Sobriety alone will not change your relationship with your child(ren) for the better—but it’s a good start. Remember, for your child, living with an addict is “normal.” Now, you are a changed person and your family’s focus on your recovery can upset your child’s perception of reality. S/He will need time to get to know the “new” you and adjust to a new family dynamic. The following strategies can help you get reacquainted with each other and, over time, help you earn back his/her trust, consideration, love and forgiveness.
Explain your addiction and recovery
First, explain your addiction and the recovery process to your child in an age-appropriate way. No child is too young to hear this. Describe how alcoholism is a disease beyond your control, and emphasize that your addiction is not his/her fault. Let them know that their feelings (for example, anger, hostility, embarrassment, shame, guilt, etc.) are OK. Explain that recovery must be your first priority and that it will be difficult for everyone.
Make time to be together
Your child needs your time and attention. Don’t try to make up for past mistakes by buying gifts, giving money or yielding to unreasonable demands. Instead, be home for dinner, help with homework, read bedtime stories or attend soccer games to send your child the message that you love him/her and want to be a part of their life. Introducing your child to friends you’ve made through your recovery group and inviting him/her to attend “open” AA meetings will let them know that you want them to be involved in your life as well.
Schedule weekly family meetings
Schedule opportunities to discuss family life and your recovery. Allow your child to air personal grievances (without elevating the discussion to personal attacks), and work as a team to discuss solutions. Use this time for positive feedback, too. Weekly meetings also provide an opportunity for making family decisions. When you were an addict, family decisions revolved around you (even though you may not have realized it at the time). Give everyone, even the youngest child, a say, and keep the discussion democratic.
Consistent behavior shows your child that you are a dependable, responsible and reasonable parent whose beliefs and judgments must be respected. Being consistent includes things such as remembering birthdays, not breaking promises and calling when you are going to be late. Consistency also means making parental decisions with your spouse and setting expectations and enforcing discipline as a united front.
Provide access to support groups
You are not the only one in recovery—your child is too. Support groups allow your children to explore and express their anger, fear, hurt, guilt and shame in safe ways with trained facilitators. Your child will develop social skills and learn day-to-day coping strategies that s/he can use during the traumatic and challenging period of recovery.
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”