If you are an adult child of an alcoholic, addict or a dysfunctional parent, it is understandable if parenting scares you to death. Growing up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment would make most of us feel unsure and frightened. And these feelings don’t go away just because we grow up. Becoming a mother can even magnify those fears. You may wonder, “I don’t know what normal looks like. How do I show my love for my children? How can I raise a child when I don’t know the answers?”
Few mothers delve into parenting knowing exactly what to do. Much of our mothering, especially in the early years, comes from instinct. Don’t underestimate it. The rest comes by way of learning from others and old-fashioned trial and error. But most important is our reliance upon God who promises to give us wisdom and guidance.
Despite your unsure or fearful feelings, you can do this job well–not perfectly, because that’s impossible–but well.
We want someone to know us, really know us—deeply. Not just as a mom but as a person. However, for those raised in alcoholic, addicted or dysfunctional homes, so many thick layers of protection enfold our wounds that staying cocooned seems a lot easier than the pain of exposure. What will people think if they knew from whence I came? But the truth is you are not your past. You are not your addicted or dysfunctional parent. They birthed you but they didn’t create you. You are beautiful you, created by a God who is in love with you—who has a marvelous plan for your life as a mother and a unique, multifaceted woman. Here’s what God says about you:
1. I am a child of promise – Rom 9:8; Gal 3:14
2. I am free from condemnation – Rom 8:1
3. I’ve been justified – made righteous – Rom 5:1
4. I have received the Spirit of God -1 Cor 2:12
5. I have been given the mind of Christ – 1 Cor 2:16
6. I am God’s workmanship – Eph 2:10
7. I’m chosen and appointed to bear fruit – Jn 15:16
8. I am a partaker of a heavenly calling – Heb 3:1
9. I am a child of light, not darkness – 1 Thess 5:5
10. I’ve been rescued from Satan’s domain – Col 1:13
11. I am a citizen of heaven – Phil 3:20
12. I have direct access to God – Eph 2:18
13. I am a fellow citizen in God’s kingdom – Eph 2:19
14. I am a saint – Eph 1:1; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1
If you grew up in a home where one or both of your parents were alcoholics or addicts, you developed ways to cope in order to survive. Some of you did everything you could to please your addicted parent. By making them happy, maybe you could get them to love you more or at least stop them from using.
Perhaps there were times when you had to parent your parent even though you were just a child. Of course, there is no way you could have filled this impossible role. You were just a child. As a result, you naturally developed coping mechanisms that became a part of how you function in the world as an adult.
These coping skills have a good side. You became self-sufficient, hardworking, high achieving—an employer’s dream. However, while these traits work well on the job, they don’t translate well to parenting. Our skills are often hyper-developed as the adult children of addicts. Therefore, what is successful project management on the job could look more like dictatorship in the home.
For you it may be a tendency to over protect your children, a lingering habit from a time when you had to parent your addicted parent. For another mother it is perfectionism–trying to make up for the shame of the past–never a dirty window or snotty nose in her house!
I imagine many mothers struggle with control and perfectionist tendencies. But adult children of addicts magnify and stretch these traits out of proportion.
But what I’ve learned over these years of mothering is that God is a God of renewal. He can take all the old weapons that you formed out of the metal of dysfunction and turn them into tools for joyful mothering. He can start a new generation with you and your children. Ask Him. Trust Him. It is possible. Read Matthew 19:26
For good or for bad, we often parent the way we were parented. The abused may
take an overprotective tact as a parent or be abusive themsleves. The abandoned may smother their offspring, wanting to make sure their kids feel loved and safe.
These are deep issues, not to be solved in a blog post or even in the chapters of a book. But certainly, it is helpful to thoughtfully consider how we were parented, the events which shaped our childhood, and how these factors affect our mothering. This is not an exercise of finger pointing or wallowing in the past. Rather, it is to see our own fears and insecurities through the eyes of ourselves as children.Awareness is the beginning of reconciliation.