In our household we make an effort to talk about the hard stuff openly and honestly with our kids. Death, sex, money, race, prejudice, social justice, illness, war--all of it. That's not to say that we let our children listen to adult conversations; rather we discuss these issues in an age-appropriate way. Sometimes the grown-ups start the dialogue, sometimes the kids do.
I don't want my kids to grow up with feelings of shame around any of these subjects. I want them to know we can talk about anything, together, as a family.
Yesterday Miss A learned of my loved one's recent relapse. At first she asked a few clarifying questions of my mom and I, and then suggested that my loved one seek out a hypnotist (for reals) and ran outside to play.
But then, at bedtime, the tears began to flow and the questions came.
Here are some questions that keep a 7 year-old awake at night worrying about her loved one and his/her addiction:
What does my Important Person feel like right now?
What does my Important Person's partner feel like?
Will we still see my Important Person's partner at Sunday dinners?
Why would my Important Person feel guilty about being sick?
How does my Important Person's sickness hurt others?
Will this sickness hurt my Important Person's brain?
How does addiction start?
Will my Important Person ever be fully healed of this sickness?
Can I make a get well card for my Important Person?
Does Sweet Bubs know what is happening?
Can I talk to my school counselor about this?
It's heartbreaking to see the strain on her little face as she tries to process all this information. It's heartbreaking to see her worry about her Important Person. It's even more heartbreaking to not be able to tell her "It will all be ok. Your Important Person will be fine."
And so we talk to her about her Important Person and addiction, and how we can love and support her Important Person but we cannot control another person's decisions or actions. We talk about how some grown-ups like the way alcohol makes them feel, and so they have one or two beers while watching "Friday Night Lights" on Netflix.
But some grown-ups can't stop at just one or two beers and sometimes drinking alcohol is the only way they can feel anything (or avoid feeling altogether) and so they drink and drink until they become dependent on it.
We tell her she can talk to us at anytime about this--she can ask as many questions as she wants.