The effect of a parent’s addiction on a child can be devastating. Children are often left in the dark about why their mum or dad is acting in a strange way, particularly if they are younger. It is typical for other adults to whisper about the issue without including the children, which can lead to confusion and emotional distress.
Older children will be more tuned in to what is going on but may struggle with feelings of shame and embarrassment about their addicted parent. This can then lead to feelings of guilt and can all have an impact on the child’s wellbeing.
If you have been struggling with an addiction and have finally managed to sort your life out with a programme of detox and rehabilitation, you may be looking forward to getting relationships with your kids back on track. However, do not be surprised if it is not as straightforward as you were expecting.
Repairing damaged relationships is never going to be easy, and expecting your children to welcome you back with open arms is unrealistic. It is important to remember that many children will not allow their parents to know exactly what they are thinking. This is particularly the case in a home where addiction has been a factor.
While you were addicted to drugs or alcohol, your kids had to learn how to adapt and may have developed traits that helped them to get what they wanted or needed. It is common for them to mimic the traits of their addictive parent, and many become dishonest or deceitful. It will be difficult for them to suddenly stop now that you are in recovery.
You need to be realistic when it comes to getting things back on track with your kids. Remember, you need to earn back their trust and respect, which will take time. There is no instant solution and you will have to work hard before you can expect to have a loving relationship once more.
It is important to explain to your child what has been happening regarding your illness and your recovery. The type of explanation you provide will depend on your child’s age. A brief explanation is usually sufficient for a young child, but with a teenager, you will need to go into more detail.
It is likely that you have learnt a lot about your illness during your rehabilitation and sharing this with your children will help them to understand that you did not choose to become an addict. Explain that you were ill and that you are working hard to get better. Being honest with your children is very important. You are likely to have lied and broke promises while you were addicted, but this is something you simply cannot do now if you are to repair your relationship.
Try to help your child understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about in terms of addiction. It is important that they know that substances such as alcohol or drugs cause the user to act in a way that they would not normally act. The chemicals in these substances make them act in a hurtful or neglectful way and by staying away from them, you will be able to avoid acting in this manner.
You should also assure your children that it is okay for them to feel angry with you because of your addictive behaviour. Explain that it would be better to share these feelings and get them out in the open because this is the quickest way for everybody to move forward.
Over time, your kids will start to see that you are serious about your sobriety and that you are working hard to make things right again – you just need to have some patience.