As a parent, you want to be a hero to your children; a leader, a provider; a role model that they can love, respect, and look up to. As a parent who suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, you might think that admitting to them that you have a serious problem will stop them from seeing you as a role model. You might think that they’ll be so disappointed that they’ll never look at you the same way again, but the truth is…
Your Kids Probably Already Know Something Is Wrong
While you may be trying to shelter your kids from the truth, the truth may be that they already know something is wrong. No matter how hard you try, addiction is a disease that affects every aspect of one’s life, including parenting. Kids are often more perceptive than we realize, and if they don’t already know it, they will at some point learn that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
As a parent, you want what’s best for your children, and the truth is they want the same for you. The sooner you talk to them about your addiction, the sooner you can begin working together toward a healthier family dynamic.
Establish a Plan
While planning such an important conversation with your child, it’s important to remember that it needs to be age-appropriate. Use a specific language and depth that you’re sure your child will understand, regardless of their age (yes, this is an issue you can talk about with a child of any age). Use the structure below as a guide to speaking with your child about your addiction:
- Gather information. Before addressing the situation with your children, gather as much information as you can about addiction so that you can answer any questions your children may have. It’s important to remember that you can also say “I don’t know,” but if an answer exists, you can follow up with “but I’ll find out.”
- Be truthful. Honesty is extremely important; you need to be open about your addiction and stop trying to hide things from your children or deceive them.
- Acknowledge and inquire. Let your children know that you realize that your addiction has impacted both your life and theirs. Afterward, ask them how they are feeling, if they are alright. Keep your questions open-ended and encourage sharing. Let them know it’s safe to talk about anything and be honest.
- Offer them perspective. Explain to your children that your situation is not unique, and that there are many families that struggle with addiction and overcome it in the end, together.
- Reassure them. It’s important to let your children know that your addiction is in no way their fault. Kids usually tend to feel responsible and wonder whether they should have done something differently. Assure them that there’s nothing they did wrong and that they did not cause your addiction or made it worse in any way.
- Keep talking. Explain to them that you are always open to talking about your addiction and answering questions. They should feel comfortable bringing it up whenever they have something to say or they want to ask you something. Maintaining open communication with your children throughout the recovery process and beyond will sustain a healthy relationship between you.