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Linda Durnell Headshot

'Not My Kid': When Parents are in Denial

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I find it reprehensible when I see parents whose children suffer with drugs, eating disorders and other addictions refuse to acknowledge a problem exists, especially when they do not seek treatment for their children because they don't not want the "stigma" of addiction to attach to themselves or their children. These parents forge ahead as if everything is fine.

I recently overheard one mother say

"I just want my kids to get into college so I can say I did my job."

And that is exactly what happened. Her daughter went to college and after several years, she received treatment for her eating disorder. Her other daughter went to college and continues to experience personal and legal troubles due to her drug and alcohol addictions, yet they feel they were good parents, because their children got into college.

I was talking to a friend of mine whose son just accepted a scholarship to college in the fall. She was congratulating herself on a job well done and about "her" college accomplishment. She feels she is a success because her son is a good kid, a smart kid and a normal kid. My other friend listened intently, but when we asked about her daughter, her face instantly transformed from interest to worry. She explained that she is not sure her daughter will go to college and the drugs that passed her friend's son by threaten to envelop her daughter. Her daughter is turning 14. Addiction. It permeated the room; we all felt it and some of us understood it.

She continued to talk about the challenges of her ex being unaware of her daughter's drug use and his insistence that she was fine. I listened as my friend quietly said,

"I am simply grateful for another day that my daughter chooses to stay alive."

The other friend loudly praised her parenting as the reason her son didn't develop an addiction. Worry is universal for parents who care about their children. The difficulty, I find, lies in the subtext that exists in communication between parents; the subtle message that says,"I was a better parent than you, because my child is going to college and didn't have problems with drugs." No one comes right out to say it, but it is heard nonetheless.

For the parent whose child has difficulties early, the burden of blame typically falls on the mother. At times, this burden is so heavy that it is easier to end the friendship and deal with your child's challenges alone. Only after your child is grown and has self-corrected do they feel they can go back and revisit the friendship. I've seen parents who know their children are taking drugs and close to disaster, but hearing about a friends child's addiction is too much for them to bear. Her friends viewed her as an example of everything that could go wrong; of every fear parents have for their children. Life is already too hard. They cannot and will not let any more fear in.

I witnessed my friend become depleted by being the sole person who struggled through her daughter's addictions and the legal troubles in the family court system. I watched her lose her softness and the comfort that came from being unaware. But when her friends' children stumbled, experienced addictions and tangled with the law, they did not call her and say,

Hey, my kids are in trouble too -- let's talk and share

. They lied. They were clear that this was not going to happen to them. They had harshly judged those parents whose children had used drugs and they refused to admit they were now on the same path. I saw their denial and I watched friendships end. The kids talk about everyone in school using drugs and yet most parents' mantra remains "not my kid."

Denial remains the biggest white elephant in the room. I witnessed a father completely rewrite history to create a better story for himself and his son. This father judged and blamed the mother for their child's drug use and the story he told about the addiction, the subsequent fallout and rehab was altered to present him in a positive way. For those of us firmly rooted in reality, the only option, when confronted with a child's addiction, is to remain committed to the truth; both past and present. Spending energy on convincing anyone that you are not to blame or pointing the finger on those whom you want to believe is to blame is destructive and futile.

Acceptance of our children's struggles and the willingness to confront the hard issues when they come into our home is a choice many of us will face. It is never easy, but it is made harder when those we trusted judge, abandon or blame us. Judgment will not keep your children safe from drugs and addictions. When blame is directed at us during the crisis, marriages suffer and friendships end. When your friends isolate you and your children, they will not be able to teach their children about compassion, consequences and friendship. Families struggling with addictions are part of our community. Instead of weakening the community through denial, we should strive to help, support and understand that which threatens any and all of our families.