Do you owe amends to your kids for your drinking and using?
With the spiritual awakening that can accompany recovery, we often feel the urgency to make right what we have done wrong. We want to make up for all the experiences and bonding moments that we may have missed.
You’ll without a doubt have a desire to make amends to your kids for the hurt caused by your drinking and/or using. It’s important to know that the amends your children need depends on where they are in their lives, and their age, not necessarily where you are in your life. Meet your children where they are.
How to Make Amends to Young Children
With young children, you need to go easy on the words and strong on the actions.
Your children don't need to know about your disease and what you are doing to stay sober. All they care about is that they have their parent back. You should avoid making speeches, and instead just be dad or mom. You don't need to delve into the past and apologize for every birthday party you missed, every fight you might have picked, or the years you were absent from important milestones in their lives. Just show up and be their parent today.
While it’s still important to make amends, your child doesn't want to dwell on the past. He or she will simply be happy to have you home and engaged. They aren't spending too much time thinking about the hurt you may have caused.
How to Make Amends to Older Children
If you’re a person who prefers to make amends verbally, keep it short and sweet. Just tell your kids that you had a problem, you're getting it handled, and that going forward you’ll be there for them to the best of your ability.
Older children are much more of a challenge than younger ones. They have longer and stronger memories, so the key with them is to be patient. Just because you are overjoyed to be sober doesn't mean that they are overjoyed that you are back. It may take months—or even years—before they are willing to forgive.
You can’t set the timetable for their acceptance and forgiveness. You will need to accept that it will take a while before they trust you again. To gain their trust, you must provide consistent words and actions, with stress on the actions.
If you want their acceptance and forgiveness, you’ll need to be patient. You may have promised to sober up in the past, only to revert to your drug of choice. Children see it all for what it is, not what you've promised. When you make amends, you may not even fully know what you did wrong, but your kids do. Allow them to have the dignity of their own emotions.
All you can do is to be sober, be the best person you can be, and above all, be patient. The forgiveness and love will come.