Your ex is going to rehab or an outpatient therapy program—congrats! For you, this feels like a good step forward. Even though you and your ex are officially done, you want your ex to be a stable and loving presence in your children’s lives and with treatment that just may happen! And, it may just end your days of having to monitor or worry about his sobriety.
Your hope for your ex’s sobriety is high but now imagine your children? How high do you think those precious little hopes are? Beyond the moon.
How do you help your children cope while their dad is away in rehab for drinking? With patience, love, and these 6 tips:
1. Keep Everything Steady & Predictable
No matter how old your children are they have felt the effects of your ex’s drinking problem even though you two are either separated or officially divorced. Now that your partner is essentially out of sight of the kids and working towards sobriety, all is “quiet” on the home front while dad works on his issues.
It is then crucial that you, as the mother, provide consistent and clear care for your kiddos with a set, predictable schedule and routine your children can feel secure with. Bedtime and meals should be consistent. You may not be an organized person but you’ll need to learn how to be.
Use Google calendar and timed alerts to remind yourself of when and where you need to be wherever you have to be! Review your daily schedule each day for a few minutes in the morning and even if you haven’t had a routine before, you will be surprised how quickly everyone in the family makes a new routine a habit!
Your children, especially in the wake of dealing with an unstable dad who drinks, will crave the security. Scheduling their lives and making things consistent will give them some stability in the aftermath of anxious times.
2. Line Up Troops—For You and Them!
If your ex is in treatment, this means he can’t be a present parent, which means you’re manning the kids alone, 24/7, day in and day out. The best thing you can then do in order to help your kids is: help yourself! This means reaching out to friends, family and trusted neighbors for consistent and positive help. This also means tapping your children’s favorite family members and friends to say, “My children could use your love in their lives right now.”
If your son has a strong affection for grandpa, this is when he needs that boy’s day out with grandpa. If your twin girls can’t get enough of their favorite uncle, can the world’s best uncle provide some child care say on a Sunday so you can get errands in, and the girls can get extra love?
3. Consider these biggies: Who, When, Where, How and Why?
Who can be of help? Which of your children needs the most support right now?
When do you need the most help? Is it mornings or evenings?
Where can you find help and where might these helpers need to be? At pick up for school while you’re working, perhaps?
How will it all happen? Weekly, monthly, daily?
Why…for those that are helping, express, with gratitude, why and offer to be of help somehow in return.
Building your support system and calling on all those who love your kids is essential. Now is NOT the time to be prideful!
4. Talk to Them & Be Truthful
Dr. David Sack says it’s important to tell kids the truth about what is going on with dad, in developmentally appropriate ways. Obviously, your ten-year-old will be ready for different information than say your four-year-old or fifteen-year-old.
Lying and saying that dad is working across the country is not okay! Telling them that right now dad is sick, but is working on getting better and sharing the reasons for addiction: genetics, situational or environmental factors, etc., is a good way to let kids know what is happening with dad.
Bottom line: be honest but do so in developmentally appropriate ways. Kids can only handle what they are developmentally ready to hear. If you’re not sure how to talk to your kids, speaking to a child psychologist, play therapist, pediatrician, or teacher about the matter would be a great idea!
5. Remind Them of The Love, Love, Love!
This is the time to extend patience and understanding, Mom. Your child, even knowing the truth and knowing that dad will get better, will still potentially lash out and feel afraid and sad. Let your child feel free to express how sad, scared or concerned he or she is for dad, even if right now, dad is on your sh*t list.
Even if hearing how much they miss dad and worry about him upsets you, be the shelter for your children and their emotional storm. This may mean your kids will lash out at you, the “safe” parent, so be patient with them.
This is also the time to give praise and extra affection. Your kids need to know that they matter and are loved. Most importantly, they need to know that they are in no way, the cause of dad’s drinking problem.
6. Get Help
Now is the time to speak to a therapist or go to Al-Anon to learn more about how to get you and your kids through this. While you are not with this man anymore romantically or as a wife, he is forever your kid’s dad. Understanding the disease and how it can impact your children will help you to heal and support them. Plus, after being married to an alcoholic I am willing to bet you are hurting in many ways you may not even realize. Start to heal—each and every one of you!
This isn’t an easy road to go down for your kids, you, or your ex. But hopefully, the start of treatment can begin to reveal a new and happier family, divorced and all!