Mary Taylor – the affluent, successful Ohio Lieutenant Governor and mother of three adult children – just went public about two of her sons’ opiate addictions. While I applaud all efforts, including hers, to rein in the nightmare of the drug epidemic surrounding us, I have to admit: That feeling in my stomach as I try to digest this news is nausea. If it can happen to her, friends, it can happen to anyone. It can happen to me.
It can happen to the wild-hearted, skinned-kneed, bouquets-of-daisies-clutching, muddy-fingered kids who I’m blessed to call mine. Even they aren’t safe from this.
Taylor’s interview, published yesterday, June 1st, did not answer the question that keeps me up at night, when I realize how close this monster is to my own doorstep: HOW? How did this happen to your children? How can I protect my children from it? Is it possible to inoculate them from this lurking, growing threat?
Research is unclear on how to prevent addiction, though clear on the fact that if I followed my instincts and actually stuck them in pickle jars or bubble wrap, I’d do more harm than good. I’m left with the following, flawed strategies:
Honesty: Even though my kids are young, we talk about drugs, already. We talk about how prevalent they are, and why people make the decisions to try them. We talk about addiction, what happens when the chemical in the drug takes over your brain and your decisions. We tell them there is no safe dose. We’ll answer any question they have, even if it makes us uncomfortable, and they know it.
Emotional Intelligence: A lot of our parenting centers on the idea that kids who can identify their emotions and cope with them will make better decisions. I don’t know if this will help them avoid drugs (or even if I’ll succeed on the emotional intelligence front), but I hope it will.
Healthy relationships and boundaries: This is the trickiest one, because I truly believe that if opiate addictions only struck “bad” parents, well? We’d be in a way better spot. If being strict, for example, prevented addiction, the problem would have been solved long ago. However, I do think that I can try to meet kids’ growing needs for independence and maintain age-appropriate boundaries, too. And though I’m smart enough to know it’s not that simple, maybe it’ll help.
Cultivate opportunities for the “natural high:” This article has been, perhaps, the most hopeful thing I’ve read recently about teenage drug use. It profiles a national movement in Iceland that provides teens with healthy coping mechanisms, taking into account reliance on escapism or thrill-seeking. Drugs have been used to meet both needs, but both can be met with healthy, structured activities: art, reading, gymnastics, etc. In the end, it contends that many drug prevention initiatives fail because they don’t provide kids with the skills they need to cope with challenges. The entire article, though long, is worth a read, if only because it provides some helpful, actionable suggestions.
In the end, none of it might work. I’m left with the knowledge that, if addiction manages to trap my children, I will never stop loving them, and never rest, fighting it. I will understand that it is a disease, not a character flaw. I will forgive them, a thousand times. I will tell them the same thing that I tell them now: No one is allowed to hurt my kids, even themselves. I’ll try to live up to my end of the bargain.
I’ll remember Mary Taylor, who concludes her interview with a few pieces of advice: First, don’t trust prescription pain killers. Second, if this happens to you, you’re not alone. Seek help. Speak out.
How are you confronting this epidemic in your family?