Natural Consequences: The Value of Letting Your Child With Substance Use Disorder Make Mistakes with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Natural Consequences: The Value of Letting Your Child With Substance Use Disorder Make Mistakes with Brenda Zane

One of the hardest things for parents to do when their child is struggling is to know when or when not to help them. When they’re little, it’s easy – but as they get older, it’s more complicated because, especially for moms, there’s often an urge to step in and smooth the way and remove obstacles from their path so they don’t have such a hard time. I am 100% guilty of this and know from my work with other moms I’m not alone.

In this episode, I share all about this tendency we have, including:

  • common ways parents interfere and remove obstacles from their child's path
  • why consequences, even serious ones, aren't necessarily bad
  • how to reframe the way you look at the negative experiences your child is going through
  • real-life examples of experiences and consequences my son went through when he was living a high-risk life and using substances
  • Four things you can do to un-learn rescuing and bubble-wrapping your teen from life

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Brenda Zane
Hello friends. Today we are going to be talking about something that many many parents are guilty He have and really struggle with and I wanted to talk about it, in particular, because it really is kind of one of those fundamental roots of some of the problems our kids experience. And so what I’m going to be talking about today is what I have called bubble wrapping our kids. And what it really is, is just when we step in, and when we do things that really kind of remove obstacles or remove consequences for our kids. And it is one of the hardest things for us to do, especially when your child is struggling. If they’re struggling with substance use, there are a lot of let’s call them landmines that kind of are in the path of our kids and it’s very, very challenging to know when we should or shouldn’t help them. And, you know, when they’re little, I think it’s easier when they’re in there, you know, four or five, six, it’s a little bit easier because the choices that they’re making and the consequences that are going to occur are so much smaller. But as they get older, it gets a lot more complicated because I think, especially for moms, there’s this urge to step in and smooth away, kind of remove those obstacles so that they don’t have such a hard time and I don’t know if that’s kind of due to our umbilical relationship that we have with them. I can’t really speak for dads because I haven’t had that experience. But I know it happens also with dads, but it’s just something that I see a lot and I talk with a lot of moms about this really not knowing when is it appropriate for me to step in, and when is it not? 
And what I also want to say is that I am 100% guilty of this and I know that I did a lot of things when my son was younger, even back to elementary school, that looking back, I wish I would not have done. I wish that I would have let him just experience a few more of the consequences of things that he was doing. And those were at the, at the time very innocent things. And then obviously, as he got older, and kind of lived a higher risk lifestyle and was using substances that got a lot more serious. But what we’re doing when we kind of bubble wrap our kids from the realities of life is we’re actually stealing that opportunity for them to learn and grow from those experiences. And, you know, if you look at it practically it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Like, let’s just let them live and navigate their way and they’ll figure it out. But when it actually comes down to them, moment, that moment where you have to decide what am I going to do. A lot of times our heart gets involved. We feel that paying, and we think, you know, I can just do it this time I can, I’ll just step in and fix this one time, and then I know she’ll figure it out or he’ll not do it again. And so we sort of rationalize what we’re doing. 
And if you haven’t struggled with this, this kind of inclination to rescue, then feel free to totally skip this podcast because this is what it’s gonna be about. But if you are like many, many parents, and I don’t want you to feel alone, if this is something that you struggle with, stay tuned because I’m going to talk about some of the ways that we can both let our kids stumble, and encounter some of those consequences and some ways that we can change our thinking and stay sane and connected to them because it is does cause a lot of anxiety, I think and stress in ourselves. And this is not easy to do. So just know that if if you are in this position, there’s lots of other moms and dads just like you who are really struggling with it. 
