How Do I Tell My Young Children About My Alcoholism?

Dear Sober Dad,

My kids are 10 and eight. I have six months sober. How do I explain to them about my alcoholism? The good news is that I no longer ruin family vacations.

– Matt B., Mitchell, South Dakota


Dear Matt,

First, Sober Dad congratulates you on your sobriety. We say nothing is a big deal, but six months is a very big deal.

One of Sober Dad’s favorite expressions is “What you’re doing speaks so loudly, I can hardly hear a word you’re saying.”

In other words, your kids may not need a lecture/discussion on the physical, mental, or spiritual aspects about threefold disease. The fact that your behavior is different – presumably not just on vacation but at all times – may be all the explanation they really need.

There are two separate issues here. One is just how much you need to inform your kids about your disease, and the other is whether you owe them an amend.

We alcoholics and addicts are bursting with information about our malady, information we cannot wait to share with practically everyone.

That is why the last name of every 12-step program is…Anonymous.

Talk it over with your sponsor, but you may not need to get into the how and why of addiction with children at such a tender age.

Maybe wait until they are older, assuming they are interested. (Sober Dad assumes that you will stay sober, of course.)

The more pressing issue is whether you owe your children an amend. We do owe amends when we have caused harm. If you have ruined vacations – family time that belongs as much to the children as to the parents – then you probably did cause harm, and you probably do owe an amend. Again, this is an issue for you and your sponsor to discuss.

Many people debate whether it is appropriate to make an amend to one’s child. Sober Dad believes that no such debate is in order. Step eight does not have an asterisk on it at the end – “and made amends to them all*” – *unless they were kids, in which case, tough luck.

It takes a big man to look his kids in the eyes and say I’m sorry for what I did. Sober Dad has apologized to his children many, many times because he has made many, many mistakes as a parent. Failing to make an amend when it is due – and it sounds as though amends are in order – would only be compounding the problem.

Keep it simple – again, no lectures about the threefold nature of the disease – but a one-sentence amend along the lines of “I just want you to know I’m sorry for how I’ve behaved on our vacations and I’m doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again” or some variation on that theme – should suffice.