Parenting in Recovery



I regularly go to a meeting, where once a month we have a “fireball” format in which the sharer picks someone from the group and gives them a topic. It seems I have been given the topic of “being a parent in recovery” multiple times.  I always get the feeling that everyone is expecting me to talk about how “I bring my kid to meetings all the time, what’s your excuse?” or lament about how stressful being a parent is.  Snapshots of, “Wine: mommy’s little helper,” and other stereotypes run through my head.  But I know what to say.


The twelve step program is a simple, spiritual, non-religious program. But in my family, I treat it with the same level of cultural value as church teachings. I am blessed to have spiritual principles today to pass down to my children, and I do so mindfully.


Nature vs. Nurture

While many parents I know from the fellowship struggle with thoughts of genetics – that someday they will have to explain to their children, “You can never drink or do drugs because your heritage predisposes you to being an addict/alcoholic,” I take a more realistic view.


I mean, teenagers go against the grain all the time and feel that they are invincible.


When my child tries alcohol or drugs, know that she does not have that feeling of relief, “Ahhhhh that made all my problems go away”. I would rather, she not have a spiritual void that is an endless pit for drunken socializing, artificial spirits, and mind numbing highs.  My child doesn’t have to have a spiritual void, because I can keep her spirit alive and well: teaching her values and practices that sooth her heartache, provide for real connection with other people, and protect her from unnecessary suffering.


I’ve done pretty well so far. My daughter is 4 and this story took place when she had just turned 3.  We were riding in the car and I was on the phone getting pretty angry about something so significant I can’t even remember it now.  It was out of character for me at that time, but was part of some spiritual/mental lapse I was experiencing in my recovery journey (probably not enough meditation or meetings in my life).  Anyway, after I got off the phone, still huffing and puffing, my lovely toddler chimed in from the back seat in a perfectly calm and almost cheerful voice,


“Mommy you don’t have to be mad. You can just be happy.” 


And there it was. The truth I didn’t learn until I was in my late twenties, after a staggering host of failures. From my child, looking like a little version of me from a parallel dimension.  I had taught her that, and she was mirroring it back to me.  The truth was swirling around my family the way it swirls around the 12 step family. The cyclical nature of human wisdom was right there to behold in all its wonder: The Universal Spirit.


I said. “I know. You’re right,” and I really meant it.  And I cheered up immediately; this type of emotional control was completely off my radar until I found recovery.  I didn’t even know that choosing to feel good was a thing that people do.  I didn’t know it was possible to accept something and move on to enjoy your day.  And my 3-year-old was able to put it into words.  She also said, “You don’t have to yell, ever again,” which amused me because it came out in the same rhythm as “you don’t have to use, ever again” that gets repeated at meetings. I’m sure that wasn’t a coincidence.


Of course, as children are naturally selfish creatures (all day everyday…say a little prayer for me), I have plenty of opportunities to reiterate messages of spiritual strength. Regular meeting attendance is perfect to remind me of the simple words I need to teach my daughter, and of the behaviors I need to model for her.


“Let’s focus on one thing at a time.”

“You are not in control of what other people do.”

“You need to be honest so we can help you learn to be a big girl.”

“Staying stuck in ‘upset’ won’t change the situation, so let’s accept it and think about something happy instead.”

“Aren’t you so happy we could do this?”

“I’m grateful.”


This is the level we operate today. Someday I’ll be teaching her about these concepts with big words and about serious life choices.


Hopefully it will be easy for her.




Author Carlee Whitcome (MA, LLMSW) is a counselor at Sanford House. Carlee has a natural calling and talent for counseling - beginning as early as high school. In addition to leading 12 step discussions, Carlee supports all paths to recovery, modeling and empowering a variety of new ways of thinking including secular, religious, or spiritual. She is well seasoned in the spiritual paths of Yoga and Tai Chi, which she studied at GVSU and elsewhere, offering a unique experience of these mind-body-spirit practices integrated with counseling therapy.