Family recovery from addiction needs to involve everyone. More often than not, children are left out of the process. Many treatment centers offer family programs, but very few include services specific to children. So you would think that professionals who have access to these services would jump at the opportunity to enroll clients and their kids. Sometimes not so much.
There is a misconception that involving children in the process is a relapse trigger for the client. Comments such as "they're not ready" or "my client just needs to focus on themselves" and "their sobriety comes first" are not uncommon.
I agree - a parent's sobriety has to come first, otherwise they will not be able to parent. But I disagree that involving their children is a mistake. The relapse trigger is NOT including kids in recovery.
The reality is, parenting is a relapse trigger. And what a struggle it must be to have to continue to perform the difficult task of parenting to children who do not understand what is happening in their family.
I see involvement of kids in the treatment process as an amazing opportunity to enhance relapse prevention. I see it as a way to reduce the guilt and shame that so many parents have surrounding their disease. It is an opportunity to give the entire family a common language to discuss addiction and recovery.
I'll never forget watching this in action. About six years ago I worked with a wonderful family. The father was completing thirty-day inpatient treatment. He had reluctantly signed up his two children, ages eight and ten, for the children's program we offered. His treatment team was recommending that he stay for an additional 60 days, as he had a history of relapsing. This patient was adamantly refusing, stating that he needed to go home and using his children as the excuse. "I can't do this to my kids. I have to leave treatment. They'll never understand why I need to be here for that long."
The family came for the four-day process. Dad participated with his son and daughter on the third and fourth day. He was able to hear in a safe way from his kids how important he was to them and how much they worried about him drinking again. A plan for the family was created. They cried, shared and laughed. All family members had a great experience.
And on the last day, he came to me. This father, who was adamant about leaving treatment. "I think I need to stay," he said softly. "But I'm scared to tell my kids. Can you help me?"
So I helped him, but I didn't need to do much. I sat with them as this dad explained to his children that he needed more time to work on his recovery. He used age appropriate language and terms they had all learned during the program. He waited for their objections, but that isn't what he got.
Instead, his son looked at him and said this: "I'll miss you so much Dad, but I am so proud of you for working this hard. You stay here as long as it takes to get all of your feelings out and keep addiction away. It's okay."
Were they going to miss him? Absolutely. Did they wish he could come home now? Sure. But those two children understood. The father reported that the amount of guilt he felt after completing the process with his kids had significantly reduced. Involving his children was the OPPOSITE of a relapse trigger; it was a recovery enhancer.
Parenting is hard. Parenting in recovery can be harder. Nobody should have to struggle with it alone. If you have a client who has access to family recovery that includes the kids, advocate for it.