper than eating out every day.”

“Just as any stressful situation leads most people to vices, my dad loved to gamble, drink, and I recently found out he also liked to look for relationships outside his marriage. Our family vacations were restricted to Las Vegas.”

“Addiction has plagued both sides of my family for generations. Our family’s drug of choice is alcohol. Alcoholism is extremely prevalent on my mother’s side – it has affected her, her father, his father, and for a period of time me. Through personal experiences, I have watched addictions of all shapes and sizes destroy families, including my own. They grow like weeds uprooting the foundations of marriage such as trust, loyalty, dedication and replace them with betrayal, dishonesty, and apathy.”

“The older I got the worse her addiction got. She would drink usually from 12:00 in the afternoon to midnight. I rarely saw her without a drink in her hand. When I was five years old, she had an accident and hurt her back. She did need surgery and after that is when the prescription pain and benzo medication addiction started.”

“Addiction is very prevalent throughout my lineage. In my immediate family alone, we’ve dealt with substance abuse, pornography, and sex addictions. My family has a genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression, which is directly correlated with addiction. With extensive rehabilitation and therapy, my family has worked to overcome dependency on alcohol, pornography, and sex. Having been exposed to addiction from a very young age, I’ve come to recognize it as more of a disease. So often people view addiction as a result of choice. To that I ask, who would choose to have a disease? In most cases, addiction stems from trauma. To cope with the tragedies of life, people rely on different vices to escape their reality. Having experienced it in my own home, I recognize addiction as a result of circumstance. Just as you would never blame anyone for having cancer, I don’t blame those in my family for their addictions. Rather, I’ve learned to support my loved ones to encourage healing.”

*Some specifics have been changed to protect the identity of the students.

Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day approaching in 2 days, I’d like to share my 2 latest videos about parenting. They are completely funny, touching, and real. The first one is “Ten things you wish you would have known before having a baby” and I’ve watched it over and over and always tear up at the end.

The 10 things are:

10. “Don’t listen to anyone else. You’ll know how to take care of your baby. Don’t care one ounce about what other people think about you.” While I DO agree with most of this, I would also say to keep an open mind. We sometimes get in a rut or don’t see clearly the damage we are doing from inheriting unhealthy behaviors from our own parents. So while we shouldn’t be paralyzed with worry about what other people think, we should listen to wise people, especially those with more experience and expertise, to see if maybe they have something better we could be doing.

9. “Get on a schedule.” Yes and yes. Although some parents can do this earlier in the infancy stage because their babies respond to sleeping through the night. I’m always amazed when some mom says her 3 month old is sleeping 6 hours straight. I think, “What drugs are you giving him?” Sleeping was always a hard thing for me. Some of my infants were terrible sleepers and that made me a terribly sleep-deprived Momzilla at times.

8. “Parenting is hard. Take time out to revive and find yourself.” Amen and amen. Ideas they suggested were to get out and treat yourself to ice cream, go to grandma’s and drop the kids off, take a 20 minute nap, and have a weekly date night. I would add that parents need to get away for emotional, social, and physical health. I am SUCH a better mother when I return from a brief (or sometimes lengthy) absence. I think, “Okay you little buggers. I guess still love you after all. I missed you!”

7. “Discover who your children are and let them be.” When we clash with our kids, it’s often because they don’t measure up to our expectations or they don’t agree with us. So what? Most of the time (unless it involves taking drugs, stealing the car, stuff like that…) they are just figuring out who they are and that’s probably going to be different than who we are. Let’s be okay with that.

6. “Be prepared for the unexpected because it WILL happen.” And it usually involved bodily fluids. Like the time my daughter hurled vomit across the isle of the train in Chicago and hit us, the windows behind, and our bags. Just before be boarded the plane. Awesome.

5. “Make room for the baby.” The video talks about the physical needs of a baby. Stroller. Crib. Tons of diapers. Stuff like that. But I would add to make room in your heart for the baby. Especially if this is the first one, our lives are completely turned upside down. It was all about us before having a baby. Not any longer. Now the baby should be our primary focus and we need to give up and sacrifice to be there and meet all his or her needs. That might mean we drop or put aside some personal interests for a time. Change our priorities. Stop watching so many reality TV shows so we can spend time bonding with a new person who is ours to keep forever.

4. “Memories will be the only thing you’ll have so keep these fleeting moments in your heart.”

3. “Be grateful for your kids. It’s ALL worth it.” We may not think this while having to change the sheets in the middle of the night because a child wet the bed while sleeping with you because they were too scared to sleep in their own bed.

2. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. The house can wait. Some days you just won’t have the patience.”

1. “There’s going to be one thing you cannot prepare yourself for, that you cannot know until you experience it is the love you are going to feel. Overwhelming, powerful, consuming love.”

Here’s the link. You gotta watch it. Bring your hankie.

The second video clip is one I found a year or so ago. It’s brilliant! I show it in class to my university students in the parenting class I teach. I have them write a newspaper ad job description of a parent. We share them and then watch this. I hope you still have your hankie from the last video. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

Get a PhD in Parenting (for free!)

