5 Ways to Maintain a Relationship with Your Child’s Birth Parent Suffering from Addiction

Loving an addict isn’t always easy. Here are some ways to cope.

Sarah M. Baker June 10, 2015

Addiction is a complicated disease that doesn’t discriminate based on race, class, education, or age. Before drug addiction plagued my family, it was something I didn’t quite understand. I knew alcohol and tobacco were addictive. I even had heard of addictive personality traits and addictions to activities like gambling or shopping. But the drug addiction of today is an epidemic that isn’t getting better. Depending on the substance a person is addicted to, detox can be dangerous, and treatment and recovery can be near-impossible. I recently lost my big brother to heroin addiction. It is through that loss, and helping another family member through the same addiction, that I have realized just how difficult it is to love a person suffering from addiction.

Maintaining a relationship with an addict is challenging and frustrating. Loving someone unconditionally does not mean you have to love their disease. It does not mean you have to condone their habit. It does not mean you have to pick up their messes. Here are some ways I have learned to focus on the relationship while also recognizing the addiction. If you are struggling to maintain a relationship with your child’s birth parent because they suffer from addiction, hopefully these tips will help you.

Educate yourself about addiction
1. Educate yourself about addiction

Understanding the type of addiction your child’s birth parent faces will help you understand the behavior that may come with addiction. It’s easy to become frustrated with addicts when you don’t understand the disease they are plagued with. It’s easy to judge the behavior they engage in when you have never found yourself in their shoes. It's easy to wish they had never started using the drug they became addicted to, but you don’t know their story or how it began. You can’t change the past, but you can look toward the future through education. Understanding the addiction will also help you understand the options for treatment and give you a possible approach to helping them move toward sobriety.

Loving Doesn't Mean Enabling
2. Loving Doesn't Mean Enabling

This is a hard line that I am constantly trying to find. It is often difficult to differentiate between loving and enabling. Unfortunately, addiction can change everything about human behavior. Lying, cheating, stealing, and manipulation may become common. Our love toward these important people can make us easy targets. We have to realize that the addiction is in control of every aspect, and under normal circumstances treating loved ones in this manner would not happen. So demonstrate love, but don’t enable the addiction by allowing yourself to be controlled or abused.

Set boundaries
3. Set boundaries

Boundaries are necessary in any relationship, but clear and firm boundaries with an addict will help the individual understand that while you want to be present, there are rules that must be followed in order for you to remain an active participant. Some examples:

- No drug use (or possession) during visits.
- If you show up high, visits will be canceled or plans will be changed.
- Don't lie about your addiction. Honesty goes a long way.
- Follow through with promises you make to our child.
- We cannot fund your habit. (This one is hard if the addict comes to you in need of food/clothes or other life essential items. But if there is money to pay for the addiction, it’s important to figure this one out, too.)

Seek Help
4. Seek Help

As a part of education, therapy sessions are a valuable resource. Whether you see a professional or attend a meeting for friends and family of addicts, having someone who can help you understand addiction and an addict’s behaviors is vital in maintaining your relationship.

- NAR-ANON is for family and friends of narcotic/opiate addicts.
- AL-ANON is for family and friends of alcohol addicts.
- CO-ANON is for family and friends of cocaine addicts.
- Crystal Meth Anonymous is a foundation of support for meth addicts.
- Families Anonymous helps people deal with many types of addiction.

Put your child first
5. Put your child first

Your child should always be your number one priority in a relationship that includes addiction. Know when to step in and stand up for the child. While I never recommend closing an adoption outright, I tell myself that my son’s birth parents chose us to parent and protect him. If there were any danger to him from anyone, they would expect me to shield him, and in that, it goes for them too.

So while I would never close our adoption, if I needed to take a step back from visits because of addiction, that’s what I would do. I would communicate with them honestly about the situation and give them opportunities to make positive changes. The door would always be open for re-entry.

However, even if visits need to be limited, communication should continue. Stress to the birth parents that you love them and that your child loves them. Continue sending photos and updates and resume where you left off when the dangerous behaviors have stopped.

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for Adoption.com and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.

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