Jul 15

Parents of Kids in Treatment: Do You Think It’s Your Fault?


iStock_000007532404XSmallIt was hot and stuffy.  The room was spinning a little, and I felt slightly nauseated and light headed.  The thought occurred to me that maybe I was now all of sudden living someone else’s life, someone else was getting to live mine, and the universe forgot to notify me of the switcheroo.  Kind of like some sort of a cruel joke, because my previous life had been pretty darn cushy….

I was in fact sitting in my very first group family therapy session the day after my child entered #treatment.    I felt so #ashamed and #guilty, wondering what I had done in the past to deserve this now.

How could I have LET this happen?’ ruminated in my head.


Confusion, worry, and self-blame were occupying almost all of my brain space at that point, and it hurt worse than any physical pain that I had ever endured.

I began to listen, as best I could, to Steve, the therapist running the group meeting.  He explained that 20 years ago he would have been sitting there, starring us down, trying to figure out which parent was to blame for this.  What horrible, negligent things we’d done to land our children here.   ‘But now’, he said, ‘we know better’.

It’s not your fault, but you CAN make it worse’, Steve said.

If it hadn’t been so inappropriate, I think I might have hopped up and given him a big bear hug right then and there.  I could actually physically feel the difference, my stomach felt less disturbed, and I could actually see straight.  Having someone who was supposed to ‘know’, who in my mind was credible, tell me it wasn’t my fault was relief beyond measure.  It was at that moment that I began to realize that I just might be able to get through this all in one piece, eventually.  Phewf!

My wish for you is that you somehow have a ‘Steve’ in your life, and that you will truly listen when they say that if your child is in treatment, that it is not your fault.  I want you to feel the same sense of pure relief that I did.   If this blog can effectively be your ‘Steve’, then I would be more than honored.

 I believe that it isn’t your fault, and I want you to believe it too.


I realize that coming to terms with guilt may be harder for others than it was for me.   But no matter your life circumstances, no matter what you have or haven’t done, no matter what challenges have come your way – I hope that you can accept, forgive yourself, or whatever you need to do in order to positively know that you aren’t to blame.

Unfortunately, until you can get to that understanding, you will be stuck in a very sub-optimal place.  This leads us to the second part of Steve’s statement,  ‘But you CAN make it worse’.


Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon:  Parents of Kids in Treatment: The Ill Effects of Parental Guilt



Leslie Ferris is a Certified and Credentialed Life Coach

Serving the parents of kids in treatment

Connect with her via her website at http://www.phase2foryou.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Phase2ForYou

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Leslie_Ferris

LinkenIn:   www.linkedin.com/in/leslieferris/




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  1. Kyczy

    That is one of the most difficult concepts to embrace – the letting go of fault and blame. I think of guilt as “retroactive control” thinking that if I had done something different someone elses life would have been better, easier, more awesome, or whatever. Kind of arrogant. But I do / have done it anyway.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      For sure Kyczy, I think we all naturally are going to have some amount of guilt, and it actually can be a positive motivator in some ways. Like all things – everything in moderation and the right dosage given the situation! Cheers – thanks for stopping by my blog!

  2. Luisa Albachten

    My daughter started at 17 and is now 21 and lives on diet coke dirt gum chocolates. She binges then goes days not eating. She knows she is harming herself but will not go to the eating disturbance center at college or to a private Doctor. She is beautiful, intelligent,wealthy and talented. I am at wits end and do not know how to help her. It is terrible to see how she is destroying herself. Please help me. I live in france and she is now studying in the USA; Thank you for any advise, Luisa

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Luisa, I am very sorry about your daughter, and I know that it is heartbreaking. I give 1/2 hour complimentary sessions where we could discuss things further if you would like. Here is a link that allows you to email me – so that we can set up a time to talk. Meanwhile, know that it is NOT your fault and remember to take care of yourself as best you can in every way possible – that is the best thing you could ever do for your daughter in the long run. Here is the link: http://www.phase2foryou.com/contact.html

  3. Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com

    Wonderful post, Leslie, and such an important message for parents! I’ve found this deep, deep conviction it was their fault time and again with the parents with whom I work. Knowing it wasn’t – and the equally important 2nd part of your statement and what you plan to share in Part 2, “But you CAN make it worse” [now that you know.] – is such a HUGE relief and opens their hearts and minds to doing what it is they need to do.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Thanks Lisa. And I think parents need to hear this message more than once in several ways before it really begins to sink in. Because as you say it is a deep deep conviction!

  4. Martha Giffen

    As mothers, I think it is second nature to blame ourselves for anything our kids do that is not what we want for them. The fact is, addiction is a disease. Was it the fault of the parent that the child used in the first place? It’s nobody’s “fault.” Kids who come from homes where the parents did everything “right” still choose to try drugs and alcohol. It’s a no win situation if the parents continue to blame themselves.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Yep – I so agree. Addiction cross all social and economic boundaries. No one is spared, and yet the tendency for parents to blame themselves is pretty universal!

  5. Herby Bell


    Oh how I relate.

    Cannot thank you and Steve enough for this powerful, two sentence–life saving–distinction: “It’s not my fault, but I can make it worse.” And I did…

    Good news, I’m alive and my son is alive, both happily living sober lifestyles and communicating a touch more effectively with plenty of room for growth.

    Thanks, Leslie. REALLY a solid and important post.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Hi Herby, so glad about your good news, that you both are alive and well! I think we’ve all ‘made it worse’, or at least didn’t help for quite a while until we ‘figured it out’. What is best for our kids is sometimes so counter-intuitive that is takes a while for it to sink in!! Cheers, and thanks.

  6. Jody Lamb

    Hi Leslie, thanks so much for the reminder.

    Anyone around an addict has a lot of power to dramatically worsen the situation without realizing it. My family members blame themselves and struggle with shoulda-woulda-coulda feelings. I come from a family of enablers and co-dependents who simply cannot see their own faults! They try to make up for whatever they did or didn’t do that caused them to become addicts. It’s because none of them will admit that they too need help for themselves. I hope they one day find a “Steve,” too.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Steve is a gem, and though I have not seen him since, he will not be forgotten. Wish I could somehow share him with everyone who needs him!

  7. Bill White

    Hey, Leslie – thanks for the insightful article. Never ceases to amaze me how much responsibility/guilt I tap into when something’s up with either of my children. So much water under the bridge. So many hurts, yet a jillion joys. No doubt, much of what I put myself through is grounded in my deep love for them. And I’ve learned over time (with some minor set-backs, now and then) that one of the best ways to show this “deep love” is to get over hang-ups/patterns I’ve developed (my problem) and be with them in the moment with all the honest love and care I can muster. Again, thanks for the piece…

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Thanks Bill, I appreciate that. Yes, we all do it. It seems to come naturally. I think that’s part of what makes it so hard when have to come to terms with it – once the guilt starts to become destructive for us and for them. :)

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