Single Father’s Guide to Addiction Recovery

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Addiction recovery can be a long — and often bumpy — road for anyone, but single parents face special circumstances. Recovery is a lifelong process, a road that many people actively walk even decades after the last time they touched their substance of choice. Single parents — fathers in particular — have to be prepared for the special complications and concerns that come with raising your kids on your own. This guide covers some major concerns for single fathers concentrating on addiction recovery, such as:

  • Establishing childcare while in rehab
  • When and how to be transparent with your kids
  • Tips on balancing finances
  • Engaging with your child before, during and after rehab

As a single father, you’ve been balancing a lot — your children, your work and your addiction. The first step to making your entire family’s life better is acknowledging that you need help to find your path to sobriety. The stress of feeling like all of the parenting responsibility falls on you combined with the need many single fathers feel to solve every problem can put you at a higher risk for substance abuse. If you have spent any time negotiating with yourself — with thoughts like, “This will be my last drink,” “This will be my last pill,” or “This will be my last shot,” for example — then you might be ready to consider recovery as a way to improve your life and your child’s.

Establishing Childcare While in a Recovery Center

First and foremost, don’t let your single father status prevent you from getting the help you need. In order to take care of your addiction head on, you need to be able to focus on yourself while in recovery. In order to get that kind of focus, you will need to make iron-clad arrangements to make sure your children are looked after and cared for while you go into an inpatient rehabilitation center.

First, consider attending a residential inpatient facility that allows you to bring your children with you. If that is not an option, you may want to look into attending an outpatient facility where you attend during the day, but can be at home in the evenings with your children.

There are pros and cons to this decision. An inpatient facility will be stricter about visitors and more structured in general, which is incredibly helpful for people whose addiction has affected their ability to work and handle the responsibilities of their daily lives. However, this means you may not be able to see your children for 30, 60 or even 90 days. If your child’s mother is safe, sober and responsible, consider talking to her about managing the children’s care while you take care of your health. Even if you and the mother do not have a typical or productive relationship, her willingness to support your decision to get help might surprise you. If reaching out to the mother isn’t an option, make a list of family members and friends who would provide loving, supportive care to your children.

If you choose an outpatient facility, you will want to look into care that covers the times you are in treatment. That could involve school, daycare, after school care, babysitters, friends, family or extracurricular activities.

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Being Transparent with Your Children

How you talk to your kids about your addiction depends a lot on the nature of your substance abuse and the maturity level of your child. For example, a toddler will likely not require any kind of explanation, but a young school-aged child might notice more than you think. Adolescents will be aware of your absence, and teenagers are likely aware of your addiction.

Here are a few ideas for age-appropriate ways to talk to your children about your addiction:

  • Adolescent: Use an analogy to explain the nature of addiction, and one your child can relate to. By this age, your child knows what it feels like to want something they shouldn’t have. Try explaining that your addiction is like that, only you need help to say no, because the thing you want can hurt you. This is likely going to scare your child a little, so it’s important to give them a safe space to be open about their fears and ask questions about their concerns.
  • Pre-teen: At this age, it is likely that your child has heard the names of certain kinds of drugs from television, movies, the internet and friends at school. If you think your child is mature enough, you can be more specific with the nature of your addiction. Take some time to focus on why you need to get help. It’s important you tell the truth and be open to questions, but resist the temptation to use this as an opportunity to teach your teen about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol.
  • Teenager: Teens can see through lies, and if you want their support before, during and after treatment, you need to be able to earn their trust. Depending on the nature of your addiction, you might have some challenges gaining your child’s trust. Be honest and forthright by acknowledging the impact your addiction has had on your child and your family. If they have questions you cannot answer, do the research together right then, and be sure they know that they can ask you anything. You want to create an open channel of communication for their feelings — let them know that they have the right to share with you if they feel happy, sad, angry or frustrated.

As a single father, having this conversation alone can be intimidating. It might even be so emotional that you could be worried about a relapse. Invite a family member, a friend or your sponsor to participate in the conversation. This can also establish them as a support person for your child to talk to about their feelings and concerns when you are unavailable.

Balancing Family and Recovery Finances

As a single father, finances might already be tight. In fact, money may very well be one of the triggers that spirals your addiction out of control. When it comes to working on recovery, you may feel worried about insurance, missing work and other money concerns that could impact your children. Before you begin your recovery work, you should create a financial strategy to cover your bases. Here are some tips for staying financially stable as a single father battling addiction:

  • Negotiate with your debtors for extensions on payments. Being honest about your situation — being a single father and working on recovery — might earn you an option for a deferment or grace period on payments for credit cards, student loans and mortgages.
  • Talk with your health insurance provider to get ahead of out-of-pocket costs for addiction recovery. Your health insurance may cover some or all of the costs associated with seeking addiction disorder treatment. Knowing your out-of-pocket costs can help you prepare a budget with your children in mind.
  • Look into programs that support single parents, like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). You can also reach out to your spiritual community for assistance and guidance.
  • Ask rehab facilities if they charge on a sliding scale or offer payment plans for their services.

Engaging with Your Child Before, During and After Rehab

Not only do you have to overcome the stigma of and challenges to being a single father, but now you also have committed yourself to overcoming the guilt and shame of addiction. Avoid allowing those emotions to impact the way you interact with your child. Here are a few tips for engaging with your child before, during and after rehab:

  • Before: Talk. Acknowledge that the addiction may have made an impact on your child. Explain what recovery is, why you’re choosing it, and what the next steps will be.
  • During: If you can have visitors, let your child decide if he or she wants to come see you without putting any pressure on them. If they ask not be communicated with, respect their wishes.
  • After: With more than half of people with an alcohol addiction at risk for relapse, your recovery process doesn’t end when rehab does. Be sure your child understands that this is a lifelong journey you will be on. Invite them to talk to you, encourage them to participate in their own support groups, and try to focus on activities that bring you closer together and help keep you sober.

Think about how your addiction could impact your children — both in the short-term and the long run — if you don’t get help. Watching you in a cycle with your addiction could teach your children unhealthy coping skills for managing their own challenges in life. Remember, the strength you show to overcome addiction now will not only improve your life, but theirs as well.