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Should Kids Know the Truth About a Parent’s Addiction?

In the United States, more than eight million children live with parents who are substance abusers. There are also 18 million alcoholics in the U.S., according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). As a result, an estimated 26.8 million children are exposed, at varying degrees, to alcoholism in the family.


Living in a home where there is parental alcohol or substance abuse can be scary and confusing for children. Family life is often characterized by chaos and unpredictability because behavior is erratic and communication is unclear.

Complicating matters, family members are often unsure how to bring up the issue of addiction, or choose to ignore the problem for fear of pushing their loved one away. Yet experts stress the importance of being honest with your kids. Unusual behaviors, withdrawal, arguments – when they go unexplained, children often come to their own conclusions. Kids who feel unsafe, unwanted, or question their surroundings tend to withdraw, act out, or even become addicts themselves – leading to a perpetual cycle of addiction. And those effects extend beyond the here and now.

According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, “The child may no longer be living with the substance abusing parent because of separation, divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death. And the parent does not have to be still actively drinking or using for the child to continue to feel the impact of their addiction.”

There’s also a need to reduce the stigma in society associated with addiction. Julie Dostal, PhD, Executive Director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addiction and NCADD board member, says, “It is my greatest hope that one day we will talk freely about the disease of addiction as just that: a disease. We talk openly about diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and multiple other chronic diseases, we should be so bold about the disease of addiction. It is not a moral failing or a character flaw to be whispered about, it is a disease that can be treated and a disease that people recover successfully from.”

When it comes to addiction, knowledge is power – and hope and healing. Don’t shy away from these conversations. Dostal says when an addiction has progressed to the point that it is having an impact on the family, it’s time to talk to the children. They know “something” is wrong and it’s important to validate their observations. There are some parameters to keep in mind though, including the age of the child.

Jen Simon, mother, writer, and addiction advocate, publicly shared her addiction story in a piece called “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m an addict” in The Washington Post. She believes age makes a huge difference in what and how you tell your children about your addiction. “I think parents should tell their children about their addiction in an age-appropriate way. My sons are still young … they’re only just 3 and 7, so we haven’t gotten to that talk yet. But it’s important for them to know about my history because addiction has a genetic component,” says Simon.

How much you tell your child should also be guided by age and maturity. “You’re not lying to a seven-year-old if you don’t provide ALL of the details; you’re explaining things in a nuanced, step-by-step way,” Simon explains.

Dostal shares Simon’s sentiments, “If you can tell a child about the disease of addiction in an age-appropriate way, then by all means, talk to the child. For some, the truth (as they understand it) is that ‘Mommy/Daddy won’t stop drinking and doesn’t care enough about us to stop.’ Even though this may feel like the truth, it is not the truth. Blame and judgment toward the person with addiction will not help a child cope with the situation. If the truth is, ‘Mommy/Daddy is sick, and because of this, he/she does things that none of us can understand,’ then, yes, tell the child about addiction.” ​

Younger children and teens both understand the feeling of desperately wanting something, even when it’s something that’s not necessarily good or healthy. Opening a conversation this way allows you to explain how Mom or Dad is struggling with a similar choice and that sometimes we make choices that hurt us.

Experts also suggest asking children how they feel in a situation. For example, asking them if they’ve ever seen Mommy getting sleepy or if they’ve noticed Daddy stumbling around and being loud pulls them into the conversation and allows them to explain how they feel.

Explain that addiction is a disease. Let the child know that their parent is sick much in the same way a person with any other illness (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, etc.) might be sick. Make sure they know they’re not alone, and that millions of families are struggling with the same challenges. Keep in mind, this difficult conversation is not the time for a lecture on addiction.

Children also need to understand that addiction is not their fault. They didn’t cause a parent to abuse drugs or alcohol and they cannot cure or control it. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and this applies to children of substance abusers as well, children benefit from knowing the “Seven Cs of Addiction”: I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I can care for myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices, and by celebrating myself.

According to Dostal, it’s best to have these conversations when things are calm and cool. Just after a blow up is not the time open a discussion. If you’re the addicted person and you’re going into rehab or have decided to get better by attending support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), it might be best to wait until you have some recovery under your belt, she suggests. 

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease and it does not help a child to promise them that you’re going to get better when it is well documented that the first few weeks or months can be bumpy (at best). So, if possible, wait a little while, she recommends.

It’s okay for the parent who is not addicted to open the conversation, too. “If the addicted parent will not accept help or has behaviors that impact the family it’s important to validate your children’s experiences. Just remember to leave your strong emotions at the door and keep the children’s best interest in very sharp focus,” says Dostal. 

“If your relationship with the addicted person is still strong and intact, you can certainly invite them to join you in the conversation. If the addicted person strongly objects to having a conversation with the children, you may then want to consider bringing in a third person to assist.”          ​

Before having these tough conversations, it’s important to educate yourself about the disease of addiction so that you can answer any questions a child may ask. Here are some helpful links for the family of alcoholics and addicts:

What are your thoughts? Should children know the truth about a parent’s addiction? Share in the comments.

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

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Baby stuff comes in such cute prints these days. Gone are the days when everything was pink and blue and covered in ducks or teddy bears. Today's baby gear features stylish prints that appeal to mom.

That's why it's totally understandable how a mama could mistake a car seat cover for a cute midi skirt. It happened to Lori Farrell, and when she shared her mishap on Facebook she went viral before she was even home from work. Fellow moms can totally see the humor in Farrell's mishap, and thankfully, so can she.

