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Child Custody and Mother’s Addiction

addicted mother mistreating her childMina’s parents do a lot for their daughter these days, and she’s incredibly fortunate that they offer. Her husband had finally washed his hands of her, and more than that, he had taken custody of their grandson. At first the Donaldsons were horrified that any court would allow this to happen. It wasn’t that they thought of their son-in-law as a liar or even as a bad person; it’s just that the woman the courts were describing was unknown to them. They had raised a smart, active, optimistic girl with big dreams and a fairly good head on her shoulders. Sure, sometimes she could get a little ahead of herself, and there had been times when she followed rather than led, but she was a woman now and a mother, and surely the love for her small son would turn her into the wife and mother she needed to be.

But that wasn’t happening—hadn’t happened.

Their Mina had, unbeknownst to them, begun using drugs, prescription narcotics, and alcohol, and she had become dependent. The courts showed that Mina had repeatedly taken the pills and drank to excess while her son was in her care; that she had driven intoxicated with the child in the car, once having blacked out while driving. Their son-in-law attempted to intervene on multiple occasions, the attorney showed, but trying to stop an addict on a mission is like trying to stop the rain. Some say there are dances. After a while, your actions feel just as random, just as weirdly mystical and maybe pointless—like the addict is an indifferent deity who isn’t watching anyway so you should just stop sweating so hard, go back inside.

Except for Nathan. Nathan is Mina’s son.

Nathan’s father isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing by Nathan. He’s watched Mina slur her words, watched her reach to light a cigarette and pass out, catching her bangs on fire and nearly the couch, all while Nathan played there on the floor at her feet, staring with his infinite baby eyes. He’s watched Mina slam the door on a crying Nathan over and over, so that she could instead sleep a narcotic-induced sleep rather than spend time with her child, even though she hadn’t seen him in days. But still, he doesn’t know if keeping Nathan away from her is right or fair—if it’s what is healthiest for Nathan, or even for Mina. Is he sparing her the future self-hatred she may feel when she one day recognizes what she’s really doing to him now?

Who should decide that? Who even can?

Child’s Best Interest

Cases of parental substance abuse are among the top reasons a child may be removed from a parent’s custody. When a person is under the influence of repeated drug or alcohol use, a child is presumed to be at risk. A parent in this condition is considered unable to be present to all of her child’s physical needs, and even when the child can access food and water, or get himself or herself to school and back, a parent in this condition is likely unable to meet the child’s emotional and intellectual needs. Even older children and teenagers have such needs. Drugs and alcohol dampen a person’s ability to connect with others, as well as with themselves, and children are in critical stages of emotional and cognitive development as long as they are growing up. Their needs are best tended by sober, aware adults.

The use of drugs and alcohol, and behaviors they may elicit, do not mean that a parent does not love or care for his children, though it may be very difficult for a child to understand. This is one of the reasons parenting under the influence does such damage, and why that damage must be mitigated by the courts whenever necessary.

Supervised visitations are frequently suggested in such cases, or when/if the addicted parent can show in good faith that s/he is working a consistent recovery program, custodial rights may be returned. It is important to recognize that the duty of the court is to work toward the best interest of the child.

Don’t Give Up

Returning from the stranglehold of substance abuse is never easy; the road is hard and the work is heavy. You do that work in the best interests of your children and for the sake of your sanity, your well-being. They need you and you, them. You will be led again and again to think about how other people have judged you harshly for your choices—people who knew you and didn’t know you have thought of you as Bad Parent. But you are a human who made the tragic mistake of falling for the wrong substance. Your child suffered in your error, but not because you did not love her or him. Love, after all, is not the only thing we need. We need resources, reason, health, good judgment, strength, will, character, kindness, compassion and many other things.

What you do now can make all the difference. Choose yourself so that you can choose your child. Choose well and choose wisely.

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