In this blog, I want to explore WHY this topic is important and HOW you can prioritise your children’s needs over your loved one’s addiction.
This is such a delicate issue, but my approach is always with love and support, yet pretty direct, because I’ve worked with children and families for so long and I’m a safeguarding professional as well. I have seen all sides of the impact of parental or carer impact on children and families.
There’s no denying that this might be tough to read, so please take care and look after yourself. Please reach out for help and support.
Let’s start with three reasons WHY the needs of a child need to be prioritised….
- Section One of the Children’s Act states that a child’s needs are paramount. This applies to law and any safeguarding situation. In reality, we need to think about the child, what they are seeing, hearing and feeling and ensure they have a voice and, more importantly, that we are a voice for them. No matter who we are and what role we play in society. Aa a coach/professional, as a friend, neighbour, family member or colleague. I understand this can be hard to action, let alone accept, but the question we need to be asking ourselves here is, ‘If I don’t do something to help this/my child, what could the outcome be?’
- Because parental/carers substance use is, what we refer to now, an ‘Adverse Child Experience’ . There has been an incredible amount of research on this topic and children are affected by parental substance use emotionally and physically. There has even been research around the impact of non-dependent drinking on children! This can affect on them right through to their adulthood and for the rest of their lives. It can and does affected their mental and physical health. Parental/family substance use is classed as a traumatic experience for a child. It’s so easy to focus on the presenting adult issues, that children can get forgotten, or families think they are doing well at protecting them from it. If you ask yourself this question, ‘What are the children seeing, hearing and feeling?’ even as babies, then you may want to reach out for support.
- Families try and resolve the issue themselves. Having worked with families affected by alcohol and drug use for (nearly!) twenty years, I know that families tend to close rank with this issue due to stigma and shame, feeling isolated and alone and thinking they can sort things out themselves. In my experience, this causes ongoing and unnecessary harm to everyone within the family unit. The best thing to do is get EVERYONE in the family the help they need, This includes the person using substances AND affected family members, including children. The earlier support is accessed, the better for everyone, especially the child. It’s easy to think that children don’t know what’s going on. But they do. They see the difference in their parent/carer or family member. They absorb the feelings and atmosphere in the house. The question to ask here is, ‘Which people/services/support can we access to help us with this issue?’ (even if the person using substances doesn’t want help, you can get your own!)
Let’s summarise the HOW we can prioritise a child’s needs over a loved one’s addiction…
- Ask them how they feel. Yes. It is that simple. Ask children what they like at home and if there is anything they don’t like. This can be done in an age-appropriate way, of course. Some children will freely talk about their emotions, some need some help. For younger and older children, we can take a moment to put ourselves in their shoes. Think about how the substance use and associated problems may be affecting them.
- Be honest about the situation. Telling lies, covering things up and hiding what’s really going on can make things so much worse for children. This means their feelings never get validated and it can cause confusion, loneliness and sadness.
- Spend quality time with the children, outside the home if possible, regardless of the choices your loved one makes. This can be as easy as you make it. It often means you need help and support first, so you have the courage and confidence to implement this. But… plan things in with your children and stick to them. If your loved one gets intoxicated, get out of the habit of cancelling plans. Carry on without them. Your life should not revolve around how intoxicated your loved one is. You can choose to continue with your day. This type of courage reduces the impact of substance use on children and allows you all to live your lives.
- Set clear and healthy boundaries with your loved one. Yes, it can be so hard when you want to maintain a relationship with someone who has problems with alcohol or drugs, but you do have a choice as to what goes on around children. Sometimes, this might mean children not having contact with a parent, carer or family member for a while. Sometimes, it’s about being very clear with a loved one about not being intoxicated or drinking/taking drugs when children are present. This is not easy, but it is necessary for preventing the impact on children. Families can get help with this from Children’s Services who can take the pressure off the rest of the family by supporting the implementation of those boundaries with your loved one and by encouraging a loved one to make changes.
- Get professional help for children. This means letting someone know at school or nursery or letting a health visitor or midwife know what’s going on, so that someone OUTSIDE the family is able to check in with the child and the child has a safe space to share how they feel. Why? Because they may not want to speak to you about it. People worry so much about letting professionals know because it feels so big! But professionals help families with this issue all the time. The LAST thing anyone wants to do is to split up a family. The goal is to put as much support in place as possible for all involved. Of course, you can get private help too, but I still recommend the above anyway.
- Get professional help for you! That’s where I come in. I can help you with all of the above. I’ve worked with children and families for two decades. I’m also an Advanced Practitioner with Addiction Professionals. I help my clients to set boundaries, to communicate without conflict, to reduce and stop enabling behaviours and to motivate a loved one to change, while prioritising a safe environment for children. Of course, there are lots of other support services. Please always check out ADFAM for family members and NACOA for children. There are so many resources on these sites.
You can also download your free download here- Ten Ways to Family Recovery with my top ten tips for family recovery including a handy checklist and some REALLY useful organisations.
Please remember that you are not alone.
- 1 in 5 children are currently living with an adult who drinks too much (ADFAM)
- 1 in 10 adults are negatively affected by a loved one’s alcohol or drug use (NACOA)
Take that first step.
There are lots of us out here who can help you.
P.S. I’d love to know what you think of this blog. Please drop your comments and questions below…
Tel: 07984 837302