Addiction can have a devastating effect on families, and on children in particular. Younger children experience confusion and feelings of guilt when a parent is suffering from addiction. Many believe the way their parent is behaving is a result of something that they did, and they will suffer anguish and anxiety at the thought that they are to blame.
Older children, however, understand addiction a bit better but may struggle to comprehend why their parent continues to drink/take drugs when doing so is having such a devastating impact on everyone. It is difficult for adults to understand how addiction works; imagine what its like for kids? In their mind, the addicted parent should just stop drinking or stop taking drugs and then everything will get back to the way it used to be. Unfortunately, it is never that simple.
Rebuilding Trust with Children in Recovery
If you are a parent that has been through a programme of recovery and are now back at home, you may be expecting your children to be delighted that you have finally kicked your habit. However, do not be surprised if your kids seem angry or resentful towards you. Remember that they have had a lot to deal with while you were addicted, and they could be harbouring a lot of anger and confusion. This could be a direct result of your addiction, or it could be from the fact that you are spending so much time focusing on your recovery now, and your inattention hurts them.
Hiding True Feelings
Children and teenagers generally do not tell their parents everything that goes on in their lives or their heads. Nevertheless, children of addicts have probably learned to keep their true feelings hidden and have picked up some of your old habits, including dishonesty. Trying to hide feelings and act as if everything is fine can take its toll, however, and this can result in children lashing out or becoming angry. You need to remember that your kids are hurting, and it may take some time before they can trust you again.
It is important to be honest with your children about what you are dealing with. No matter what age they are, they deserve some sort of explanation as to what is going on. Try to give your child some understanding of what addiction means and how it is an illness that caused you to act in a way you would not usually act. For older children, you can find some literature that they can read that will help them to see that you were ill and could not control your behaviour.
Try not to make unrealistic promises because your kids are unlikely to believe them, but if they do, you could be setting them up for more heartbreak. You probably made many promises to them while you were addicted that were never kept.
Above all, reassure your children that your addiction had nothing to do with them. They need to hear from you that they were not the reason you became addicted. You should also give them some assurance that you are going to work hard to stay sober and enjoy life with them. Tell them that they are not to blame for feeling angry and that you understand their feelings. Ask them to let you know how they really feel no matter how angry they are. They may need to get these feelings off their chest before they can begin to move on.
And make sure they know that addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. It is an illness just like the flu or chicken pox are illnesses. You had no control over it, and you are working hard to get better.
Remember to be patient with your children and they will gradually begin to see a change in you. They can then start to learn how to trust you again.