By the grace of God my son was only three years old when I became sober. He does not have any memories of who I was or what I did, but when he is old enough I will tell him the story of my life and all the mistakes I have made with the hope that history will never repeat itself. I find this to be of paramount importance especially for children born from addicts or recovering addicts.
I strongly agree with the science that addiction is genetically inherited, that we are predisposed to this illness through family lineage. Therefore, I believe that our children need to be well-educated on what lies within them. They need to understand that they have a higher chance at dependency than others, and they need to understand the wrath of addiction. Bringing up these key points are not to scare our children, but maybe, the cold hard truths will resonate with them more than lightening the load. Addiction is relentless, it shows no mercy, and, it is a force greater than us, so why not fight fire with fire.
As a parent I think we should listen to our inner instinct as to when the time would be right to bring it up. When my son is old enough to fully understand that there are consequences to his actions is when I will more than likely have this talk with him. I think the age of twelve might be a practical time.
It would be unreasonable to think that our child or children will remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. It would also be unrealistic if you believe that they would wait until the legal age to drink alcohol. Children as young as twelve years old are experimenting with illicit drugs, and some may even become full addicts or alcoholics by the time they are sixteen years old. After all it may be in your best interest to look at how and when you started and use that as substance to your story. My addiction started at the age of fifteen and my sons father at the age of twelve. My son will have full knowledge of what happened to us, what got us there, and how much we endured to get to where we both are today, sober.
My son is well aware that I attend meetings and that these meetings are to help me stay healthy. Since he is only seven and I believe this may be the only thing he is capable to comprehend and probably all he needs to know. Children tend to tell stories and exaggerate circumstances so it would be wise to limit the conversation at this particular age group. However, I find telling him I attend meetings may help him comprehend that Mommy and Daddy are somewhat different. That way when the talk does arise, this may soften the reality of what he will hear.
I urge parents to be open and honest with their kids about this illness. It is an epidemic and children are dying. Education and an “open door” relationship with our children can surmount substance abuse in our youth. Be non-judgmental, do not jump to conclusions, and praise their openness regardless if you do not particularly like what they have to say.
This could be a life or death situation. Choose not to shield them from these harsh realities. Choose not to speak lightly of this topic as if you feel your family may be exempt. You can still raise fantastic and successful children and they can still fall prey to this illness.
Our job as a parent is to prepare them for life, including all the hard truths and ugliness that may surround it.