And, when I got this feedback earlier in my son’s life when I was doing these things, I really didn’t want to get that feedback. And I probably argued it and rationalized it. Because, my son was so unique, and he had such unique problems. And, he had this and he had that, and he experienced this and he had ADD and on and on and on, and I could rationalize all of those things. And I really thought that because of his unique personality, and his unique challenges, that I was doing the right thing and that they just didn’t understand my circumstances. And what I want to say is that yes, everyone one of our kids is so unique and they’re so individual. However, when you look at it at an aggregate level, kids, a lot of times kind of bubble up to these themes or these tendencies. And those are not necessarily unique. So while your child has these individual things that make you think this is something that I really need to do, and I really need to pave the way for him or her because of this, try to open up your thinking a little bit and realize that there are other kids out there who have these different diagnoses that maybe your child has, and have the same struggles socially. Maybe they are struggling with some mental health issues or anxiety. They might be on the spectrum for autism or Asperger’s and just know your child’s not alone. Just like you aren’t alone in this, your child’s not alone in that either. And there are people who have dealt with that and who know how to deal with it. And so just keep your mind open on that. But also know that it’s hard. This is so so hard. 
And, when when we rescue kids when they’re young, and they’re not necessarily in trouble, that might look like we are being their alarm clock. So in the morning, we are the ones who wake them up. We’re the ones who nag and nag and nag – get up, get up. You got to get up. Now. You got to get up in five minutes, you’re not going to be able to brush your teeth. I’m going to have to pack your breakfast to go. We might drive their lunch to school when they left it on the kitchen counter. Or we might finish homework for them because they had a really long soccer practice and it’s just not fair that they have so much homework, and we just help them a little bit to get it done. Or we might drive them to school. To practice if they oversleep, and they miss their bus, and things like that, they seem really innocent and they seem like the right parental thing to do. But all of those times that we rescue them from that situation, even when they’re younger, we are stepping in and removing a natural consequence for them. 
And, not rescuing becomes really painful as they get older. And especially if you’re, you know, a parent who has a child who’s at risk or who’s using substances. It gets really, really hard and it happens because you are looking at potentially legal consequences, you know, and, and things that could really change the trajectory of their future. And so, if you’re at that point it’s really important to get some help on your side to a kind of advise you on what consequences will or will not have those long term effects. And also just to support you in holding firm to your decision, because it’s not always easy to do that.
And so in the teenage years, if you’re looking at what that looks like, some of the things that you might do in the teen years would be excusing an absence from school if your son or daughter has skipped. But, you know, if you if you don’t excuse their absence, then they won’t be able to maybe play in a game that week if they’re in a sport or they won’t be able to cheer. If they’re a cheerleader, you know, all the different things that will happen if they have an unexcused absence. Or you might give them money for the weekend, if they’ve even already spent the allowance that they’ve received, or that you’ve already given them money. But, you know, if you don’t, then gonna sit at home and they’re going to complain, and they’re going to, you know, whine, and it’s just going to be really frustrating. So you give them money. Or you might pick them up and drive them to school if they run out of gas on the way because they didn’t take the time to stop for gas, or they didn’t have the money to get gas. Or you might sign off on a homework assignment that, you know, they didn’t really do, or they didn’t actually do it very well. But if you don’t, then they’re not going to pass the class. 
And so these are all again, things that there’s they’re not black and white there, they’re a fine line. And sometimes we again, can just rationalize why we’re doing those things. And then once they get into trouble, so if they’re starting to get into trouble with the law, some of the things that you might be doing that would sort of be considered this rescuing or what I call bubble wrapping would be deciding whether or not you’re going to post bail for them if they’ve gotten into trouble and are sitting in jail. Or whether or not you’re going to call the police when you know that they’ve done something that should require that. Or maybe your child has been in treatment a couple of times, and they have left treatment, maybe they’re over the age of 18. They’ve walked out of treatment again, and they don’t have anywhere to go. And they’re calling you and they want to come home. And I totally get this because I had all of these things happen. And many times I made the choice to rescue and I kept that bubble wrapped around my son. And so I understand how difficult it is. And it’s agonizing because I can only speak from being a mom but every fiber of your mom being is telling you to help your child that is just how we’re wired to help our children. And we again feel like the stakes are too high. And that we will rescue them from this will solve it for them and they’ll learn the lesson from that. And that’s an assumption that we shouldn’t make that when we remove those consequences that they’re going to learn from that.
