There is no doubt that addiction has a devastating impact on family life. Spouses and children often suffer greatly because of one family member’s addiction. It can be scary and confusing for children who live with an addicted parent, and they may become isolated and withdrawn. Many kids are profoundly affected and, as they get older, they may become indifferent to the parent with the addiction.
It can be extremely difficult for addicts to admit they need help, and many live in denial for a long time before reaching out for support. However, when they do and they have actually completed a programme of rehabilitation, they may expect their loved ones to welcome them back with open arms. The reality is that some children are not that quick to forgive. They may find it hard to trust again after years of broken promises and unpredictable behaviour.
Children of addicts are often angry, as they have spent years dealing with dishonesty and deceit. They may show this anger or they may simply become indifferent and act as if they do not care. If you are an addicted parent, it can take time to earn your kid’s trust and respect again, and you need to be prepared to put the effort in if you want to rebuild bridges with them. It is important to sit down with your kids and explain what you have been through and how you are planning to move on. Obviously, what you say will depend on their age.
If your children are quite young, you may find it easier to give a brief explanation, but older kids will have spent a long time dealing with shame and embarrassment because of your addictive behaviour. They may have witnessed knowing looks from other people and heard whispered comments.
They may then have felt guilty for being ashamed and embarrassed by you. After all, you are the parent and you are supposed to be someone they look up to. They may feel sad that they have felt this way, or that they had betrayed you when they did not defend your actions in front of their friends, for example.
Now is the perfect time to show your children that you have changed and that you want to make amends. Do not make promises at this stage because the kids are unlikely to believe you. They have been dealing with your broken promises for a long time now.
Below are some of the issues you should discuss with your children.
- It is important that they know your addictive behaviour was not their fault. Many children blame themselves for the way their parents are acting. Make sure they understand that they did not cause your addiction and were not to blame for your behaviour while you were addicted.
- Explain that addiction is an illness just like any other illness, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Try to explain that those with addiction take drugs or drink alcohol to help make themselves feel happy but that drugs or alcohol causes them to act in a way they would not normally act. Explain that your illness needed to be treated and that you are doing everything in your power to fight your illness.
- Reassure them that it is normal for them to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your actions. They are not alone in feeling this way and they need you to reassure them that you understand and are not upset with them because of these feelings.
Although you are no doubt going through a difficult period in your life, you need to understand that this is also a difficult time for your kids. Be there to support them and you can begin to heal the relationship together.