Raising children is a difficult and sometimes intimidating proposition, even when you are in a healthy relationship with the other parent. However, what happens when one parent is a drug addict? You want them in your child’s life but you may not trust them with your child’s wellbeing.
Before we go further, it is important to acknowledge that there are no simple answers here. There are endless different scenarios, including the severity of the addiction, the nature of your relationship, and custody agreements. No one-size-fits-all advice should be taken seriously, especially since some situations are dangerous for all involved.
As such, we’re going to go through some of the steps you’ll need to take on your way towards figuring out what kind of issues you will face. We are not, however, going to offer specific solutions.
Here are a few guidelines to help you start navigating this issue.
Assess the severity of their addiction:
Addiction is a disease and it is sometimes not worthwhile to question how bad it is. After all, when you are ill, you should get treatment regardless of the severity. But because addiction presents differently in different people, the severity of the illness is pertinent in determining how to co-parent.
The fact is that if your co-parent is high all day every day, you’re going to approach the situation very differently than if they get high only at night after work. Of course, it is not usually that simple, and there are infinite variations of when and how your co-parent might use drugs.
Ideally, you should assess how severe their addiction is with a trained professional. This is not always possible, as they may not be willing to seek help. In this case, there are some questions you should consider:
- Are they a danger to themselves? If you worry about their safety due to their drug addiction, it is severe enough for it to be a major issue in your co-parenting. You will not feel safe leaving your kids with them.
- How much does their personality swing? With some drug addicts, it is difficult to tell that they are using drugs. They are able to stay fairly consistent in how they relate to others. However, many addicts have personality swings, leading them to become aggressive and even abusive. If you can’t rely on them acting like the same person throughout the day, they have a severe problem.
- Do they use more than they used to? Addictions tend to get worse when not treated. If your co-parent is using more than they did a week or a month ago, they are likely to start using even more as time passes and their body comes to depend on substances. The more they use, the more difficult it is for them to stop.
Take their treatment into account:
What if they are getting treatment, whether from an addiction expert or a rehab? This is a great first step, but it does not mean you’ll feel comfortable co-parenting with them just yet. In this case, your decisions should be made with their treatment in mind. Their journey as a healthy parent can become a significant part of their recovery.
This is not to say that your child’s wellbeing should be used as a tool in their treatment. Rather, you can find a healthy balance in which they get more access and participation in your child’s life as they recover. Working with their doctor or therapist, you can come up with a plan together to do what’s best for your child.
Many people co-parenting with drug addicts struggle to bring their child into the process because they don’t want to expose them to the ugly side of life. Unfortunately, there is no way of completely hiding that something is wrong with their other parent. By working together with your co-parent and their treatment professional, you can come to an agreement as to how to speak to your child about what is going on.
Consider custody changes if necessary:
If your co-parent is not in treatment and is getting worse, you may no longer trust them with your child. However, it can be difficult to keep them out of your child’s life, especially if you already have custody arrangements in place. You’re legally obliged to keep to those arrangements, but should not do so if your child is unsafe.
Taking legal action against your co-parent is far from ideal, but if it is necessary to keep your child out of danger, you should consider doing so.
Changes in custody will not be easily won, especially if your co-parent has not been diagnosed with an addiction disorder or done anything dangerous or illegal. The best outcome in this case is that you negotiate with them in the presence of your lawyers. You may be able to help them understand your concerns and that any arrangements you make are meant to be temporary.
Find a child psychologist:
Regardless of how well your co-parent is doing in their recovery journey, your child will be affected by their addiction. This is true even if they rarely see this parent. As such, it is worthwhile finding a child or educational psychologist. They will offer a safe space for your child to speak about both what they understand and what makes no sense to them.
A good child psychologist will be able to help them understand what is going on in a way that is sensitive and helpful. They will also be able to give you advice on how to co-parent your child in the most effective way.
Co-parenting with a drug addict is not easy and there are no easy solutions. Use the above guidelines to start considering your potential course of action. Speak to a professional when making any decisions.