When they’re older and the decisions they’re making are more serious with more acute ramifications. If you’ve sort of trained yourself when they’re younger, and when the stakes have been lower, if you’ve if you sort of built up your experience and practice at really not jumping in, it’s going to be a lot easier for you because you’re going to have kind of set that precedence. They’re going to have learned a lot of lessons along the way, so that when those things become more serious, you’re less likely to jump in with that life ring. And you’re going to let them feel some of that discomfort and you’re going to let them even feel some of the fear that comes along with the life that they might be leading. But what you’re also going to be doing is letting them use all of the talents that you know they have. 
And if you’re child is abusing substances, or maybe they’re addicted, I can almost guarantee that they are incredibly resourceful and incredibly talented at getting the things that they want, right? So if they want something badly enough, even if it’s the wrong thing, like a substance, they will figure out how to get it. And we need to trust that, when they’re faced with the decision, they can call on those same resources and that same ingenuity that they have to solve a problem. So let’s give them the credit that they are incredibly smart people, and they know how to solve problems. So we just need to let them do it. And, you know, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to solve it right the first time. So you might watch them just completely freeze and they don’t do anything or they make a really bad decision. because no one’s going to get things right the first time, but as they learn, and as they build up some of that scar tissue, they’re going to remember the things that they have done in the past. 
And I know it’s hard to believe that, especially if they’re using substances, and they’re not in their right mind a lot of the time. So I get that and you don’t want to assume that they’re working from a state of mind that is clear, and conscious. And in all of that, however, they will figure it out because they are also in that state of mind when they’re looking for drugs or when they’re looking for how to get ahold of a dealer and they are able to use that mindset then. So trust that they can use that. 
When you allow your child to feel these bumps and bruises and to stumble and to fall and to fail. They are going to face some uncomfortable consequences. They just are. And as a mom, I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time knowing and visualizing that my child is either in danger or uncomfortable, or, you know, facing something that they might be afraid of. But we have to step back, bite our tongue, and let them go through that, because that is life. And no one gets to skim through life without any scratches, or without any pain. And those consequences that they feel will be their best teachers better than we are. 
One of the things that I commonly hear is that kids start skipping school. And, and this is just, I’m going to give you an example of how a mindset shift can happen. So your kids kid starts skipping school. First, they just start skipping a class and then they leave after lunch, and they don’t go back to school. And then you’re getting the call, saying that they never even showed up for first period, even though you saw you’re suddenly with This backpack, like an hour ago, so honest zone, you know, skipping a class or missing a day of school might not sound so bad. But what parents do a lot is we start fast forwarding and coming up with a scenario around that. And that scenario might say, well, she’s skipping US history, to now she’s going to fail the class. And if she fails the class, that’s going to bring down her GPA, and her GPA affects the options that she’s going to have for college, which might, which means she might not even go to college. And then what is she going to do if she doesn’t go to college? What kind of a life is she going to have? So then you call the school back and you say, oh, she had a dentist’s appointment, it ran long and then the absences excused because we tend to really kind of put these scenarios in a fast forward motion. And a lot of times, that’s enough for us to say I have to fix this. I need to step in. 
I did this, you know, but after a few times where I excuse the absences and then my son continued to not show up not even just for a day, but for a week or so it’s pretty impossible to come up with any rational reason why he wouldn’t have been at school. And so sort of by force, I had to stop excusing his absences. And I decided, with the help of therapists and family members, to just let the natural consequences kick in. And that was excruciating. But it was really one of the things that helped to move us forward in really starting down the path of learning what was going on, and what my son really needed. And the consequences there if your child is skipping school and and not showing up at all was that they’ll be placed into truancy. And truancy involves going to a lot of meetings. It means eventually, for us, we had ended up going to court. And we had to sit in front of a judge. And I will tell you that that was not fun. But that was reality. That was the consequence for my son not going to school. And I finally realized that me, badgering and pleading, and bribing and begging was not the natural consequence. That was me trying to control the situation. And so sitting in front of a judge in a courtroom was the actual consequence. And that was far more impactful and real than anything that I could have done. And when my son got into legal trouble, because he wasn’t at school, he was out running around with his friends. He ended up spending some time in front of police and he had to attend programs, you know, that were court mandated. And we had to let him feel that we had to let him experience the results of the decisions that he was making. 
