Of all the victims of addiction, children are the most vulnerable when addiction ravages their families. Without having done anything wrong, children of addicted or alcoholic parents are subjected to all kinds of harms, whether overt physical and emotional abuse or more subtle, but equally powerful harms like absence and neglect. Often, children from alcoholic families grow up before their time, becoming wise to the ways of adults and even constructing elaborate psychological defenses to protect them from the hypocrisies and painful experiences. They may also become caregivers, taking a parenting role because their adults are unable to carry out this function.
No child should have to take on the stress and responsibility of adulthood too soon – if they do, they risk missing out on the essential innocence of childhood. The good news is that children are resilient. It’s never too late to enter into recovery, not just for the addicted person, but for the entire family, which can heal as a whole and become stronger than ever. If a child you know has been affected by addiction, it is possible for that child to deal with the pain they have faced and move through it. For example, Renascent’s Children’s Program provides a safe, healing community that helps kids aged 7 to 13 come to terms with the impact addiction has had in their lives.
National Child Day is Coming Up…A Reminder to Cherish the Young Ones in Your Life
Some people who have come through addictions don’t realize the impact their struggles have had on their children, because the children do not seem to be directly affected, especially if the addicted parent was non-custodial. Of course, children process things differently than adults, and unless one is trained in child psychology, they may not realize the child is harbouring unresolved feelings about a parent’s addiction. For example, few may connect adolescent acting out, poor grades, depression, withdrawal, attention-seeking, and other such symptoms, with trauma sustained during a parent’s addiction or absence, because there are so many other names and reasons for the behaviours. This is why children are often called the invisible victims of addiction.
Since 1993, on November 20th of each year, Canadians celebrate National Child Day to commemorate the United Nations’ adoption of two important documents dedicated to recognizing that children should be treated with dignity and respect, be protected from harm, provided for, and given a voice: the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1959, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989. Perhaps the fact that we needed to adopt legislation to consider and protect the rights of children, shows just how vulnerable and overlooked children can be by the adults in their lives. But it also shows that awareness is growing on how children must be valued and cherished in order to thrive and achieve their fullest potential.
How to Celebrate National Child Day and Our Children in Recovery
Celebrating National Child Day is about giving children their due, not just as children, but as human beings who are contributing members to, and decision-makers in, the world they live in. Therefore, we can celebrate their rights with a multitude of fun activities that also raise awareness about children’s rights around the world. But perhaps the most significant thing we recovering addicts and alcoholics can do for the children in our lives – not just November 20th, but every day – is to listen to them, and try to see them as individuals. By creating an atmosphere of open, respectful dialogue, our children will begin to open up, and as we listen, we will learn what their needs are. If we feel that our children may need help to release old anger, frustration, sadness or other feelings, if we sense barriers, or if we notice our child may be going through rough times, we can seek understanding, compassionate help from people who understand what it’s like to be a child in recovery.