My first child laughed a lot. The angry tension between his Dad and I only made him laugh more. At times this calmed us down and we laughed too. According to the Mayo Clinic laughter can:
- Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released into your brain.
- Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter As Self-Defense
My little, barely 6-month-old, human instinctively knew to defuse his parent’s arguments for his safety. Yes, I said his safety. Not that either one of his adoring parents would have hurt him intentionally but he knew our lives were unmanageable before we did.
Our therapist at the time helped us see that we were our son’s whole world. His very life depended on us. Fear smiling or laughing happens for many reasons:
- to signal a person we think is dangerous to us that we have no wish for harm
- trying to convince the aggressor and ourselves that everything will be OK
- unable to protest the situation in another way
- fiercely denying that the danger is real by using laughter to defuse the situation
I went home and thought and prayed about who was parenting the children in the family.
Children Learn Quickly to Adapt to their Family
In an addictive family that may mean:
- Not seeing what is right in front of them
- Not displaying their feelings
- Pretending all is normal when it is not
- Being told not to share about what happens in the home
- Trying to keep the peace at all costs
- Taking on adult relationship roles
- Becoming small and unseen
- Displaying anxiety and rage
- Difficulty dealing with transitions or schedule changes
- Needing precise order all the time
The parents of children in addictive families are so deeply caught up in their own issues that they often miss the child’s cries for help. Or, the parents grew up as children in addictive families and see their behavior and the child’s as normal.
Much of our trauma happened in the early years of my children’s life. Our therapist explained that my infant son’s laughter during our fighting was his way of saying please stop, I am afraid for my life. With no words to express their feelings, babies can’t share why they feel sad, mad or hurt. If not addressed, this can lead to an older child not being about to read other peoples emotions well.
Recovering parents may even be attending regular meetings to maintain their sobriety, practicing healthy behaviors at home, and actively parenting. Yet, the family is still not addressing the early trauma and confusion of the “crazy time” the addictive family experienced during active addiction and codependency.
Children of Addictive Families
Our children’s early childhood thoughts and feelings do not just disappear because life is good now.
Children of addictive families need a place to process out loud the feelings they experienced during the “crazy time” in their family.
Without this processing time, the child’s feelings may be triggered by small circumstances. The responses will often be disproportionate to the present situation. Displays of deep frustration, anger, and sadness may occur at seemly random times.
A safe, fun, non-judgmental program, preferably with other kids who have experienced similar things, is crucial to unwinding their ball of feelings.
Programs we have used:
While the adults are working through a Christ-Centered 12 Step Program, their children are working on the same topics. The program is presented in a multi-media format. The whole family is learning biblical standards around honestly, healing and wholeness. Topics include:
- Truths that help them avoid cycles of hurts, hang-ups, and habits.
- Ways to draw close to Jesus during challenging times.
- Language and experiences to understand whats happening in their homes.
Beamer is a light bulb boy. Often children in addictive families can’t read feelings. All the characters in this series change colors according to their feelings. The books and videos do a great job explaining addiction in a secular way and walking through the maze of crazy feelings that happen in response to situations at home. My children still read these books to themselves 7 years after their initial exposure to the Hazelden Betty Ford Center Children’s Program.
I can not recommend this program enough. I learned as much as my kids did with this very hands-on uplifting approach to the dis-ease of addiction. It is a no child turned away program, if you can’t pay they will find a way through grants to have your family participate. Fun games, pizza and swimming are incorporated into the main themes listed below.
Addiction—It’s Not My Fault- By the HBFC Children’s Program
In our safe, supportive environment, children learn basic facts about the disease of alcoholism and other drug addiction. Through a variety of interactive games and play, they come to understand key concepts such as:
- Loss of control
- Addiction as a disease
Most importantly, children begin to realize they are not to blame for a loved one’s addiction.
Note to Recovering Addict Parents
Not confirming the realness of the “crazy time” in your families life only makes the child doubt your honesty and their ability to make informed judgments about reality. Children of addictive families are less likely to trust themselves and their feelings.
Learning to read other peoples emotions correctly is a life skill that maybe stunned in children who have had to pretend life was OK when “crazy time” was the reality in the family.
Statistically, children from addictive families are 50% more likely to repeat the process in their adult life. Finding “pre-covery” programs like the ones listed about give children a chance to make informed decisions as teens and adults.
Not speaking openly at age-appropriate levels to our children about our own personal struggles with addictive behaviors is not protecting them. It is confusing them. Take the time to hear and confirm the truth of your behaviors during the “crazy time” they witnessed.
Above all, be honest.