Navigating Parenting in Recovery

by Lea Wetzel, Drop-in Center Coordinator

August 8, 2023

I think this story really starts with my own background, and into my own childhood. I am the 6th generation healing from boarding schools in my family, so both my parents were affected and were in those schools growing up. There was a lot of traumas instilled in parenting growing up for all those generations before me, that were taken from their homes and put into boarding schools.

My mom grew up on a ranch in Blackfeet territory, and my dad grew up in that area, but right outside of Cut Bank on a farm. My mom was the oldest of 5 sisters and was treated like a boy on that ranch. She was abused and had to play the motherly role for her siblings by the time she was 12, because our grandma left the girls and my grandpa. So, she was always protective and strict in parenting us, and we didn’t go without, but we learned to work together and do what we were told.

My dad was the youngest boy out of 7 siblings and knew how it was to struggle. He always did what he could to listen and give us what he couldn’t have, but he also endured and seen a lot in his lifetime. It really continued to affect his mental health as he got older.

I grew up between Helena and Great Falls, after my parents split, when I was around 3, and my brother was 9. I got the gift of seeing two very different parenting skills. My mom hovered and made sure I did what I was supposed to, and when I didn’t, there were consequences. My dad was very trusting and comforting, but very enabling.

They both were amazing, and did the best with what they had, but I had one person in my life that gave me consistency, and that was my stepdad. My mom remarried when I was 7 years old. He was a teacher and coach in this community for over 50 years, and treated me and all my family, as if we were blood.

What he was one day, was what he was the next, and when he said he would do something, he did it, and he did it with integrity.

So, when I became a parent, I was 23 when I had my girl, and later 24, when I had my son. I was still in active addiction when I got pregnant, but soon after finding out I was pregnant, went to my first treatment center, for the good of my baby.

Sobriety never lasted, and recovery wasn’t something I can say I was a part of, until the last 6 years of my life.

I didn’t have many skills in the areas of boundaries, coping, emotional regularity, and self-care. I am sure if I had some of these, maybe, I would have had a better shot, but I still didn’t know how to live without my addictions and toxic mental health, front and center.

I learned the hard way, and my love for my kids showed me, that maybe I was not the best fit for them, when I couldn’t take care of myself. After not being consistent in my kids’ life, 8 years more of active addiction went by, and it was going into 17 years all together of being within the criminal justice system, I learned a lot, and took a lot of courses, classes, and groups. I had 7 treatment centers under my belt, and a couple mental health overnight stays as well. None of which gave me the hands-on support and empowered atmosphere I needed, until I was in a re-entry program that was trauma-informed and had a sense of a harm reduction model.

Something changed this last go, and I know it sounds cliché, but that is the best way I can describe it, without letting it take over this whole article.

I was able to get my kids back, and I did it in a family shelter, where I had help transitioning from no kids, to grown up kids, almost teenagers at the time.
I have learned through my growth and healing; they need the same support themselves. We all came back together to my first apartment that I rented, when I was getting ready to graduate treatment court.

It has been rocky, amazing, and full of gifts, being able to get a second chance as a parent. All those memories of my childhood come rushing to me, and I literally have to fight the characteristics I don’t want to be, because they come almost second nature. It’s practice not perfection, but I have learned that everyone needs a tribe to keep them afloat, and by sharing that with my kids, they have a better chance at being supported.

As a single mom of two teenagers, and doing all the things to keep myself healthy, mind, body, and soul, I need to make sure these two other beings are in a good place, as well. Sometimes that looks different day to day, but listening and giving them my unconditional love, and making sure I spend individual time with them, and time together, all been key elements to our lives flowing a lot better.

They each have very different personalities, and by listening and empowering them in their wants and passion, we can have positive outcomes. But, also, they are teenagers, and I have learned to really put a shield on, because some things can be very painful. They may not purposely disrespect or disregard rules, or our home, but they are at an age that they think they know it all, and parents don’t.

That’s okay, because no matter what the obstacle is in life, the more I take care of myself, and am in a good mindset, the better I can make choices that are helpful for all of us.

One of those skills I have started learning is, I go to a parenting group, with other parents that have kids with mental health issues, or even co-occurring. It helps me to not feel so alone. I also go to my own groups for support. The kids each talk to someone outside of the home, and I do my best to keep them busy. Summers can be hard because they have so much time on their hands.

Giving a space for vulnerability, even when some of the conversations are hard to hear. I think taking accountability for not being there for the time I wasn’t is very important and giving them the space to grow and be who they are meant to be, is super important as well.

Giving them space and myself, space is vital, be able to trust one another is super important.

Acknowledging that they are their own individual, and respecting that they are who they are, but find that balance of empowering them, boundaries, accountability, and support, is a balance I think every parent wants to strive for, but it can be hard, and that is okay. We have our lives, and they have theirs, I don’t push them to be like me, but being an example of a strong person for them, does start to rub off, in multiple ways.

Being a parent in recovery, is a gift, it’s a strength, and it can be hard. Having supportive systems and people in place is vital. Being the energy, we want to see in our kids, can be a great concept, but the reality is, I am a parent that makes mistakes. I think learning to work though things together, and allowing our kids to have a voice and choice in some areas of our lives is important.

Parenting can either make or break us, and it is up to us to do that no matter what, we need to be the example and person our kids need. We also can welcome a space for growth and learning in this area of our recovery as well.


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