And I mean this literally, sometimes you have to sit on your hands to avoid stepping in or to sending the email or to picking up your keys to drive to where ever it is that you’re going to rescue your child. And so whatever you need to do, just do that. And as an example, when my son would asleep through his alarm clock, it was blasting right next to him in his bed. And I finally had to devise a plan to not wake him up and help him get out the door in time to get to school because that was what I had been doing. And it was not being very successful. So I decided that I would just go get in the shower. And that way, I was naked, and I was wet and I was in a place where I couldn’t hear what was going on. And that was the only way that I could physically stop myself from forcing him to get up out of bed and get off to school. And that was hard. And it, you know, just took everything in me. But that’s what I had to do. So find whatever it is you need to do to stop stepping in, you’ve got to watch them struggle, and then just know that on the other side of that struggle will be pride and confidence that they’ll have because they did it on their own. 
And again, it’s not gonna happen the first time. But it can happen. And it can happen without your helping hand. And it is so hard. So I have a couple of things, a couple of ideas for you. If you’re struggling with this decision. Maybe it’s happening, something happening today, or maybe something’s kind of been on repeat in your life. And there’s a few things that you can do that will make these choices easier. 
The first thing is don’t try to make these decisions when you’re highly motional or if you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re not going to make good decisions when you’re in that frame of mind. So, if you need to take 10 minutes, just walk around, take some deep breaths, go get a glass of water, you know, physically move yourself into a different space and try to get your head into a different space. And you know, you might need to call a friend or your family member or a therapist or whoever a sponsor, whoever it is, to just help you kind of get some clarity and to just, you know, tell them, I need 10 to 15 minutes of distraction. Tell me jokes, tell me what’s going on in your family, whatever it is just help distract me from this, you know the heat of the moment that I’m in because that’s not going to be a good time for you to make a decision. 
And so then when you are in a better space, think about what would happen to an adult if they were in this situation, so maybe it’s somebody that you work with, maybe it’s even yourself, you know, if you didn’t wake up and make it to your bus or make it to your commute or whatever it is, would anybody wake you up? You know, would they change their plans to make sure that you got to work in time? Would they wrap up your breakfast for us that you had to take on the road? Would your boss, just say it was okay because you’d been up late playing Call of Duty? You know, taking it out of your child’s world and putting it into the adult world. putting it into your own experience can help give you a less emotionally charged view of the situation. So just look at it from that viewpoint, and it can it can really remove some of the urges and feelings that you have as a mom to think about what would happen to anyone else. 
And then third, consider what those consequences will be both short term and long term if you don’t step in, so just take a few minutes to – don’t let this get out of control and do the fast-forward scenario that I mentioned earlier. You know, from skipping one class to now your daughter’s not ever going to have a job, but just think long and short term, if I don’t step in what is likely to happen. And the short term are things that will likely happen either that day or within the next week. And long term could mean something that you know, stays with your child for years or a lifetime. And that gives you the perspective to say at, do I need to step in. And if I do step into what degree do I step in, maybe there’s a way that you can mitigate some really, really serious long term, but you can let your child experience the consequences of something a little bit less impactful. And, you know, sometimes when we take the time to think about these outcomes, we realized that it’s not really so much of a disaster or a dire situation, we might realize that we’re really overreacting because we’re always in a state of panic. And we’re always in the state of fight or flight. And so when you’re in that mode anyway, sometimes even just a small thing can seem really, really big. So take a real realistic view of what the short and long term consequences are going to be. If you don’t step in, or if you step in, in a smaller way than then you might be inclined to do. 
And then finally, really think about the lesson or the learning that your child will gain if you sit on your hands, or you get in the shower like I did, and let them live with their choice. You know, what are they going to learn today? And what might it teach them that they’re going to be able to take with them into their future? You know, what skill or strain or capability Will you rob them of if You take that on and kind of steer them around the lesson that is sitting there for them to learn. And, you know, if you shield them from feeling these feelings or experiencing this, what is it that you’re taking away from them, and think about it that way, rather than what you are sort of giving to them in terms of help. 
