How do you deal with a child who is a substance abuser? Even an addict? Natalie Wehner, a Sherwood Park mother who had exactly that experience, spoke about it to a small Slave Lake audience last week. Her main message, learned the hard way: Don’t be an enabler. Don’t cushion them from the consequences of their own actions. It won’t help and it will probably make things worse.
“It’s a challenge for a parent to do the opposite of what you naturally want to do,” said Wehner, one of two members of Parents Empowering Parents (PEP) who spoke at the Legacy Centre at the invitation of the local RCMP.
In her own experience with her son, Wehner said she came to realize that ‘tough love’ was necessary. It meant making hard rules about conduct in the home, and if he didn’t follow them, he was out. Anything less than that was enabling his destructive lifestyle.
“The best thing we ever did for him,” she said, was make boundaries and stick to them.
The other presenter was Larena Greig, the executive director of PEP. She talked about the need for parents to get support and to look after their own health, without which they can’t help anybody else.
“Parents are just as much in crisis as their child who is addicted,” she said. “They want to fix it and they can’t.”
Wehner’s other big point was intervention. If you can do it, and it’s early enough, it can make a difference she said. She and her husband found, in fact, that the possibilities are quite limited, as far as getting the RCMP (or any other authorities) to step in. The rights of the individual, after a certain age, trump just about everything, as long as outright crimes are not being committed.
“I think it’s time we started pushing for mandatory treatment of minors,” she said.
There is a a program that in certain situations allows the authorities to lock a kid up for 10 days, she said, called PChAD (Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act).
Back to the ‘tough love’ idea: “There’s a big difference between support and enabling,” Wehner said. “We kill our kids with kindness.”
“You actually feed the addiction,” said Greig.
PEP offers support for parents in such situations. It holds meetings twice weekly in Sherwood Park. That doesn’t help parents in Slave Lake much, but there is information available, and a crisis line.
“Call us,” urged Greig (the number is 780-293-0737). “We get calls from across Canada.”