Making the decision to come in to treatment is up there with one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
If you have children, you’re probably even more aware of the need to get support for your mental health condition or addiction. That sense of the future is right there in front of you - and you want to get it right - for you, and for your family.
We’ve asked our therapists - and also learned from our clients - the best way to approach an age appropriate conversation with your children, so that you can help them to understand where you’re going, and why. The good news is, this can actually be a positive conversation. In the short term, it can reassure them that you’re ok, they’re ok, and that your decision to seek treatment is beneficial. In the long term, you will have strengthened your relationship by giving them the gift of honesty and your integrity, letting them know that it’s important to tell the truth, even when the subject may be uncomfortable. You will be also modelling that it’s ok to reach out for help - all of which makes it easier for them to do the same in the future.
Many parents feel guilty or selfish for taking time away from their families to come in for treatment, but the biggest gift of all is getting the help you need, so that you can show up for them in the best way possible.
South Pacific Private Program Director, Alyssa Lalor says, “Parents should remind themselves that the greatest gift they can give their family is to get help and support…this is a far better option than allowing their family to bear witness to their dysfunction”.
One thing to keep in mind is, regardless of age, children have an uncanny radar for when something’s up - and they will tend to blame themselves. When children sense something is wrong with their parents, they will always think they’re at fault. Children have an extraordinary capacity to pick up when something is not being talked about, and this creates a sense of incongruence which makes them feel uncomfortable, as well as unsafe. It is therefore so important to be truthful with your children, even if your inclination is to try to conceal the reality.
With teenagers, you can be more transparent about your decision to seek treatment and your concerns. They will likely have formed their own understanding of what you’re going through, and so an honest conversation can be a great gift for you both, where you might learn more about each other in the process. Sharing through language such as, “I’m worried about my drinking, and how it’s impacting the family,” or, “I’ve been feeling really anxious - maybe you’ve noticed,” and being clear about your need to get help, models integrity to your teen. This can be especially valuable at a time when adolescents are beginning to tune into their values and looking to the role models around them. It’s a conversation which has the potential to be healing, especially if there has been distance or tension in your relationship.
When children receive accurate information that is congruent with what they sense, it’s highly reassuring for them. It also releases them from the sense that it’s their fault, or that it’s their job to fix the problem. This may be a shift in perspective for you, if you’ve been assuming that by concealing your condition, you’re protecting your children. In fact, by having an age appropriate conversation with your children, you provide them with reassurance and connection, as well as modelling that it’s OK to ask for help. And for yourself, you take an important early step in your recovery by choosing honesty and openness. Whatever ages your children are, there are many gifts in sharing with them about your condition and decision to come for treatment.
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