Read an Excerpt
Adult Children Raising ChildrenSparing Your Child from Co-Dependency without Being Perfect Yourself
By Randy Colton Rolfe
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Randy Colton Rolfe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCaught In The Middle: The Special Challenge
Over 34 million Americans had a parent who was dependent on alcohol or other mood-altering chemical. A good proportion of these have their own children now.
In the last decade, millions of adults have recognized the lingering co-dependent attitudes and reactions that this environment engendered and have found hope in identifying themselves as adult children of alcoholics or addiction (ACoAs).
Al-Anon groups, for the families of alcoholics, have seen a great increase in the proportion of their membership that these adult children represent. And groups specifically for adult children of alcoholics have sprung up all over the country to accommodate their special needs.
Many have helped these adult children to identify themselves, including knowledgeable therapists, family counselors trained in addiction, anonymous self-help groups on the Al-Anon model, and authors like Janet Woititz with Adult Children Of Alcoholics and Melody Beattie with Co-dependent No More.
Meanwhile, Americans are seeking guidance as never before on parenting issues. In recent years, many young adults have put off child-rearing until after they have established careers. The baby-boom generation only recently reached its delayed birthing peak, yielding in 1988 the most babies born in 25 years.
When these women and men do have their children, they approach parenting more consciously and with greater effort than ever before to prepare themselves, through reading, education, advice and introspection.
Other parents began parenting in younger years, without as much thought. They identify with the label Adult Children in a different way. They feel that in too many ways they were still children when they began raising children. They struggle now with guilt over what they wish now that they had known then.
In my seminars and counseling around the country on parenting issues, I have met thousands of parents who are aware of alcohol dependency or other addiction in their childhood home. Most are confident they have licked the statistical chances that dependency might appear in their new home. But they fear that the cycle of co-dependency will continue.
They want new tools and information to help them weed out the troublesome attitudes and behaviors that they still carry. They want to raise their children to be independent, happy people, even if they themselves don't feel quite there yet. And they want to feel confident and proud of themselves as parents.
This book speaks to them, to you. It draws on real life experience with one of the toughest issues of our time to show you how, as an adult child raising children, you can spare your children from co-dependency without being perfect yourself.
The Challenge For Adult Children Raising Children
Adult children raising children face a special parenting challenge because of one dramatic conflict. They are caught in the middle between two opposing messages about their own self-worth.
On the one hand, they remember and hold on to messages of low self-worth from their family of origin, either from guilt they assumed for the troubles at home or from continuous parental criticism of their basic competence and motives.
On the other hand, they long to believe the new messages of high self-worth from their children, as they experience the natural love and awe in which their children hold them as parents.
This conflict between messages can make you feel ambivalent, torn, angry, helpless, cynical, depressed, inconsistent and indecisive. It can also re-stimulate the reactive devices that you developed in the conflicted training ground of your childhood home.
Mixed messages you may be giving your children now as a result can recreate for them the same forces with which you were raised, even without any addiction in your new family.
You can end this cycle of co-dependency for you and your children now. Get to know your feelings and where they come from. Find out what mistaken conclusions you drew from your childhood experience. And replace them with interpretations and affirmations grounded in spiritual reality, so as to empower yourself to become the parent you want most to be.
The Emperor's New Clothes
According to a fairy tale, an emperor wanted a new majestic robe and sent for a special tailor. For an incredible sum, the tailor promised to make a robe that surpassed all others: It would help the emperor discover whom he could trust.
The emperor was excited and appeared promptly for his fitting. The tailor explained the secret of the robe: Only the righteous could see it.
The emperor saw nothing, but knowing he had not always been righteous, he said nothing. He held out his arms and let the tailor drape the robe. He looked in the mirror, saw only his royal underwear, but still said nothing.
He paid the tailor as agreed and looked forward to testing his courtiers' honesty the next day. When all were assembled, the emperor made his entrance. A gasp rushed through the great hall. No one said a word. Each courtier paid his respects and gave his compliments, as they knew the emperor wished.
