Finding Balance: Parenting in Recovery and Prioritizing Self-Care

Sober parenting is a beautiful journey, but it is essential to acknowledge that it’s not without its own set of unique challenges. Many parents in recovery encounter moments of isolation, as their trusted coping mechanisms of drugs or alcohol are no longer options for unwinding at the end of a long day.

Without these familiar crutches, it can feel almost impossible to escape the overwhelming stress and intense pressures of parenting. But with intention and focus on your well-being, having a balanced and fulfilling life is possible. And doing it hangover-free is a bonus.

Unique Challenges for Parents in Recovery

Parents in recovery have it a lot harder than those who don’t have substance abuse problems. Over time, they may have lost the trust of their friends and family, including their children, which requires time and hard work to rebuild.

About 10% of American children live in a home with at least one parent with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to a 2017 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Lipari & Van Horn, 2017). (1)

Guilt and shame are common feelings for those in recovery. For parents, this may include regretting missing important milestones or simply not being as present for their kids’ childhoods as they would have liked.

The temptation to drink alcohol is everywhere. Moms and dads bring booze to their kids’ sporting events and have get-togethers to let loose and commiserate with each other.

In addition, we glorify the mommy-wine culture; in many circles, alcohol is an accessory to parenting. When you’re sober, this can make socializing and attending events extremely difficult to navigate.

Prioritizing Balance as a Sober Parent

It’s OK to be selfish as a parent in recovery. You’ve likely heard, “Put your Oxygen mask on first.” It means you won’t be able to care for others if you aren’t taking proper care of yourself.

Intentionality and self-awareness don’t come naturally to everyone. Building self-care habits gets easier over time, eventually becoming a regular routine.

Listening to your body can help. In the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk wrote, “Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.” (2)

Identify and Address Your Individual Needs

Everyone has a unique experience with parenting and recovery. Self-awareness and -reflection are essential for identifying your individual needs. Doing so can cultivate a strong foundation for your well-being and create a positive environment for your children.

There are three main areas you should be prioritizing:

  • Physical wellness
  • Emotional well-being
  • Social support

Physical wellness

Recovery is a journey encompassing the mind and body. And practicing physical self-care daily is vital. This may include resting properly, practicing good personal hygiene, exercising regularly, and eating nutritious meals.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How can I fit more movement into my day?
  • What small changes can I make in my diet?
  • What are my favorite foods? Are they good for me?
  • What daily habits would be beneficial for me?
  • Who can join me on a walk today?
  • What types of exercise do I enjoy?

Emotional well-being

Having strong emotional support in your life is a protective factor for managing life’s difficulties. This can be achieved through nurturing your personal relationships and utilizing professional mental health programs with medication and therapy.

Awareness of the importance and available options for mental health support is improving. 20.3% of adults received mental health treatment in the last year, according to a 2020 study, a slight increase from the previous year (Norris, 202). (3)

If you spent time in a treatment program, you probably learned ways to recognize triggers and other valuable coping skills for when times get tough.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the facts of this situation?
  • Would I benefit from exploring medication?
  • How can I calmly work through this issue?
  • Why am I being triggered by this situation?
  • Do I need to speak to a neutral person?
  • What would my therapist say?

Social support

Having a network of friends and family to lean on is crucial for everyone, especially for parents in recovery. But it’s not always easy to find your people. Building solid relationships with people who genuinely support and add value to your life is vital.

The phrase “It takes a village” says it all. Parenting sober can feel incredibly lonely, so a social support network is vital. On the other hand, it can be easy to slip back into your old, not-so-positive relationships with family and friends.

Be mindful of who you surround yourself with and set healthy boundaries to promote a positive social support experience for your family.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Who can I depend on when I’m struggling?
  • Is this person adding value or negativity?
  • Who are the positive influences for my family?
  • Who in my life is the right person for this problem?
  • Who do I need to distance myself from?
  • What boundaries do I need to set?

