So Counter-intuitive

by Sarah McDade
May 12, 2019

It was easy parenting. As a child and into his teen years, he was so full of life, so excited about every new discovery. His enthusiasm was a delight to behold. It was obvious to me, his mother, that I had been looking at life through a different set of lenses. I wanted what he had. Our little family of three was close-knit. We traveled, explored, and had lots of fun together. Parenting was natural.

In retrospect, it seems as if it all disappeared with a POOF! But the reality was that everything slowly changed. I knew that he sometimes missed social cues and had low self-esteem. No compliments or honest affirmation of his abilities seemed to sink in. Without us knowing it, he had found the world of fitting in by using marijuana, then alcohol, and eventually many more mind-altering substances. He was quite disorganized and had become resistant to coaching or guidance. I thought it was his ADD. I had no idea that he was so involved with drug use, and I assumed that I was going to have to micromanage the rest of his life just so he could get along. So I developed the rescue-him file to be carried with me the rest of my life.

By age nineteen, he was in an extended-care facility for rehabilitation for drug abuse. I did not know that I would not hear his voice for another two months! This was new to us. How was he doing? After all, in my mind, he was so forgetful and disorganized. How was he feeling? When I inquired after him, the responses were unsettling. “He’s doing what he’s doing.” Little did I know that I was in my own treatment program. Parenting was no longer feeling comfortable.

Over the next several months, the therapy team had to train me, the parent, that my son had the abilities to figure things out on his own. On a pink piece of paper, I wrote down phrases such as “I’m sure you can figure it out” and “I have confidence in you.” I kept this pink paper on my desk and would practice saying the phrases aloud in the event I would someday speak with him, and he would once again ask for my problem-solving help. The words were so foreign to me.

It worked. One hundred twenty days into his treatment, he had a supervised call with me and brought up an obstacle blocking the resolution of an issue. I realized he had just given me the opportunity to use a new response. Previously, I had been so involved in soothing him that I had always easily jumped into solving his problems. My heart was beating hard as I said, “I have confidence that you can figure it out.” There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and he knew he was going to have to solve this issue on his own. I knew I was on my way to learning how to withhold my crippling, micromanaging advice for his life. We remained a close-knit family, his joie de vivre was intact, but things had changed. Parenting had become counterintuitive.


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Sarah McDade

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  1. This was me too
    Now my daughter has been in revovety for 2 years this time

    She had moved 1600 miles away with my small grand children and very little contact
    My problem now is why I was part of her addiction and can’t be a part of her recovery if she truly is
    My grands 4 of them don’t know me and I am struggling ; always wishing for what should of been
    Seeking normal
    And realizing this is all I will ever get

    • Becky, addiction is such a devastating disease to everyone it touches. And often it feels devastating in recovery too, when we realize we must still stay back, hands off, while they do recovery their own way in their own time. Our unconditional love continues to prove itself. But for many of us the ending isn’t as expected, and it hurts. It hurts. It hurts. Sending hugs and hope.

  2. Wow! I do that.

    15 years of the addiction-recovery cycle and I just realized from reading your article that I NEED your pink piece of paper.
    I have the part down of not volunteering advice, but never even thought about not responding with advice when asked for it.
    A light bulb just went off in my brain.
    Thank you!

    • Evy, so glad you found a meaningful nugget to move forward with. That’s why we’re here! Together we are stronger!

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