Just as difficult as having conversations with your employer (LINK) and spouse (LINK) may be, even more difficult may be having that all important, but necessary conversation with your children. It may be tempting to sugar-coat the truth, or even avoid the conversation entirely, however children are incredibly perceptive, and depending on their age and developmental level, they may view your decision to share the incomplete truth with frustration, as just another symptom of your struggle with addiction.
Make the choice to end all attempts to hide or deceive. It is time to be open about your addiction, and your children deserve the chance to express themselves freely about how they have been affected, even if they don’t yet have the language.
The choice to finally be open about your struggle with addiction can be the first step in creating change.
How to Prepare
Of course, there are some important considerations to think through before you’re ready to have a conversation with your children.
Gather information and resources to educate yourself about the process of addiction and recovery. Your children will likely look to you for cues about how to handle themselves during this time, and the more you the information you have, and when you express yourself with certainty, they will realize that you are in control, and you are still dependable.
Get your partner on board
Make sure to have that all-important conversation with the children’s mother or father, even if you are no longer together. Remember that consistent messaging is key in communicating stability to the kids and that you have the opportunity to work together for their benefit.
Consider your timing
Choose a time to talk with your kids when it is free of distractions, and you have plenty of time to talk. Also, respect that your children may not have questions then, but expect more over the coming days.
What to Share
When you sit down to talk to your children, the conversation will be highly dependent upon your specific situation, as well as their age and developmental level. Regardless, you’ll want to frame the conversation around the National Association for Children of Alcoholics 7 C’s, which is a helpful way for children to learn about their parent’s substance abuse and their role in it. It may even be beneficial to have them write them down, or put them up in the home in a visible place.
I didn’t Cause it:
Make sure to reinforce the idea that your addiction is in no way related to your children, to something they did or didn’t do. Take full responsibility for your actions, and provide reassurance that it does not affect the love that you have for them.
I can’t Cure it:
Explain that just as much as they didn’t contribute to the development of the addiction, they also have no role in helping you overcome it. Remind them that their job is to be their best self, and trust that you are working to manage the struggle so that they don’t have to.
I can’t Control it:
Remind your child that your struggle with addiction is not connected to your sense of love for them and that they cannot cure or fix your problems for you. Let them know that you alone are responsible for the change, and that you are working to do just that.
I can Care for myself by:
Communicating my feelings:
Let your child know that they are free to express themselves openly without fear. Model this practice in any moment when they choose to share themselves with you by validating their feelings and letting them know how much you value hearing them.
Making Healthy Choices:
Take the time to explain to your children what you are learning about substance abuse and addiction, and that it is their job to make smart and healthy choices for themselves moving forward.
Above all else, it will be important to learn to love and value yourself, so that you can model this for your children. Create an atmosphere that celebrates healthy decision making and open communication.
Having this all-important conversation is an important step to re-gaining any lost respect with your children, and healing those relationships on a fundamental level. This will likely be an ongoing conversation with your children, and it is normal and expected to seek help in how to go about having these difficult conversations.