All except a little child. Peeking out from behind his courtier father's robe, he pointed at the emperor and giggled. Stepping forward, he declared, "Father, His Majesty has no robe!"
Reality, Courage And Self-Esteem
I think this tale has special meaning for adult children raising children. The story of that brave child will most likely fill them with a secret envy.
How many of us would be willing to speak against the collective voice of the adults around us? How many wish we had had that kind of courage as children?
How many of us now would be more like the courtiers than the child, fearful that confronting the emperor's illusions would mean death?
With courage, self-esteem and a link to reality, the healthy child has spiritual independence. His perception and self-expression are not clouded by fears of rejection, abandonment, guilt or shame.
As adult children raising children, we tend to think that such freedom is too risky in the real world, as it was in our childhood home. We keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves.
Meanwhile when we become parents, we try to put on our own invisible robe of parental authority and wisdom, for which we feel we have paid dearly. We think that it will protect us from all the things we most fear.
Luckily for us, we have children who will confront our illusions and get to our essence, as if all our cover-ups were transparent. Our children speak to our child within, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. They help us to discover our own spiritual majesty while we are trying to help them discover theirs.
Your Home As Your Castle, And A Little History
I believe that it is no accident that adult children raising children are center stage today. Only two particular situations, of relatively recent origin, can isolate a family so much that an addicted parent can control the family belief systems like an emperor, drawing her or his whole family into co-dependency.
The first situation is that of the detached, suburban development home. The second is the economically mobile, anonymous apartment dwelling.
In more traditional lifestyles, extreme isolation and family anonymity were far less attainable. Community intruded more often. Whether in an extended family situation so characteristic of American cities before World War II, an interdependent farming community, conditions of extreme poverty, or even conditions of extreme riches, one or another elder, youngster, neighbor or servant would be likely to share the nakedness of the emperor with a child and help him or her maintain grounding with reality.
But in isolation, parents can create their own set of rules, double standards, reverse value systems and more, with little chance of the child being exposed to a different view.
We may wonder why modern schools have not offset this isolation. Of course in some cases they have. But the major reaction patterns have already been learned by school age.
In addition, much of our educational system reinforces certain co-dependent illusions, namely:
1. Others can rarely be trusted.
2. Competition is the only natural pattern between equals.
3. Hierarchical authority is the only natural pattern between unequals.
4. You cannot be trusted to figure out what you need to learn or when you need to learn it, nor to learn it on your own. Performance is more important than self-expression or excellence.
Today we face the strange phenomenon that we may not even suspect we have a problem because so many around us have it too. We see so little true happiness or health that we start to believe that happiness is merely the absence of pain and that health is simply the absence of disease. We lose our faith in anything higher than ourselves—in our value or our spiritual connectedness to each other.
One of the most tragic problems in the field of addiction today is the prevalence of dependency among those we look to as models for happiness and health. Popular myth has it that since famous and wealthy people have everything already, it is only moral weakness if they succumb to addiction. The public blames them morally, all the while imitating their excesses and dependencies.
Luckily, after two, sometimes three generations of addicted or co-dependent families, many celebrities are coming out of the closet with their problems. From Betty Ford to Robin Williams on addiction and from Suzanne Somers to Linda Gray on adult child issues, our society hopefully may be collectively seeking recovery.
For adult children raising children, as for the larger population of people with co-dependent traits, the self-treatment discovered some 50 years ago by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous is still the most successful program for recovery. Addiction expert Joseph Beasley, M.D., in Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Disease, and philosopher Thomas Powers in The Great Experiment, give similar explanations for the success of the groups which practice this program. These groups have led the "recovery movement."
These groups rely on a triple combination of regular inspirational reading, regular fellowship with others who share their common problems and goals, and regular self-examination with the help of the 12 Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment that were developed by the Oxford Group over a century before.
My fondest hope is that this book will become one of the readings you treasure most in your recovery as parent and person.
Privacy And Anonymity
"We too have been lonely and frustrated," begins the preamble to Al-Anon meetings where families of alcoholics share their efforts to grow out of the problems of co-dependency.
The details of my own story will remain untold in order to protect the privacy of the family and friends of the chemically dependent person who affected my childhood.
