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Substance Abuse and Parenting Don't Mix

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Now that Mackenzie Phillips has come forward about her chaotic childhood, which was fraught with addiction and sexual abuse, we are again presented with a vivid example of how parenting and substance abuse don't mix.

mom showing daughter marijuana

Jennifer Ginsberg, MSW/MAJCS: It is easy to respond with shock and disbelief upon hearing how Mackenzie's father taught her to roll a joint at age 11 and shot her up with heroin shortly thereafter, but sadly, her story as the child of a drug addict is not that unique.

While many parents who are addicts make an initial attempt to shield their young children from their using, eventually, the child grows older and wiser and will catch on. As the parent progresses in his addiction, personal boundaries are violated, as the environment becomes more and more unsafe and distorted. In an addict's mind, teaching his child to roll a joint may not only seem acceptable, but fun and cool. Children are easily manipulated and targeted to fulfill the addict's desire, and the emotional toll that this exacts can be lifelong and devastating.

When parents get loaded around their children, whether with drugs or alcohol, they expose them to a myriad of emotional, physical, and sexual abuses. Additionally, an alcoholic or addicted home is a petri dish for violations of all kinds to flourish. Children will go to great lengths to convince themselves that their parents are "good" and "right," even in the face of unimaginable horrors. These misperceptions can have a lasting impact and persist well into adulthood. We only have to hear how Ms. Phillips describes the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father as "consensual" to understand how intensely distorted her perception of the situation is. Even if she physically consented to the abuse on some level, she was emotionally manipulated to a profound degree, which resulted in her skewed belief that she was a willing participant.

It is impossible for a parent who is drunk or high to be truly responsive to their child's needs, no matter how "in control" they believe they are while under the influence. Also, when children see their parents reaching for a drink or a drug to deal with life's stressful situations, they are robbed of the opportunity to learn about healthy forms of self-soothing.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of being raised by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents is that the child learns to not trust their own intuition. For even the youngest children have an intrinsic sense of what feels right versus what feels wrong. When the people in their life that they trust the most are behaving so selfishly and egregiously, the child only knows that as the status quo. And as with Mackenzie Phillips, their own sense of emotional security will be deeply impacted.


3 comments so far | Post a comment now
just say no September 29, 2009, 3:39 AM

Wow, I can already hear all the responses from the momlogic community who stated so passionately in the post for Marjiana Moma’s come out and defense they use of smoking pot and how it makes them better mommies. Guess what, rather you want to admit it or not, you are a bad parent if you need to get stoned or drunk to deal with your everyday life and you are passing those bad habits on your children. GROW UP and raise your children sober.

Heather September 29, 2009, 12:23 PM

An excellent and clear-sighted analysis of the ways an addicted parent can impact a child. People who are troubled often fail to see the way they are affecting others. This happens in parent/child relationships and other relationships, too. Thanks for the reminder that it’s important, when dealing with a dysfunctional person, not to engage in self-blame but to carve out boundaries.

cheapviagra2009 August 30, 2010, 9:37 AM

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