Am I wrong not to answer my child’s texts?
Recently, a mom wrote in, telling the story of her forty-seven-year-old son who has been using substances for years. After a recent relapse and binge, he called Mom asking to crash on her couch, which she refused. He then began to text, wanting to talk, but Mom found that too upsetting, so she also refused to speak with him. He followed up by leaving a nasty text stating she had abandoned him. Mom explains, “I told him weeks ago, when this all started, that he is where he is because of the choices he has made. Make better choices.”
Mom would like to know if she is wrong not to answer his texts.
Well, as a coach, I try not to ever say that someone is wrong or right—and that’s not always easy. Every person’s family system is unique, and what might be right for one might not be effective or helpful for another. So I try to remove my own opinion and just state the facts.
Mom, your son is sick. He may make decisions based on his disease, and those decisions may cause you stress and pain. He may be cruel in his desperation and take his unhappiness out on you. You do not have to tolerate this behavior or act as a martyr and allow him to sweep you up in the drama of his life.
The best advice I can give you is to try to separate who he is from his addiction. I’m not suggesting you sacrifice your boundaries, let him move onto your couch, or even spend time talking, but I think there may be a way for you to still have contact with your son and take care of your own needs.
It sounds like you know how to create boundaries. And we know that when we create a boundary, we must stick to it despite the repercussions, otherwise the boundary is meaningless. So it’s important not to say things we don’t mean or don’t intend to follow through on. Can you find a way to tell your son that you love him and that you are here for him, but that as soon as the conversation turns abusive, you will be blocking his calls and texts for twenty-four hours? He may start to learn that you will never abandon him and that you always will love him, but no matter what, you are not allowing him to be abusive to you.
His decision-making is impaired by his addiction, and unless he manages to allow his brain time to heal and seek out a support system that will enable him to remain sober, he may continue to relapse and go on binges. We can’t “fix” our children as much as we would like to, but we can remind ourselves of the child they once were and let them know we remember the good, even in times of difficulties. We can do that without tolerating abuse or condoning their bad behavior, but while still letting them know they are loved.
So my answer is no, you’re not “wrong,” but I would encourage you to find a way to communicate on your own terms. Addiction is a potentially fatal disease, and letting our children know they are loved and that we believe in their ability to make positive change is something that no one ever regrets. It may not be the thing that makes your son change, but if you can stay in touch in a way that protects you from abuse, I do believe it is the best choice for everyone.
Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.
Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net