Anonymity is a cornerstone of the most successful recovery programs. For people who suffer from addiction and who are considering seeking help, it is comforting to find that they do not have to reveal publicly the nature of their problem in order to get help.
Likewise for the families and friends of chemically dependent people, anonymity helps take the moral sting out of being associated with an alcoholic or other addict. These people are all too aware that our society still tends to find fault or look for blame in families of addicted people. They also fear the repercussions on the addicted person they love.
This is despite the fact that experts are convinced that alcoholism and other chemical addiction is a multi-factorial physical illness that cannot be caused by or blamed on another person. In other words, alcoholics are alcoholics no matter who their parents, spouses, other relatives or friends might be.
In practice, families of addicted people may need to be even more careful about anonymity than recovering addicts themselves. This is because if they reveal their co-dependent identity, listeners may guess at who in the family has the addiction and every member of the family is suddenly suspect. In addition, even if the listeners guess right, only the alcoholic and his doctor have the right to give a diagnosis.
Anonymity serves another crucial purpose as well. It reminds us of our spiritual identity and shared humanity independent of our name, address, money, job, religion, failures or successes. For these reasons, all cases described in this book including my own have been altered to be unrecognizable. If anyone believes they recognize themselves in these pages, it is because of the ubiquity of their situation, not because of its uniqueness. Rest assured that I have not told anyone's story, not even my own.
My Personal Story
Within these bounds of maintaining the anonymity of those I love, I want to share a few generalities. Although affected by alcoholism, my childhood was rich in many ways and I accept and am grateful for the love and support of my parents and the camaraderie of my siblings. Indeed, I feel that if I could have been so deeply affected even with the "ideal" situation I had, then anybody could be. And wherever I go I find that they have been.
I have spent my professional life training people about their rights to self-determination and freedom. First as a lawyer I helped people assert their legal rights. Then as a health trainer I helped people assert their right to health and well-being. When I became a parent, I sought through my first book You Can Postpone Anything But Love and hundreds of seminars to help others assert their rights to be good parents.
It was through my parenting experience that I discovered my adult child issues and my need to assert my right to be myself. It was through that incredible dedication of a parent that I found the courage to look again at my own life experiences. It was with a sense of purpose not to pass on any unnecessary pain that I came to terms with spiritual reality.
I discovered that roles I had played for years were not always the real me. As an oldest sibling, for example, I prided myself on my perfectionism and workaholism.
Schools and other authorities praised these traits. I maintained them first to please and then to help define who I was. All the while I felt deep down that I was out of touch with my true self, but I wasn't even sure it was there, and I postponed the search.
Meeting the challenge of being an adult child raising children has been one of the most enlightening processes of my life. I began with a search to find out how to unblock the full expression of my parental love and continued into a deeper search to discover, paraphrasing anthropologist Louis Leakey, why I am who I am and who made me that way.
More than any other search of my life this one has led me to real, reliable answers.
Using insights from my own case, together with hundreds of other cases I have known, I want to share with you the rock bottom common denominator of adult child co-dependency patterns among parents, so that you can end the cycle of co-dependency for you and your children now.
Out Of The Parent Trap
Raising children today is a challenge for anyone. It demands steady commitment, a strong sense of self, flexibility, enthusiasm and more. For those who were themselves raised in co-dependency, the challenge can be overwhelming.
Trapped between parents and children, we fear both the old and the new. Do we follow the patterns we know didn't work or do we flounder in the unknown, exhausted and confused?
Either way, will our parenting reflect our inner struggle in ways that, try as we might, will trap our children into the same co-dependency?
Perhaps in addition, we have been drawn to mentors, spouses or lovers who recreated our comfort zone, the familiar though unhealthful co-dependent patterns. Now, as parents, can we avoid perpetuating these patterns?
We can. In my thousands of contacts with adult children raising children over the last six years, I have been struck again and again by these facts:
1. Adult children are among the most dedicated of parents.
Excerpted from Adult Children Raising Children by Randy Colton Rolfe Copyright © 2011 by Randy Colton Rolfe. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.