I have a bone to pick with my high school math teacher. Contrary to his promises, I have never used the pythagorean theorem or cared to find the value of X since graduating a hundred or so years ago. That is, unless you count helping each of my 5 children struggle through their math homework.

What I have used, however, is relationship and parenting skills. Every day, all day. So where was the required Parenting 101 class in high school or college when I needed it? How ironic (and sad!) that virtually all adolescents and young adults, who will someday be a mom or dad or at least have to relate to another human, are not formally taught how to succeed in relationships.

Licensure varies across states, but to become a beautician it requires around 2,000 practicum hours in addition to coursework. To drive a car? Forty roading hours plus passing the test and class. To become a parent? Nada. In comparison, what knowledge and skills matter most to children, family life, our community and nation?

This is where voluntary, continuing education steps in.

Parents today have ripe information for the picking. Endless resources are at our fingertips to help us navigate this most important career of raising children. Websites contain information about family health, making kid crafts, homeschooling, parenting children at different stages of development, taking online parenting classes, and marriage and relationships skills, to name a few.

Best of all, most are free. Thank you, Mr. Google and Mrs. Pop-up Ads.

Here is a list of some of my favorite parenting sites. Many of these I have contributed articles to and have enjoyed those written by others.

The downside is we need to be aware of how to navigate through so much information. I’d like to share 5 tips for being a wise consumer and using internet information successfully.

  1. Keep an open mind.

It’s not enough to say, “I’ll just do what my parents did in raising me and hope for the best.” That’s like keeping the bar so low that if no one ends up in jail, it’s a sign you’ve been a successful parent. Too often we are blinded by old habits, bad attitudes, and cultural trappings with which we were raised. We only see what we are used to, even if that means perpetuating abusive behaviors that seem “normal” to us.

Every mom and dad can and should be actively looking for ways to improve through motivating and informative content. If you were raised by terrible parents, you have some distance to cover in a short period of time. If you came from adequate or even excellent parents, you can always do better.

  1. Trust your instincts.

There will be lots of advice in cyberspace, but as every mother has learned from listening to birthing stories at baby showers, no two kids are alike. They all come packaged with their own special temperaments, personalities, talents, and interests. Therefore, not all advice may be what’s right for your child. Follow general, sound principles, but if a specific practice doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut. Even if something works fabulously with one child, another one may need something different.

  1. Filter, filter, filter.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re hooked up to a fire hose when all you want is to drink a glassful of information? It can be overwhelming. There’s just too much, and even sometimes, conflicting information on the internet. Read and apply in small doses. Let’s not spend endless hours surfing websites and replace it with spending time understanding our children and building a relationship him or her.

Use your filters when looking at airbrushed photos of perfect children, flawless table settings, or crafts that most certainly were created by professionals, not preschoolers. It’s not real, folks! There are also plenty of mommy bloggers who love to shock and disturb with their latest episode in the series of Disasters of Being a Mom. Yes, we all have bad days, but let’s not revel in rudeness. It feels like jumping into a pig sty and rolling around the muck to be part of the “feel-sorry-for-ourselves mommy club.” Be wise instead, and choose websites to be inspired, laugh, and learn.

  1. Let this be a start.

The cyber community is a great gathering place, but it is, after all, a virtual world. Use websites and discussion boards as a safe place to ask questions and find answers and then follow up with live connections in the real world. Talk to trusted family members, friends, pediatricians, and other parents in your community who can offer irreplaceable emotional, physical, and social support. If there is another parent involved in raising your child, share what you are learning so you can both be on the same parenting page. Go to classes together and read books to further your education.

  1. Keep trying.

Methods shared on parenting websites are usually fairly reliable. Responsible experts base their findings on research and extensive experience. When you latch onto an improved parenting approach and try it out with your child, it may be a complete failure the first time or two.

Changing both ourselves and our children is a process. By being consistent, you will show your child that the “new and improved” parent is not going away just because he or she threw a tantrum when you didn’t give in to that cookie right before dinner. When you make a mistake and fall back on a former bad behavior, admit your mistake. “Honey, mommy forgot that she is trying not to slam doors every time she gets mad. Please forgive me. I’m going to do better tomorrow.” Let’s work on getting an advanced degree that requires classes in kindness, forgiveness, love, unity, and respect.

Now that’s a PhD I’d like earn.

Fathers, Be Good to Your Daughters


I heard the song “Daughters” by John Mayer last week at a pizzeria with my husband and son. It’s one of those songs that has so much depth and gut-punching truth to it. It’s so beautiful and sad at the same time. I’m including the lyrics here for us to ponder. The most profound part is his plea:

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the god and the weight of her world

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

We all need to realize the power fathers and mothers have on the their children, who will one day be parents themselves.


I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hands
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe it’s got nothing to do with me

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Oh, you see that skin?
It’s the same she’s been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she’s left
Cleaning up the mess he made

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Boys, you can break
You’ll find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from
A womans good, good heart

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the god and the weight of her world

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too