The Family Project: Mom and rehab
Q. I have been struggling with addiction for many years. I want to go into a rehabilitation program, but I don’t know how to tell my children, ages eight and 11. They are going to think that I am a terrible person and mother. What should I say to them?
All the experts agreed that the mother was very courageous to face the problem, and several asked what would her children think of her in future years if she didn’t go into rehab.
Panelist Pam Wallace recommended that the mother have an age-appropriate conversation with her children, “telling them what they need to know without going into a lot of detail, but telling the truth, recognizing that she has a problem and she wants to take care of it, that it’s a disease and she is trying to make things better for herself and her family. She has to do what she has to do in order to make herself better.”
“At 8 and 11, they know mommy has an alcohol problem or whatever the addiction is,” panelist Mike Daniels said. He agreed that she should sit down with the children and with her spouse, if there is a spouse involved, so they take ownership of mommy needs help.
”The children are living with an addicted parent,” he continued. “It’s their life as they know it, but they also experience the stress of it.”
Before talking to the children, however, Daniels suggested that the if there are resources, a spouse, or other people available, the mother should talk to them first about the plan, such as where the children are going to live, and how it going to work out. “It will work out. It needs to work out because mommy can’t help anybody if she’s not sober.”
If there is a divorce, Daniels said it is even more important to have a conversation with the ex-spouse. Also, having someone there when she’s talking to the children would be helpful.
The children need to be reassured that during that time mother is in treatment they will be safe and cared for, panel member Denise Continenza said. “Be as specific as possible. Give them a glimpse of what life is going to be like for them.”
She added that the mother was doing her children a huge favor because growing up with an addicted parent puts them at risk for negative outcomes.
“What she is doing is buffering them, protecting them from those outcomes by getting the problem addressed now. She is a good role model. She confronts it [the addiction] and takes care of it.”
It would be helpful, panelist Erin Stalsitz said, for those concerned to know more about the kind of treatment the mother would be getting, visitation opportunities and expected length of stay. Another panelist, Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, suggested letting teachers know what is happening in the family.
Daniels recommended that the mother reach out to one of the 180 recovery groups in the Lehigh Valley. “There will be up to 15 people at each meeting who have gone through the same things [as the mother]. It can be intimidating for people who haven’t been there before, but it is a very warm and accepting place.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Joanne Nigito-Raftas, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
Have a question? Email: projectchildlv.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.