It will be helpful to speak with a trained therapist about what is appropriate to tell your children but I do want to address the belief I hear many parents say, which is that, if their children have never seen their parent use, then the children have no idea there is a problem.
Unfortunately, that is RARELY true.
Even if your children do not know the exact nature of the problem, or they don’t even know what alcohol or drugs are, they are perceptive enough to know that SOMETHING is wrong.
And if you don’t share with them some kind of information – information appropriate to their age and development, your children are likely to come up with an explanation of their own.
And chances are whatever it is they imagine is wrong, they are likely to blame themselves for it. If you do nothing to thwart this, and assure them they are not to blame, the tendency of children to blame themselves sets them up for a lifetime of codependent behaviors.
Your children will also need support.
You may find this support with a therapist for your child, or you may find it through an Alateen meeting for your child.
Alateen is a 12-Step recovery program for adolescent family members and friends of people struggling with addiction.
And Alateen is something I suggest more strongly than 12-Step family recovery for adults simply because there are far fewer options for support for younger family members.
In an Alateen meeting, your children will meet other children with whom they can talk openly and safely about what’s really going on at home without being judged.
I don’t suggest forcing your child to go to Alateen, but I’ve seen parents require their children to attend six meetings, and then allowing their children to decide if they want to continue after that.
If your child does not want to continue Alateen after six meetings, find something else such as therapy for them.
If you are a parent, please do not assume that you can be the sole source of support for your child.
This rarely works as children see how much the parent is already being hurt and burdened by the addicted loved one’s behavior and will often take it upon themselves to keep their own feelings secret so as not to burden their parents even further.
Your children need a place where it feels safe to share freely.
When you are trying to be supportive to your children, be careful not to tell them how to feel or how they should feel. Allow them to have whatever feelings they have.
If you feel you can help, ask them what you can do to help them feel better.
If you can’t do what they ask, be honest about that. Do not promise what you cannot deliver.
It is better to disappoint than to degrade trust, because that trust is important to your child’s ability to be as resilient as possible in the face of this challenge.