The TV series, Mom, follows a recovering addict whose mother is also a recovering addict. It focuses on the attempts to mend relationships between mothers and children shattered by the consequences of addiction. When I started watching Mom, I immediately found parallels with my own life.
Both of my parents were addicts. My mom drank wine and my father gambled. I became an addict later in life, and my children had to deal with struggles all too familiar to me.
As a child of addicts, it is incredibly difficult to find forgiveness. Throughout my childhood, I got the impression that my parents did not really care for me and my brothers. After all, there was never money for juice but always money for wine. My mom used the money I had saved to buy alcohol when she couldn’t afford it. My father gambled the rest of it away. I had good reason to assume that they saw their own needs as more important.
Even now that I know first-hand how addiction can distort your priorities, I still sometimes feel resentment towards my parents for their betrayals. It makes sense to me that my children have the same struggle.
Fortunately, while we still have our battles, I have been able to rebuild my relationships with my parents and children. How do you go about doing this?
Here are 4 tips for rebuilding adult relationships with your children when in addiction recovery.
1. Adult relationships: a new paradigm
As parents, our instinct is to try to shield our children from the harsh realities of the world. We continue seeing them as kids as they grow older, unable to simply forget the babies we held in our arms.
However, when your addiction has led you to let your children down time and again, and they have watched you struggle to survive, trying to protect them from the real world becomes absurd. They have already learned how difficult life can be, and have a more adult perspective than most young adults.
You need to do your best to see them as independent humans in their own right. If they are over eighteen, they are adults. If they are under eighteen, they are technically still minors, but it is too late to start hiding your struggles.
This is not to say that you should share everything with them. However, do not try to coddle them. They will see you as the last person who should be doing that and will only resent it as another attempt to mislead them.
This may seem obvious, but apologizing is key to rebuilding your relationships with your children. The thing is, apologizing to your children seems counterproductive to many parents, who feel that they need to take back the role of guardian. How can you tell your children what to do if you have admitted to failing them?
However, apologizing actually does the opposite of undermining you. It shows them that you have grown and they begin to respect what you have been through. They may not understand it, and don’t have to, but the example you set by owning up, in detail, to your shortcomings is more valuable to them than any rules you try to implement.
3. Don’t avoid the past
After apologizing, many recovering addicts want to forget about the past and move forward. This is unrealistic when you are a parent. You may cringe and feel guilty when you think about how you acted. But avoiding talking about it at all only strengthens its continuing impact.
Avoiding talking about the past reinforces the perception that you are trying to disconnect yourself from your actions. It indicates an unwillingness to take accountability, even if you feel you already have.
Acknowledging the past, on the other hand, makes it easier to communicate how the addiction impacted your decisions. It helps your children see that you have grown. By trying to cut off the memory of the person you were before, you make it more difficult to appreciate your progress.
4. Bring them into your recovery
Recovery is an ongoing process, but many recovering addicts try to hide this from their children. They hope that their children can see them as a changed person who will never hurt them again.
But this is not what your children need. When they are left out of the process, they continue to experience the anxiety that it will all fall apart. They will get suspicious every time your mood changes.
Bring your children into recovery so that they feel more secure in it. They become a part of it, rather than sitting on the sidelines hoping against hope that it will work. Sharing your recovery with them is the most significant step you can take to rebuild adult relationships with them. It is a show of trust that they will appreciate. It also tells them that you respect their own need to recover.
Rebuilding adult relationships with your children during recovery is not easy, but it can be done. The main takeaway is that keeping them in the dark is not helpful to them or you.\