I stood at the book signing event, discussing with a reader my first published book called Lost Boys and the Moms who Love Them. Two of my three sons were abusing substances. A couple of friends had sons who also struggled, so we collaborated.
My feet ached as I explained how the three of us wrote the book because of all the negative emotions we’d experienced. Just then, as if I didn’t have quite enough pain, a woman muttered (just loud enough to hear), “Well. You must not have supervised your kids. I hope they get the help they need.”
She missed the point our book was trying to make: That with addiction in the family, moms suffer too.
“Didn’t you teach them to just say no to drugs?” “I can’t imagine my child making such poor choices.” Sound familiar? Over the years, people have actually said these things to me. Some, right to my face; other snipes I’ve overheard. Whenever others judge my now grown children who deal with addiction, they judge me too.
Scripture quoters are even worse. “Train up a child in the way he should go,” the pious ones remind. The subtext is, which you apparently did not. Need more proof?
“We know that God does not listen to sinners.” Obviously, I didn’t raise them right. Obviously.
That book didn’t do as much to change perceptions as I’d hoped. Today, as treatments and attitudes about addiction crawl toward change, Moms like me still take the brunt of the judgment. And what we lack in judgment, we make up for with guilt.
We’re supposed to be strong, to shake off the cruel and misinformed comments. Words that wound and looks that kill our spirits bring out the Mama Bear in me—don’t you ever say that about my child! I’m a bulletproof vest against my child’s judges. I stand, roaring like a grizzly at anyone who dares talk smack about my sons. Until my midsection has so many bullet holes that I can’t stand anymore.
Judgment crushes me at the strangest times. A fresh ton of judginess rains down with every glowing Christmas letter I receive from “normies.” Judgment bores a hole in my heart with each dismissive glance, each tsk, each cheerful question. “And where’s your son working these days?” throws my heart into a centrifuge, spinning me while the bottom drops away.
Maybe worst of all are the comments about choice. I do not believe people choose addiction. Addiction chooses them. Perhaps the first time is a kind of choice, but after addiction grabs hold, no one “chooses” to use.
In a society that glorifies both alcohol and drugs, we toss people with predispositions for addiction into the fire and tell them to use “responsibly.” We laugh and make jokes about needing more wine when we’re frustrated or stressed. And most of us don’t think about the clarion call of addiction until our judginess sets in.
So far, the evidence backs me up. Science is uncovering more and more of the brain’s strange ways. Too bad the judgment train hasn’t caught on. In American society, addiction is still thought to be the result of poor choices, weak will, lax morals.
The reflection of all these weaknesses resides in every mother who did her darnedest to instill decency in her offspring. In the mom who wonders why all her warnings, all her teaching and all her shaping bounced off the skulls of children who must have been dropped on their heads. In a momma who did all the right things for her kids and still lost the addiction lottery.
Who gets the blame when little kids act up in a grocery store? We save our worst slitty-eyed looks for the mother who’s pushing the cart. A boy who drops out of school? His mom didn’t teach him to value an education. And if God forbid, a son or daughter ends up in addiction, why on earth didn’t their mother model moderation?
Judginess is killing us.
OK, I can be judgy too. We all can. Many of our kids with addiction heap coals upon their own heads. If someone isn’t good, they must be bad. I’ve guilted myself into believing that I missed the Good Mother boat.
Dealing with children with addiction takes tons of energy, resources and patience. Some moms become convinced their loving help is sick enabling. Some must bail completely, due to violence. Others find support meetings to get through the week.
Yet no matter our circumstances, most of us love our kids through thick and thin. By redirecting our Mama Grizzly attitudes toward acceptance, we can love them well. Loving well means setting boundaries, looking for right rather than always focusing on what’s wrong, and speaking and listening respectfully to our kids. These positive actions go a long way toward deflecting judgments no matter where they come from. Next time someone says you didn’t mom correctly, tell them you hope they get the help they need.