Your addiction has gotten out of control and you know you need to go to rehab to get help, but it means leaving your children. The scenario isn’t ideal, but until you get help, you won’t be a good parent. Once in recovery, you can have a fresh start and learn to be the best parent for your children. In the meantime, you have the unenviable job of explaining why you’re leaving for what seems to them like an unbearably long period of time. Here are some tips to help you have that conversation:
- Make the conversation age-appropriate. The younger your child is, the fewer details your child needs to know about where you’re going and why. For older children and teens, you can and should say more. Kids understand more than you think they do, and if you hold back too much, they’ll know. Kids will also know if you’re lying. You can be age-appropriate and leave out certain details while still being honest and open.
- Remain calm. The idea of mommy leaving because she is unwell is going to be scary for a child of any age. If you lose it while telling her where you’re going, you will only make it seem more frightening. You can share your emotions with your child, but do so calmly.
- Listen and answer questions. Instead of just talking to your child, engage him in a two-way conversation. Tell him what is happening and then invite him to tell you how he feels and to ask any questions. Listen to his concerns and his questions and answer them honestly and openly as is appropriate. By listening and letting him vent, he will understand that you care about what he thinks and feels.
- Talk about addiction as an illness. Addiction still carries a lot of stigma and many people still view it as a choice or a failing rather than an illness. Your child is likely to have heard these negative messages, so talk to her about the fact that you are ill, that you have a medical condition requiring treatment. This can help to alleviate any guilt, shame or embarrassment she might be feeling.
- Talk about getting better. Your child will most likely be upset by the idea of you leaving for a month or more. He may get angry or think you’re being selfish. Help him to understand that rehab is going to help you get well and that you will come back healthy and better able to be a good parent to him. Explain that you are doing it because you love him and you want to be a better person for him.
- Involve the other parent or guardian. When you talk to your child about leaving for rehab, include the adult who will be caring for her, whether that is your spouse or another adult family member. It is important that you help your child feel safe and comfortable with the arrangements. Including this guardian in the conversation will go a long way toward ensuring her that she will be well cared for even in your absence.
Talking to a child about your need to go to rehab is never going to be easy, but you can take these steps to eliminate much of the stress of the situation. Just remember to be loving but calm, honest but age-appropriate and to listen and answer questions, and you will be doing the best you can for your child in a tough situation.