Tired Out

Dear Dena,
We have older children now and we are wondering when they will outgrow the impact of their prenatal drug exposure and the neglect or harm they experienced in infancy? It made a lot of sense to me when they were young that they would need support and resources. But by 20 I was hoping they would be more independent and less emotionally volatile
Tired Out


Dear Tired Out,
I recently attended a conference where the speaker was addressing prenatal drug and alcohol exposure. It was so refreshing and gratifying to hear a professional address my experiences and put words to the daily life of parenting kids with prenatal exposure. You could feel the positive energy in the room as parents from around the country felt seen and heard. It was a moment of validation and togetherness we have all longed for.
Then he dropped the other shoe. “Many of your children will need you to function as their external brain throughout their lifespan. They can grow and learn and improve but the damage done to certain regions of their brains may never fully heal and you will need to help them regulate their emotions and manage their daily living in the way of finances and employment and relationships in order for them to by successful in adulthood. “
You could have heard a pin drop. Except for the sound of the deep sigh that escaped the lips of most parents in the room. It was a deflating and discouraging moment, right on the heels of so many good feelings of encouragement and identification.
My take home from this event was this: There are real tools available to you to love and support your drug exposed young adults. Make use of them and be grateful for them. And then settle into the long, hard work of patience, kindness, self-control and hopefully a little peace. Your kids will continue to need you as adults, but they will do it with a push-pull that is no fun. They will hate the fact they need you while simultaneously leaning on you for daily functioning. Get used to their ambivalence and to yours. You will love/hate their needs and love/hate your role as parents to an adult child.
And as a reminder, childhood trauma or neglect can permanently impact the brain of infants and developing toddlers. It’s not as easy to identify as drug exposure but is no less significant in the ways it interrupts normal development and impacts emotional regulation.
So once again I encourage you to find community. Find people who get it. Whether it is in person or online, find parents who have walked your path and know the journey and can join you with respect and empathy. If you don’t have those people...be those people. We need each other desperately and our kiddos need us to find those people to help us journey with grace and mercy.


-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner