Good parenting means your heart breaks in a million ways. When your son or daughter strikes out at bat, is ditched in the lunchroom, ignored by a “best friend,” or stood up by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent feels it. These incidents make any parent want to put their child in a bubble, surround them with goodness and light. And then your son tells you how much he hates you, your daughter ignores everything you say, and they leave you in a hundred different ways. It hurts when that child you held for hours in the night and kissed from head to tiny, little toe acts as if you don’t know them. At some point you really do need to get to know them in a whole different way.
Part of good parenting, and also dreadfully painful, is letting a child fail and learn to pick themselves back up; giving them the space to discover that one can survive after a so-called-friend declares they have moved on. Flubbing a line in a school play is not the end of the world.
While witnessing their mistakes, all we can do is provide support as they navigate through the problems and solutions. We must show that while we cannot live their life and their problems, we love them unconditionally. Yeah. No problem right?
As if that is not challenging enough for a parent, it becomes a hundred times more complicated when a child begins to use substances. Or, when one’s child suffers through a crisis related to mental illness, particularly when the crisis appears self-inflicted as in the case when a person binge drinks, or goes off medication. Here’s the rub. A person who lives with mental illness needs a reliable advocate, who usually and most effectively is a parent. But parents of those living with mental illness usually agree that their child achieved recovery only after they took control of their own life. A parent’s guidance is critical, but sadly, it is only part of the solution. There is hope for a person with mental illness, but only if they own it.
Parents with adult children diagnosed with mental illness, and this includes addictions, must walk that razor thin line of allowing some failure and not allowing their son or daughter to hit rock bottom. David Sheff, acclaimed author of Clean, and father of a son in recovery from addictions, (http://davidsheff.com/clean) advises against the mythology of the past of allowing your loved one to hit rock bottom. There’s too much danger in that, including the very real risk of death, and further, every relapse becomes more profound than the last.
So parents, we walk the line.