By: Sarah Munigle MC, LPC
As a family therapist at Decision Point, I work with many young adults who seem to struggle with becoming independent. Parents are more and more willing to allow their adult children to stay at home for longer periods of time and not grow up. Add addiction to this dynamic, and the struggle towards independence becomes that much harder. The solution is often counter-intuitive and often heart-wrenching for the parents as they imagine that by following through with a few simple boundaries it could mean losing their child forever.
A parent’s job, first and foremost, is to raise healthy, fully functioning adults. This starts at a young age by allowing children to participate in household chores, teaching money management, having them get a job at 16 so they can buy extra clothes or pay for a car, allowing them to make as many small mistakes along the way so they can learn to solve their own problems. In this age of the “helicopter parent,” children are often coddled and not allowed to solve simple problems on their own or learn to interact with the adult world on their own. Unfortunately, the message that this sends is “you are not capable.” When these children, who have been coddled all of their lives, make the move towards adulthood, they don’t have the skills necessary to interact in the adult world on their own and often fail at school or in the workforce. Instead of supporting this child by sending them back out to figure out how to survive, parents allow them to come home and camp indefinitely. Add addiction to this dynamic, the parents become terrified that if they allow their child to leave and “fail” the cost could be the child’s life.
Setting healthy, firm, boundaries is the first step. By setting boundaries and sticking to them you begin the process of sending the message “you are capable.” The first boundary: they cannot live with you if they are abusing drugs or alcohol. The second boundary: I will not support your choices to stay addicted either financially or emotionally. Both of these boundaries allow the addict to begin fully taking responsibility for their choices and the consequences of those choices. It is not the parent’s responsibility to support their drug use. It is not the parent’s responsibility to support their choice of not getting a job and not supporting themselves.
Becoming educated is the next step. Learn about addiction. The more you know, the better equipped you are at handling your child’s disease. Finally, get support for yourself and your family members. Attend Al-Anon or PALS meetings. Surround yourself with others who are dealing with the same issues. Learn what works and what doesn’t.
Although these boundaries sound difficult and the fear of losing your loved one is very real, by not holding strong boundaries you may be inadvertently prolonging their addiction and their inability to take responsibility for the choices they have made.