It’s terrifying when your child starts drinking or using. You desperately want to help them, but you’re not sure what to do anymore. It can be difficult to do that, especially when you’re scared and not sure what or how much they’re using and how to help them stop. All you know is that, as a parent, you’ll do everything within your power to keep your child safe or try to do what you think is best for them.
Or perhaps you were the child your parents kicked out, and you never thought you’d end up here with one of your own. Going through this with your kid and being transported back to your childhood can leave you feeling afraid, worried, desperate, powerless, and uncertain about what to do.
Making the decision about whether to kick your child out is difficult and too nuanced to just say – yes, you should or no you shouldn’t.
The reality is that homelessness is very difficult, likely to make the goal of sobriety harder, and makes our relationships harder to maintain. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean that as parents, we have no options. Below are guidelines to help you think through your options and how to find support in this decision.
Your feelings are a huge part of your decision
Addiction can have a stronghold on families. It can affect the way people act and hurt relationships. You might have feelings of guilt, shame, self-doubt, burnout, or feel like you’ve failed your child and family. This can make you feel angry or resentful. Depending on your own personal and family history with addiction, it might open up some unresolved traumas.
Feeling tired and fed up might lead you to wonder if kicking out your child is the best or only solution. It’s okay to have these intense thoughts and emotions. You don’t want to enable your child by giving in to demands of money, extended curfew, etc. But you also don’t want to walk on eggshells. Your feelings matter. It’s okay to experience intense emotions and also want things to change. Take time to check in with yourself.
- What emotions does your child’s drinking/using bring up for you?
- How are you managing those feelings?
- How are those feelings showing up in your relationship with your child?
- Do those emotions lead to yelling, accusations, or threats?
By acknowledging your feelings, you can see how they may help or hurt in communication with your child or influence your decision-making.
Identifying and setting boundaries
Do you have boundaries? What do they look like? If you’re struggling to answer these questions, it could be a good time to check in and create some new ones. When we don’t have or enforce our boundaries, we can unintentionally bring our feelings, hurts, and traumas into our relationships. This can make it difficult to communicate clearly and calmly.
Explore how you’ve been reacting and responding without judgment. Are there ways you’ve enabled your child? Have you been put or put yourself in situations where emotional, financial, or physical harm could come to you? If so, it’s probably time to establish new boundaries.
You want your message to be clear and heard. So, be specific. You can try something like, “If you do not ___, I will no longer be able to make myself available for ___.”
Asserting your boundaries isn’t easy. You might feel like you’re telling your child what to do. What you’re actually doing is giving them guidelines. Stick to your boundaries, even if your child doesn’t respect them. You demonstrate accountability when you do what you say you will and hold them responsible for their commitments.
Though you might try, you can’t do this alone. You’ll need someone to bounce ideas off of, connect with when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, or support during a crisis.
You may not know how to offer support. Instead of making drastic decisions, find someone who can offer perspective. It can help to weigh the pros and cons before you make a decision about whether to kick your child out. It’s a big decision and you want to be sure about the best steps to help your child. Getting support is especially important if your child is using drugs but also has another mental illness like psychosis.
If you’re able to find a treatment program in your community that provides family based care, this is best. Otherwise, it is helpful to talk to a therapist, healthcare professional, clergy member, or other loved one.
There are resources and groups where you can learn more about addiction, how to help your child, and ways to take care of yourself. Here are a few:
Trying to deal with guilt, shame, regret, hurt, anger, and fear on your own can intensify those feelings or cause you to feel isolated. By reaching out, you create a support system for yourself.
Supporting their recovery is your choice
Do you know what recovery support looks like? Before making any decisions, start there. Talk to your child about their substance use. Can you get them to open up about what leads them to drink/use? This can help you figure out the best route for treatment. Do they need therapy? Recovery groups? Could your family benefit from family therapy? Many kids don’t get access to recovery support until they’re wrapped up in the legal system. You may want to intervene before that point.
You may feel guilty. You may not want your child using and living under your roof. It’s okay to feel that way. Instead of kicking your child out, you might decide that the best route is to set boundaries, hold them and yourself accountable, and teach them the skills they need to take care of themselves so they can move out and do things on their own. Getting them support may feel like a better way to help them launch into the world. You won’t always agree with their choices, but it can be helpful for your child to know you are there for them and ready to help them embark on recovery.