Addiction can be like a dozen grenades thrown into a home. You never know who or to what extent that collateral damage will be, but can be assured there will be damage. Too often the “grown-ups” get so deeply entrenched in their needs that they forget to pay attention to the littler folks occupying the home. Do not be fooled by your self-centered thought – they are not stupid, and they recognize something is going on. Their needs must be addressed and should be age-appropriate.
A child under ten, for example still has a degree of magical thinking. They tend to feel as if they caused the problems, and, if they just do the right thing, they can make it go away. A teen on the other hand tends to consider how it affects them, and how this person is acting so unfair. They all tend to piece together what they know and fill in the unknown with their greatest fears – usually around the topic of “What’s going to happen to me?” Fear of being abandoned is common, and unfortunately all too often justified. Almost everyone tends to experience shame that no one else seems to have these issues and that they must hide them from everyone or be rejected.
Giving a child a forum to talk about their feelings in a place where they feel safe that they won’t be overheard or seen crying is essential. Start off every conversation about this with prayer to let them know the family is never alone as long as God is at its center. Point to Jesus crucified to remind them that we have a loving Father who’s willing to lean into the pain with us when life is toughest.
Assume they have been affected, and that you have space for them to share their pain. The difference between “You don’t have any fears about this do you?” and “Please tell me about the fears you have about this.” is huge. DO NOT SHAME THEM FOR BEING SCARED!
In addition to knowing they will be safe, the things they need to know center around four topics:
- Addiction is a disease.
- They didn’t cause it.
- They cannot control it.
- They are not alone.
This is definitely an area where you should consider professional help. At least getting good advice can help direct your discussion. Providing a professional ear to a teen or a younger child could be the difference between a fulfilling, authentic life in Christ or their suffering repercussions and having doubt in a loving God their entire lives. This is not an area to skimp. Age-specific support groups like Alateen are also a great resource, and another really great resource is nacoa.org.
Above all rely on God’s will and after spending time in prayer and consultation, approach your kids with honesty and humility. If you don’t suck it up and do this, they will fill in any blanks with their own scary stories, so give them as much age-appropriate information as they need and keep the line of communication open. It’s tough, but God calls you to love them, and, in your heart, you want nothing more than to answer that call.
They deserve that much.
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