And then also, I have to say, be prepared for them to completely shock you and to pull out of it on their own, in their own unique and creative way. You know, there were days where I would get out of that long shower, and sometimes they were long. And the only reason I was taking it was just so that I wouldn’t go and wake my son up. And I would find out that magically he had gotten out of bed, he’d grabbed a ride with a friend to school, and I didn’t have to do anything. And you know, he hadn’t eaten candy. brush his teeth. I don’t even you know, who knows what he was wearing. But he did it on his own. And I didn’t have to get involved. And it really did go a long way to teaching him that I was not going to be the one to step in. It was not my school to get to wasn’t my responsibility to get him out of bed.
And, you know, in the bigger picture, I realized that getting out of bed to go to school is sort of a small thing when it comes to what a lot of our kids are going through. But in the bigger picture, when you let your child navigate things like legal challenges, you know, do you hire them a lawyer or do you let them go with the public defender. That’s a pretty common scenario. If you were a listener of this podcast and you have a kiddo who’s in trouble and using and abusing substances, this is probably something that you’ve had to deal with. And that kind of a situation is definitely going to require more stamina from you than some They like just pop in the shower and, you know, wait 15 minutes, but the experience will really teach them volumes about the choices that they’re making. As well as things just practical things like the value of money, lawyers cost a lot of money.
A really great example of this is when my son hired an attorney to help him resolve some outstanding legal issues. And when he did that, he called me and he said mama, I feel like such a boss for hiring my own lawyer. And, you know, I had considered helping him with that he was doing well at the time he was working, he was going to school. And you know, it’s tempting at that point to say, oh, everything is going so well. He’s doing great. I’m going to do this, you know, just sort of as a nice thing to do as a mom. I resisted, and if I had done that, I would have robbed him of that total feeling of safety. satisfaction of feeling like a boss like I did this and I just, you know, paid this lawyer off, and he’s gonna help me with my legal issue. So that’s just you know, an example of some of the things that we we really want our kids to feel that accomplishment, that pride and that confidence that they can do things and so the only way to give them that is to pull back. 
I know this is a really hard topic. But know I’m with you on it and know that it is something that we all struggle with, I have not perfected it. I still get in the way sometimes. So just take every day as an opportunity to, you know, at least be aware of the choices that you’re making. And, you know, to go through these four steps, the getting in the right frame of mind, you know, making sure that you’re not making these decisions and having to choose what you’re going to do when you’re mentally and emotionally heightened. You know, thinking about what would happen to you or coworker or another adult, if they were in that situation, then consider the short and long term consequences. So really think through practically what will happen if I don’t step in. And then think about what the lesson or skill or strength is that you’re going to rob your child of if you step in with this action. And hopefully those things will help you make at least informed decisions. so that you know exactly and purposefully what it is that you’re going to do in that situation. 
And again, be ready for your kiddo to surprise you and to make a good decision. It might not be every time but every once in a while they will. And that’s the time for you to just enjoy seeing them be excited and prideful about what they’re doing in their own life. And if you need a good distraction from what your son or daughter is doing, if you need that, you know, 10 to 15 minutes to not be intervening and bubble wrapping your kiddo, then I would love to have you visit us in The Stream. It’s a safe sort of a mom sanctuary online where we get together, you can let us know what you’re going through, you can let us know that you’re, you know, try not to step in. It’s a place where we can support each other and sort of keep our sanity intact, and it’s not connected to Facebook or any other social media. So it’s a very quiet and safe and confidential space for you. You can learn more about that at my website, And I’d love to have you there and just get to know you a little bit and, you know, give you some strength as you go through this really challenging time. 
And you can also download a free ebook that I wrote. This is where I give you the hindsight that I wish I would have had when my son was going through his struggles with addiction, its called hindsight: Three things I wish I knew when my son was addicted to drugs. Its short. It’s totally free. And you can get that at 
Thanks so much for listening, I really appreciate it. And if you would do me a really huge favor. If you would go to your podcast app and leave a review or just rate hope stream as podcasts, it would mean a lot because that’s the way that these different apps sort of surface up content for people when they’re searching. So if another parent is looking for help, and they’re searching for teens and addiction and all that then hope stream will pop up with more reviews and ratings. So I would really appreciate that and I look forward to having you back here next week.

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