Kids deserve to know the truth about addiction
For the nearly 30 million children growing up in a household where a parent is struggling with substance abuse, there are many challenges. Worrisome statistics make clear that failure to respond to substance abuse puts children at greater risk for future problems with substance abuse. More specifically, children who live in a house where substance abuse is a problem are four times as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol as are their peers for whom substance abuse is not an issue. Moreover, children who are exposed to parental substance abuse are more likely to witness domestic violence and are also more likely to enter into relationships with people who are struggling with substance abuse.
For a Solo Mom who is looking to explain a paternal absence because of substance abuse, there are resources. And if a Solo Mom is seeking treatment, conversation around her struggles can be supported by books and literature.
Frank discussions with children regarding substance abuse primarily should be informed by a consideration of what is age appropriate; for that reason, the list below is generally divided by age, beginning with a list of books suitable for younger children, followed by resources for young adults and adolescents.
- Emmy’s Question by Jeannine Auth (Morningtide Press, 2010). This book is based on the fictionalized journal of a young girl. It is written from her perspective and concerns maternal alcoholism. Worries about social pressure and the erratic behavior of a mother when she is drinking are explored. It is appropriate for children from about the age of eight years old and up.
- Think of Wind by Catherine Mercury (One Big Press, 1996). This book provides a nonjudgmental view of parental alcoholism for children while underscoring that they are not alone. The book compares the feeling of wind to that of exposure to substance abuse—you can’t see it, but it surrounds you.
- An Elephant in the Living Room: The Children’s Book by Jill M. Hastings and Marion H. Typpo (Hazelden, 1994). This is a book helpful for facilitating discussion with children about substance abuse and addiction. It fosters communication and a healthy exchange of questions and answers.
- “My Dad Loves Me, My Dad Has a Disease”—A Child’s View: Living with Addiction by Claudia Black (Mac Publishing, 1997). This book explains how a child perceives that a parent loves him or her but still sees that there is a disease at play. There are additional tools available through this author to facilitate further discussion.
- Up and Down the Mountain: Helping Children Cope with Parental Alcoholism by Pamela Leib Higgins (New Horizon Press, 1994). This book is suitable for older elementary and middle school readers. It looks at some of the social issues that can impact children who are dealing with a parent who is coping with substance abuse.
- Daddy Doesn’t Have to Be a Giant Anymore by Jane Resh Thomas (Clarion Books, 1996). In this book, a young girl sees two sides of the same father—one when he is drinking and one when he is not. Themes explored include intervention and treatment. Appropriate ages for this book are five and up.
- My Big Sister Takes Drugs by Judith Vigna (Albert Whitman & Company, 1995). Although this book is not narrowly focused on parental substance abuse, it has some transferable lessons about the impact of substance abuse on a family. In this story, a young boy witnesses his sister as an addict. In the course of the story, she is arrested and seeks treatment.
- When a Family Is in Trouble by Marge Heegaard (Woodland Press, 1996). This workbook promotes communication among family members and suggests adaptive and healthy coping mechanisms.
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2015). In this young-adult classic, 10-year-old Opal ponders her mother’s alcoholism and the impact it has had on Opal. This is a piece of literature. It will not suggest ways to cope, but it can underscore that making sense of hardship and reinventing a personal narrative is possible. Like all great literature, it reminds the reader that no one is as alone as one feels.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009). In this award-winning literary masterpiece, an adolescent might discover that others, too, are affected by substance abuse. He or she might be delivered from a sense of isolation or get a feeling that telling one’s own story is helpful.
Moms facing substance abuse in their family—either their own or that of their partner—have a duty to respond in as transparent a way as is possible. A mother may become a Solo Mom owing to her partner’s refusal to seek treatment or as the result of an inpatient option. In the event that a Solo Mom is herself the person in need of treatment, these painful conversations are invaluable.
A Solo Mom looking to respond to these issues would do well to consider the following:
Time the conversation. Make sure that the issues are raised in a setting that is calm and supportive. Have some of the books suggested above on hand to support your larger points.
Keep the conversation age appropriate. It is best to be simple and direct. Emphasize love and strive for health. Young children will not be able to digest nuanced information, so give them ample opportunity to ask questions as they occur later on.
Don’t lie. In keeping with the previous point, not lying does not necessarily mean to tell the whole truth. Tell as much of the truth as you think your child can handle.
Seek help when you need it. Consider local support groups—some may be appropriate for kids, too. Above all, remember that you are not alone.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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