Self-Care Strategies for Parents in Recovery

We all know #selfcare is important, right? Well, if you’re on social media, you probably do. But what can sober parents do outside of relaxing bubble baths and devouring decadent chocolate cake to improve this part of their lives?

Establish a routine

Starting a new habit can be difficult, but routines can significantly help, especially amidst parenting responsibilities. Reframe your self-care activities as “just something you do.” Consider them non-negotiable parts of your day.

Use time management techniques to ensure you do what you need to. Block your calendar for walks, or tell your colleagues and family when you’ve got an activity planned so that it’s not a last-minute surprise in the schedule. Planning is crucial and can be beneficial for you to accomplish your wellness goals.

Get your kids involved too! This will show them you are taking your self-care seriously and help build a foundation for their own.

Prioritize your physical and emotional health

Be intentional about all aspects of your health. Incorporate regular movement, healthy nutrition, and proper rest into your daily life.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. No need to join a gym or become a fitness influencer. Hippocrates said it best, “Walking is man’s best medicine” (Batman, 2012). (4)

Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques such as:

  • Journaling
  • Music for relaxation
  • Breathwork
  • Meditation

If you’re able, talk with a therapist regularly. Try to find someone in recovery or who specializes in addiction therapy. It’s helpful to talk with someone who “gets it.”

Put your phone down once in a while. Take a break from work or household duties and prioritize being present with your kids. Recovery is all about second chances, and it’s your turn to make positive memories with your family.

Nurturing the Parent-Child Relationship in Recovery

Regardless of how your parenting looked in the past, you can build on, enhance, and nurture your relationship with your kids now and for years to come.

Rebuild trust and repair relationships

Create a predictable environment for your children. Stability can help your kids feel secure and build trust. Model consistency for your kids—discuss expectations and consequences. Follow through with your actions.

Be someone your kids can rely on. Do what you say you’ll do, and try hard not to commit if you can’t follow through. Avoid promises, even if you think you can keep them.

Be honest and transparent with your kids when it’s appropriate. If you’re having a bad day, don’t fake being happy for their sake. Use the opportunity to teach them about dealing with strong emotions and moving through the feelings rather than faking positive ones.

Have open communication with your kids

Your children likely know a lot more than you think they do. Roll with it!  Encourage age-appropriate discussions, let them ask questions, and be honest with answers. Address misconceptions about your recovery or substance use. Validate their feelings and ease their fears.

This open dialogue is an excellent way to discover what they know, what you can teach them, and how they feel. Plus, it will enhance your bond with them and start to mend your relationship.

Model healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms

Teach your kids about emotional regulation and using proper coping mechanisms by doing both yourself. When the time comes, share and use the tools you learned.

Engage in healthy activities together and demonstrate the importance of self-care by prioritizing your wellness. Doing so will teach your children the significance of caring for oneself, fostering a healthy lifestyle, and inspiring them to do the same.

Spending quality time with your kids is so important. Now that you’re in recovery, you can give your kids the time with you they deserve. There is no need to plan extravagant trips or spend money on gifts; being present with them is enough.

Celebrate sobriety milestones

It’s essential to acknowledge your sobriety wins, big or small, and getting your kids involved is a powerful way to reinforce the significance of your recovery.

Celebrate sober birthdays to recognize your progress and growth. Each milestone is important, and an opportunity to reflect on the positive impact of sobriety has had on you and your family.

Parents in recovery face unique challenges during their sobriety journey. And balancing parenting demands with self-care can be daunting. However, it is crucial to recognize the importance of self-care and strive for balance in your life.

Remember, you are never alone on this road to recovery. Reach out and connect with other sober parents in your area or online. Share your experiences, learn from one another, and support each other.

Take a moment to reflect on your journey and tell your kids you’re proud of yourself. Demonstrating self-love is good for you and shows them that loving yourself is a part of living a happy and fulfilling life. Plus, you deserve it!


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