Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach. Anne Spollen, ESME’s Child Care Resource Guide, talks with Lemere about addiction—how it’s affected her life and how she sees it as a therapist.
Q: Solo parenting is usually viewed as a difficult pursuit. I am not going to argue that. But I have also found a great deal of strength and happiness in being a Solo Mom. What is the largest reward you find in solo parenting?
A: The largest reward for me has been the incredibly close parent-child bond. When you are the only parent and must be the one to, say, stay up all night to comfort your sick child or choose the best school for your child or find the right person to help your child with a problem they are having, the responsibility is daunting, but it can also further your connection with that child. To put it differently, my experience has been that solo parenting requires a high level of involvement in all areas of your child’s life, and more closeness has been part of that package. I have found that level of closeness to be very rewarding.
Q: As I stated in the previous question, we all accept that solo parenting is not easy. So, as a Solo Mom, what is the most difficult challenge you face?
A: Self-care. When you’re a solo parent trying to balance work and parenting, it’s incredibly easy to shortchange yourself on so many levels until you are a sleep-deprived, isolated, unhappy, and unhealthy person. I’ve had to learn the hard way that failure to tend to my own most basic needs, including getting adequate sleep and regular exercise, makes my parenting suffer, as well as shows my daughter a model of what adulthood is like that I would not want her to emulate.
Q: From a therapy standpoint, what is the biggest hurdle a person with addiction faces in recovery? Yup, you only get to pick one for this question.
A: In my opinion, one of the biggest hurdles a person with addiction faces is letting go of something that initially worked well and solved one or more problems for them. Because that’s how addiction develops and gets stronger: the person takes something that, say, helps them sleep or feel less anxious or depressed, or socialize more easily or forget about something, and it works really well. So even when it begins to cause problems, including really terrible ones, the substance is still doing something for the person—or they remember it doing something for them—and that can make it very hard to let go.
Q: My life has been shaped by addiction and its patterns. Has your life been touched by addiction?
A: Yes; addiction and recovery have been part of my personal experience as well as my work, in a variety of ways. I have found in my clinical work that less is sometimes more when it comes to sharing specific details. (My training was in psychodynamic therapy, which looks at therapist self-disclosure differently than addictions treatment does.)
Q: You are a therapist who writes. How has writing helped you in your personal life and professional pursuits?
A: Creative writing has saved me, over and over again. I was the weird kid who stayed inside at recess to write stories. Writing got me through a troubled adolescence and some extremely challenging experiences in my adulthood. It was how I expressed myself, how I found meaning in my experiences, how I sorted myself out.
I chose to become a therapist in my early 20s, but in my late 30s, when my daughter was three and I had been through a hellish couple of years, I felt an urgency to enroll in an MFA program for creative writing because I felt that only immersion in writing, this thing I loved so much, could give me hope and keep me sane. I graduated in 2012, and looking back, I think I was quite right in my assessment that writing was a matter of survival.
Q: This is the question I stayed up googling and never found a definitive answer to: Is there any evidence that Solo-Mom households have a higher rate of kids who become seriously involved with substance abuse as compared with two-parent families?
A: I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this. On the one hand, my personal and professional experience has shown me that single-parent homes tend to involve more unsupervised time for kids, which for tweens and teens can mean more opportunity for experimentation. On the other hand, I’ve talked to a number of people who drank or drugged in part to escape from or cope with constant parental fighting. And I’ve talked to people whose households, whether one-parent or two-parent, were happy and calm and harmonious, but the child got involved in substance abuse anyway.
I believe that most often, addiction springs from a constellation of factors, so even when a research study suggests that kids from single-parent homes are more likely to abuse substances, it’s hard to point to any one cause without finding countless exceptions to the rule.
Anne Spollen lives happily as a Solo Mom to three kids and works as an author, a writer, and a college teacher.
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