EPIC Blog: Loss of Bio Parent to Addiction - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: Loss of Bio Parent to Addiction

November 3rd, 2022 l Author: Betsy Godoy-Rosado, LCSW (edited by Michele Rogan)

Some of the most difficult moments for foster and adoptive parents are when their children begin to ask questions about their biological parents. These questions become especially hard when the biological parent has been lost to addiction. Our goal is to help to equip you to comfort your foster or adoptive children if they experience the loss of their biological parent.

This is a very delicate topic as it can be a source of shame and rejection for our kids. However, when children begin to ask questions about hard topics, it can be a sign that they are ready to hear the answer. Processing loss can be a long road, and if they haven’t come to you, they may not be ready to hear the answer. Continue to answer as follow up questions come, but be aware of how much you are sharing. Obviously, we want to make the answer appropriate in relation to the age and emotional maturity of the child.

There are a few suggestions on how to share this difficult information in a way that will make it less hard for the child to hear. The first is to only share what they are asking about. No more and no less. For example, if a child says “why did mommy leave me?” You might say you to a younger child something like mommy was sick and wasn’t able to take care of you. If there is a follow up question of “why was she sick?” or “what did she have?” maybe you might say something along the lines of “mommy had a disease called addiction that affects your brain and your ability to make decisions.” As they ask more you can share more. You should always be honest. If the child later finds out that you were dishonest about something, it can sever the trust and connection in the relationship in the future.

Second is to remind them that it’s not their fault. They may internalize their parent’s decision to use substances as a rejection of themselves. In an age-appropriate way you can help them to understand that sometimes people struggle to make decisions that are best for everyone involved because they might be focused on a temporary need or feeling. This is especially true with addiction. One of the most important things you can say in these times of loss is, “It’s not your fault.” The minds of children are sensitive. Remind them they did nothing wrong. Children’s brains are constantly developing, which means their thoughts around this topic might change or adjust throughout the years. It’s so important to create space for children to express how they’re feeling while instilling in them that none of it is their fault.

Finally, help your children understand addiction. Once YOU are clear on how addiction affects the brain, decisions, biology, and cognitive skills, this information could also help your child understand the situation, and even further explain why it’s not their fault.

If you need support and more knowledge on addiction before sharing with your child, resources are available, such as Focus on the Family and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is also a great topic to discuss with your 4KIDS therapist. Remember, your 4KIDS EPIC Clinicians and Therapists are available to encourage, support, and walk through these difficult times with you.

Our kids will go through phases of understanding and with these new phases of understanding comes new emotions that might affect their behavior. Try to be compassionate and understanding in this regard.

“…Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV