Struggling with an addiction is difficult under any circumstance, but for a parent, that struggle becomes much harder. In addition to managing your own recovery, cravings, and drug addiction, you have to take care of children who rely on you, are shaped by your actions, and who are likely actively harmed by your substance use. It’s a recognized fact that parental substance abuse actively harms the mental and social development of children, contributing to lifelong disorders, health problems, and increased likelihood of addiction themselves. At the same time, many mothers, especially primary caregivers, are hesitant to seek out help, because they want to take care of their children, not go to rehab.
Choosing the Right Rehab Facility
If your children are too young to stay with a daycare center, you don’t have the funds, and you don’t have family members willing to look after them, it’s important that you choose a rehab facility capable of helping you figure out how to care for your children while you’re in rehab. While not every center will offer child care, some offer daycare and housing for children, where they can see and meet with you during the day, take part in therapy, and take part in family therapy, which will help them to recover over the long-term.
In some cases, your insurance may cover part or all of childcare during rehab, but this will be dependent on your insurance provider.
If you can’t get inpatient addiction treatment with child support in your area, outpatient addiction treatment may be the answer. While you will have less in terms of support and medical attention, outpatient care is effective for some addicts, making it a suitable alternative when you have to be home to take care of children.
Understanding Where Change is Needed
Mothers going into recovery often feel a strong sense of guilt and responsibility towards their children, resulting in major changes in behavior. These changes aren’t always good, especially following what could be years of emotionally abusive or at least callous behavior from their mother.
For example, mothers who have gone through recovery show a greater sense of responsibility and are more likely to automatically take care of their child’s every need, but don’t always know how to talk or play with their children. This is often caused by guilt and a sense of estrangement, but should be moved past. Taking the effort to talk to your child or children to see what they want, who they are, and how they feel about you, which they can share at almost any age, will help you to bridge gaps and begin to heal emotional wounds. Doing so is much more valuable than simply providing for them without question, which won’t help to undo damage, only leave it untreated.
Disrupting that sense of guilt and refusing to act on it is an important step in being there for your child. Instead, you should try to just be there, get to know them as they are now, connect with them emotionally, respect their wants and wishes, and draw the same lines as a mother you would have without having struggled with addiction.
Attend Family Therapy
Addiction changes people, how they act, and how they react. Even if you were otherwise a good mother, chances are that addiction changed how you were able to express emotions, how you were able to emotionally support your children, and your priorities during addiction. This can leave lasting scars on both your children and on your family relationship.
Seeking out family therapy for addiction can help you to uncover where and what has gone wrong, discuss problems, and create new and healthy ways to function as a family.
While therapy is important for children of all ages, older children are especially in need of therapy to rebuild relationships and trust, to repair dysfunctional habits and patterns, and to rebuild a family hierarchy which works.
Take Your Children to Group
While you shouldn’t take children to every 12-Step meeting you attend, there are many groups set up to specifically provide support for family and children of addicts. For example, Ala-Teen and Al-Anon both offer support for children of addicts, including information and reading material on what addiction does.
The largest value in taking children (especially older children) to these groups is that it gives you an opportunity to show them they are not alone, give them an outlet to discuss frustrations and problems with peers who know what they are going to, and to give them a sense of belonging in that other people are going through the same things.
Keep Going to Therapy
While many people go to rehab and then never check into therapy again, you likely shouldn’t. Motherhood adds a great deal of stress and struggle to your daily life, which can put you at further risk of relapse. You have to deal with children who are possibly alienated, possibly deal with family members who are hostile towards you, and will have to provide for them, emotionally and physically.
Continuing to go to therapy ensures that you’re setting yourself up to be able to handle problems as they appear, so that you can deal with them, get help when needed, and stay clean and sober.
Discussing addiction with your children can be difficult and shameful. However, it is important that you do so. Children often blame themselves, will struggle to understand, and will suffer a great deal more if they feel they can’t trust you.
Taking the time to have regular conversations with your children, introducing your addiction, explaining that it isn’t their fault you are sick, and sharing your progress towards recovery is important. In addition, having a weekly checkup with your children will give you a sense of accountability, which will very likely help you to stay clean or sober.
Communication should surround topics such as what you are getting help with, why, what you are doing about it, where you are spending your time, and that recovery will help you to be a better parent. It should also include examples of you learning, so that they can see you improving how you cope with things, how you react, and what you do when stressed.
Just Be There
Making time, being present when you are with your children, and paying attention to them is one of the most important things you can do as a mother. Having 20 minutes of one-on-one time where you are fully focused on your child and able to talk, play, and give them everything you have is significantly better than having an hour in which you’re stressed and rushing around trying to do things. Your goal should be to set aside time where you can focus on them, be there because you want to be, and just relax for their benefit.
While that may be difficult when you’re struggling to handle therapy, work, school for your children, and household responsibilities, it’s an important part of managing your relationship. It’s also one that will be rewarding in every way.
Going through recovery is a long and difficult process and motherhood can make it more difficult. At the same time, being responsible to your child or children can give you all the motivation you need to change for the better, to put your everything into recovery, and to remember why you’re getting clean.