Many families have asked me what I consider the best approach to use when discussing recovery with their children. My vision for using my book, 12 Steps 12 Stories, with children is the culmination of many years working with children and families in various capacities.
When recovery blesses a home, children are bewildered by the strange turn of events we refer to as sobriety and/or recovery. While children know something is different, most family members are not initially open to discussing their recovery efforts. I found one problem is the lack of language to present to children regarding the situation. Also, there is a lack of resources geared toward young children within the recovering community. For although many treatment centers and counseling centers claim to address recovery as a family, most of them do not focus on the needs of children below the teenage years.
Silence prevails out of fear of doing more damage than good. And the belief that children cannot grasp basic truths. This leaves children with a level of anxiety and concern that is often unaddressed.
I advocate waiting before engaging in any in-depth conversations about 12 step recovery. In the beginning of the process, when recovery is new and all members are reeling from the pain of unmanageability, it may not be possible to take the lead in this area. After all, adults need to focus on saving their own lives. It’s the “put on your own oxygen mask first” edict that contains usable wisdom.
For this reason, initial conversations need to present a few basic truths. This may be as simple as mommy or daddy are going to meetings or working on a program of recovery in order to keep from drinking.
You can say that drinking has led to problems or unhappiness. Use whatever words your child can grasp. “Mommy needs some support from people who share the same problems she has” or “Daddy is learning to live and be happy without drinking”.
Speak to them at a level appropriate to them. Keep it simple. Make sure you allow for questions. Be direct and straightforward.
If you are nervous, I suggest asking a friend or other family member to assist you when bringing up the subject.
A grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a close friend, even a sponsor who is less emotional and perhaps better qualified to speak from a different, less embroiled perspective.
Laying this basic foundation is an initial and positive approach.
There are more hurdles to climb. Difficult topics and conversations need extra preparation. Work with a counselor, a therapist, a mentor, and/or a sponsor. Use your early recovery to work on your own needs, but stay mindful of the needs of children. Prepare to be stable and approachable.