Being a parent in recovery poses many unique challenges. For starters, you have experienced the consequences of substance use first-hand and will likely do anything in your power to keep your children away from experiencing those consequences themselves.
Additionally, whether you are new to recovery or have been in recovery for a while, you may wonder if telling your children about your past addiction is a good idea. When your child reaches a certain age, they may ask you questions about substance use and if you have ever dabbled in it yourself. Are you prepared to answer those questions?
While there is no right or wrong answer, it is an important question to consider so you are not caught off guard. Here are some things to keep in mind when you find yourself pondering whether or not you should tell your children about your past addiction.
Recognize the Impact of Substance Use Education
No matter what you decide to reveal to your children, it is crucial to recognize the positive impact that substance use education has on developing children and young adults. Having open and honest conversations about substance use with your children is vital for several reasons, including:
- Setting clear expectations for your child as they become exposed to substances
- Educating your child on harm reduction techniques if they do choose to experiment
- Preventing any complications or further harm from occurring from substance use
- Increasing their understanding of substance use and addiction so that if they become affected by it—either directly or indirectly—they can understand how it impairs the mind and body
- Promoting yourself as a valuable resource and confidant for your child to ask questions and seek advice regarding these topics
Conversations surrounding drug and alcohol use should begin before your child is exposed to biases, stereotypes, stigmas, and other misinformation from their peers or other media. Introducing these conversations without judgment can help your child to be more open to the idea that addiction and substance use issues can happen to anyone, even their parent.
Consider Their Maturity
When talking with your child about substance use or addiction, it is important to consider their maturity. Having these discussions early in life is encouraged; however, it may be difficult for a young child to recognize how addiction impacted your life in the past.
If your child seems to have already developed judgment and biases towards individuals that use drugs or are receiving treatment for drug use, you may feel more hesitant to explain your past circumstances. In this case, you must actively work to change the stigmas and judgment that your child has. On the other hand, if they are not old enough to have formed an opinion regarding the topic, they may not yet be mature enough to understand how or why your past addiction occurred in the first place. You are the best advocate for your child, so it is essential to consider where they are at in their level of maturity and development.
Use Your Past to Explain Your Parenting Style Now
As you consider your child’s age, you may find yourself making connections between your parenting style and your past experiences. This is normal and can help your child better understand why you want to keep them from making the same decisions in their own life.
In order to engage your child and gain their trust, it is best to be honest about your background. If you are uncomfortable revealing your past or carrying guilt for any of your life choices, consider seeking a mental health professional to help you sort through those emotions. Healthy and nurturing relationships require transparency, and a mental health coach of sorts can guide you to having these difficult conversations.
While explaining the factors that contributed to your past addiction, consider explaining the protective factors you are working to instill in your child’s life. Protective factors can help lessen the risks of addiction occurring in your children, even more so when they are consciously aware of the protective factors in their life. These factors may include:
- Parental involvement and monitoring of child’s peer groups and other activities
- Open and honest conversations regarding drug use with your child
- Establishing clear boundaries and expectations about drug use with your child and readdressing boundaries as your child matures
- Talking openly about mental health
- Ensuring your child is aware of the resources available if and when they struggle, such as counselors, mentors, etc.
- Supporting your child in the decisions that they make for themselves
- Teaching your child independence and self-efficacy skills
Being a parent in recovery can seem intimidating, especially because you want to be the best role model for your child. With addiction being a part of your past, being open and honest about it may help your child recognize their own increased risks of substance use. Remember to take into account your child’s maturity and have educational conversations surrounding drug use. West Coast Recovery Centers believes that substance use education is critical in prevention, treatment, and recovery for the entire family unit. We offer resources that can help your family better understand addiction as a mental health disorder. You know what is best for your child, but prioritizing substance use education for at-risk youth should always be a priority. Don’t wait until their peers expose them to drugs or biases first. To learn more about being a better parent in recovery for your child, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.