Celebrating Families!: Embracing, Empowering, and Guiding Families
by Rosemary Tisch
When dealing with substance use disorders, traditionally, the focus is on the adult who is using and possibly on their partner. But what services are offered to their children? Children living with an adult dealing with addiction often experience chronic trauma, now recognized as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs include living in family with addiction or mental illness, experiencing neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, losing a parent (suicide, jail, death), and experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. The link between these experiences and children’s future addiction, as well as other mental and physical health problems, is documented in the ACE study. Yet it has not been reflected in most treatment services.
Recent research has been evaluating the benefits of positive childhood experiences (PCEs) and is finding that PCEs potentially can offset ACEs. A 2019 study by Christina Bethell and colleagues (Bethell et al., 2019), found a significant connection between positive childhood experiences and adults’ mental and emotional health. PCEs in the study included whether the respondents (1) were able to talk with their families about their feelings, (2) felt that their families stood by them during difficult times, (3) enjoyed participating in community traditions, (4) felt a sense of belonging in high school, (5) felt supported by friends, (6) had at least two non-parent adults who took genuine interest in them, and (7) felt safe and protected by an adult in their home. Recently, the American Pediatric Association specifically stated that pediatricians should encourage safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, recommending that pediatricians praise and encourage parents for engaging in bonding activities (such as embracing or comforting children, playing, or reading together) (Garner & Yogman, 2021).
We need to do more than praise and encourage parents who are dealing with addiction and likely raised themselves by parents with substance use disorders. We need to help parents learn how to bond, affirm, comfort, play and read with their children. As addiction can often be tracked for five generations, parents may not have experienced bonding/attachment themselves as children. Celebrating Families!™ (CF!), developed specifically for families in dependency drug or family treatment courts, focuses on how to parent in recovery—teaching essential healthy living skills to parents, caregivers, and children. Families attending have at least one parent with a substance use disorder and often have experienced family violence, child abuse, or neglect. The program is based on principles starting with the belief that parents love their children and that because they have a disease, they may not be able to show their love appropriately. Other CF! principles include:
• Accepting and welcoming all families, providing a safe space, in order for participants to grow and develop.
• Honoring diversity.
• Knowing that substance use disorders and mental health challenges are not predestined—they have both genetic and environmental causes.
• Recognizing recovery is a process; everyone in the family has the ability to learn new skills.
• Honoring and respecting the vital role of parents in children’s lives.
• Creating safe, nurturing relationships based on trust and authenticity.
• Listening and accepting what is shared, withholding judgment.
• Knowing that people’s stories are important, that we learn from each other, and that it is important to model healthy living and intentionally teach parenting skills.
Celebrating Families! is family-centered, designed to improve parenting skills, family functioning, and family relationships in order to break the cycles of inter-generational adverse experiences and substance use disorders in families. We want children and families to thrive and flourish.
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Rosemary Tisch, MA, is the director of Prevention Partnership International (https://www.preventionpartnership.us/). She is the lead author of Celebrating Families!TM, developed in partnership with judges, experts in substance use recovery services, child development, recovering parents, and community-based providers. Ms. Tisch has overseen the implementation of CF! and related prevention programs in the United States and internationally for over thirty years. Ms. Tisch has co-authored numerous articles in journals, book chapters, web sites and training media. She is the recipient of awards related to her work from the Faces & Voices of Recovery, the National Association for Children of Addiction, Episcopal Diocese of El Camino, and the California State Directors Association for Cultural Diversity.