It’s the first day of school for lots of kids and young adults here in the U.S. – an exciting time of year for them and their parents alike. I, myself, loved school and still do. I thrive in it. There’s nothing I love more than learning new things, studying, and having social connections built in to boot. When my children were young, the beginning of each school year was exciting, and I looked forward to the structure, focus on learning, and opportunities for growth and connection it provided them. We loved shopping for new backpacks and binders, school shoes and clothing – the whole routine.
For parents with addicted adult children, however, this time of year can conjure up feelings of sadness and downright grief. It can be one more reminder of how your child is NOT healthy or on a path you consider productive. It makes you think of all their potential and how they are not living up to it, how gifted they are, and how much they could contribute to the world, but are not. If the plan was for your adult child to be in college or to be finished with college by now, the start of another school year can be a particularly sad time for you as you watch their childhood friends and neighbors go to university without them.
Addiction in one of your children, especially if it is ongoing, is really a grieving process: you grieve how they once were; you grieve the relationship you and other family members once had with them; you grieve how you aren’t able to see them moving toward their potential in life; and you grieve the loss of your dreams for them. And this can include the dream of them going to college and that milestone experience. It’s one more thing that highlights the loss that comes with addiction, and it is painful.
And while you want to honor and allow your pain and grief, there are ways you can look at the situation so that it does not add suffering to that pain. Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. It’s always a risk to have a dream for someone else. When we have expectations for others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Yes, it’s normal to hope that our children contribute to society in a positive way and reach certain milestones. But when we become invested in it or attached to what they “should” be doing, it can really bring on our own suffering. Realizing that others (including your children) need to decide for themselves what their own dreams are, or are not, will help you to be a more loving parent. And, remember, it’s not our kids’ jobs to make us happy. It’s nice when it happens; but it’s just not their job.
2. Lots of individuals decide not to go to, or continue with, college. This is not specific to people with addiction issues. And it’s OK. Yes, it might make you anxious about what they’ll do with their lives – but there are unlimited options and opportunities, and there always will be. Your child can figure it out if they choose to, and it’s their journey – like it or not – not yours.
3. You don’t know how it would have gone if it had gone according to your plan. We tend to think, “if only_______, then everything would be perfect and I’d be happy.” But you don’t know what would be happening if your child had done what you intended. You just don’t know what else could have happened, gone wrong, gone right, etc. We cannot look into a crystal ball and know what will follow from any decisions, including our own.
4. Remember that there is always hope. People recover all the time from alcohol and drug addiction. You don’t know what lies ahead. There are no guarantees in life, which is the good news and the bad; but that IS life. We have to let it unfold – and we can be confident that we don’t know for sure what will happen, or what is “needed” for anyone but ourselves.