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[ Opinion ]

To the Recovering Parent: 5 Steps On Loving Children Beyond Your Addiction

Almost two years have passed since my last drink. The road from addiction to recovery has been a heartbreaking and enlightening journey. And despite the pain, I’m thankful for who I am today. But what still brings fear is the potential impact on my children. The mere thought of having a detrimental effect on them easily brings me to tears.

In a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (1), the short and long term effects of substance abuse by parents on their children include adverse effects with;

-mental health

-emotional stability

-educational performance


One study reports that children with substance abuse history in their families are eight times more likely to abuse substances in adulthood (2). Coupled with a genetic predisposition for depression that’s impacted my family for generations, I pray my children are spared this unfortunate life sentence.

But despite my resounding fears, I’ve learned that if I’m going to thrive in recovery, I must let go of fear. To become a role model to my children, I must not lose myself in worry over the past. Fear inhibits the ability to move forward. So after almost two years, I am beginning to carry the lessons from my past and leave the rest behind. I focus on new ways to live a life that’s worthy. I tend to the needs of my children and show how I love them.

I may not change their destiny, but I can become the best version of myself while trying.

One of the most important gifts I have given myself in recovery is learning to love myself again. This allows me the opportunity to love others, because giving love isn’t easy if we have none of our own to give. This hasn’t been an easy task, but one I will commit to for the rest of my life, because without a conscious effort to become better than my past, it’s easy to slip back into the sludge of negativity and shame that comes so freely with addiction. So here are some tools I’ve learned along the way that I hope lessens the fear I have about my children. And maybe helps someone else along the way.

5 steps to loving your children beyond the pain of addiction:

1) Be honest about the past.

Being in recovery allows for a dose of humility if you’re honest about the past. It doesn’t feel good to peel back layers of vulnerability that comes with admitting failures. Nor is it easy to venture into the painful parts of our past. And I don’t recommend doing this alone. Connecting with a good therapist, support group or online recovery community are a few avenues of support for what can be a challenging phase in recovery. Somehow, through discovering the root of pain, we understand the “why” behind our behaviors and of others who may have wronged us. We can begin let go of our pain through forgiveness. And we can admit our own mistakes and seek forgiveness from our children for the undue harm it caused them.

2) Allow their feelings.

Children may struggle with expressing their feelings about addiction and recovery. Especially in the beginning when everyone is adjusting to a new way of living. Give them a safe platform and offer open ended questions that encourages them to find their voice. A couple months into my recovery, my son appeared to have something to say but couldn’t find the words. I asked what he was thinking. After some thoughtful hesitation, he said he could forgive but he wouldn’t forget. Even though my heart hurt to hear him speak the existence of his pain, it was important for us both.

3) Let time heal.

Early in recovery, I recognized my children were struggling with hurt and anger over my absence when I was at my worst. It came in the form of resistance, and I get it. The value of my opinion paled in comparison to those they relied on in my absence. And this lasted until I regained their trust through patience and understanding that the healing process takes time. Give children time to process their feelings and grow past their own pain.

4) Be present in their lives.

To be present in my children’s lives is an amazing gift that continues to give. As my son makes a play on the field, I absorb the joy in his eyes because I was watching. After helping with their homework, I embrace their hugs because I was there. There are no words sweeter to my soul than my children thanking me for being there for them. It’s these simple moments of presence when I feel l make a difference.

5) Cherish the now.

For almost two years, I barely existed as a human. And even less as a contributing parent. I believe motherhood is one of life’s greatest blessings, so speaking this truth crushes me every time. But if I attach that shame to who I am now, I reduce the chance of loving my children past the pain. So from my heart I suggest, never forget the time lost with your children. But cherish the now. In the blink of an eye, children go on to live their own lives. But there’s so many milestones to reach and new memories to create before we kiss them goodbye and watch them fly.

Will all this be enough? Time will only tell.

But maybe, the strength of unconditional love we have for our children becomes enough to mend the pain…and ultimately changes the direction of their predestined path.

1. Pediatrics July 2016 From the American Academy of PediatricsClinical Report

2. Merikangas, K. R., Stolar, M., Stevens, D. E., Goulet, J., et al., Familial transmission of substance use disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1998. 55(11): p. 973-9.