As for how a car seat cover could be mistaken for a skirt—it's pretty simple, Farrell tells Motherly.

"A friend of mine had given me a huge lot of baby stuff, from clothes to baby carriers to a rocker and blankets and when I pulled it out I was not sure what it was," she explains. "I debated it but washed it anyway then decided because of the way it pulled on the side it must be a maternity skirt."

Farrell still wasn't 100% sure if she was right by the time she headed out the door to work, but she rocked the ambiguous attire anyway.

"When I got to work I googled the brand and realized not only do they not sell clothing but it was a car seat cover."

The brand, Itzy Ritzy, finds the whole thing pretty funny too, sharing Farell's viral moment to its official Instagram.

It may be a car seat cover, but that print looks really good on this mama.

And if you want to copy Farell's style, the Itzy Ritzy 4-in-1 Nursing Cover, Car Seat Cover, Shopping Cart Cover and Infinity Scarf (and skirt!) is available on Amazon for $24.94.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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Daycare for infants is expensive across the country, and California has one of the worst states for parents seeking care for a baby. Putting an infant in daycare in California costs $2,914 more than in-state tuition for four years of college, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Paying north of $1,000 for daycare each month is an incredible burden, especially on single-parent families. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable childcare as costing no more than 10% of a family's income—by that definition, less than 29% of families in California can afford infant care. Some single parents spend half their income on day care. It is an incredible burden on working parents.

But that burden may soon get lighter. CBS Sacramento reports California may put between $25 and $35 million into child care programs to make day care more affordable for parents with kids under 3 years old.

Assembly Bill 452, introduced this week, could see $10 million dollars funneled into Early Head Start (which currently gets no money from the state but does get federal funding) and tens of millions more would be spent on childcare for kids under three.

The bill seeks to rectify a broken childcare system. Right now, only about 14% of eligible infants and toddlers are enrolled in subsidized programs in California, and in 2017, only 7% of eligible children younger than three years of age accessed Early Head Start.

An influx of between $25 to $35 million dollars could see more spaces open up for kids under three, as Bill 452, if passed, would see the creation of "grants to develop childcare facilities that serve children from birth to three years of age."

This piece of proposed legislation comes weeks after California's governor announced an ambitious plan for paid parental leave, and as another bill, AB 123, seeks to strengthen the state's pre-kindergarten program.

Right now, it is difficult for some working parents to make a life in California, but by investing in families, the state's lawmakers could change that and change California's future for the better.

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When a mama gets married, in most cases she wants her children to be part of her big day. Photographers are used to hearing bride-to-be moms request lots of pictures of their big day, but when wedding photographer Laura Schaefer of Fire and Gold Photography heard her client Dalton Mort planned to wear her 2-year-old daughter Ellora instead of a veil, she was thrilled.

A fellow mama who understands the benefits of baby-wearing, Schaefer was keen to capture the photos Mort requested. "When I asked Dalton about what some of her 'must get' shots would be for her wedding, she specifically asked for ones of her wearing Ellie, kneeling and praying in the church before the tabernacle," Schaefer tells Motherly.

She got those shots and so many more, and now Mort's toddler-wearing wedding day pics are going viral.

"Dalton wore Ellie down the aisle and nursed her to sleep during the readings," Schaefer wrote on her blog, explaining that Ellie then slept through the whole wedding mass.

"As a fellow mother of an active toddler, this is a HUGE win! Dalton told me after that she was SO grateful that Ellie slept the whole time because she was able to focus and really pray through the Mass," Schaefer explains.

Dalton was able to concentrate on her wedding day because she made her baby girl a part of it (and that obviously tired Ellie right out).

Ellie was part of the commitment and family Dalton if forging with her husband, Jimmy Joe. "There is no better behaved toddler than a sleeping toddler, and she was still involved, even though I ended up unwrapping her to nurse her. I held her in my arms while my husband and I said our vows. It was really special for us," Dalton told POPSUGAR.

This is a wedding trend we are totally here for!

Congrats to Dalton and Jimmy Joe (and to Ellie)! 🎉

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The internet is freaking out about how Peppa Pig is changing the way toddlers speak, but parents don't need to be too worried.

As Romper first reported, plenty of American parents have noticed that preschoolers are picking up a bit of a British accent thanks to Peppa. Romper's Janet Manley calls it "the Peppa effect," noting that her daughter started calling her "Mummy" after an in-flight Peppa marathon.


Plenty of other parents report sharing Manley's experience, but the British accent is not likely to stick, experts say.

Toronto-based speech and language pathologist Melissa James says this isn't a new thing—kids have always been testing out the accents they hear on TV and in the real world, long before Peppa oinked her way into our Netflix queues.

"Kids have this amazing ability to pick up language," James told Global News. "Their brains are ripe for the learning of language and it's a special window of opportunity that adults don't possess."

Global News reports that back in the day there were concerns about Dora The Explorer potentially teaching kids Spanish words before the kids had learned the English counterparts, and over in the U.K., parents have noticed British babies picking up American accents from TV, too.

But it's not a bad thing, James explains. When an American adult hears "Mummy" their brain translates it to "Mommy," but little kids don't yet make as concrete a connection. "When a child, two, three or four, is watching a show with a British accent and hears [words] for the first time, they are mapping out the speech and sound for that word in the British way."

So if your baby is oinking at you, calling you "Mummy" or testing out a new pronunciation of "toh-mah-toe," know that this is totally natural, and they're not going to end up with a life-long British pig accent.

As Dr, Susannah Levi, associate professor of communicative sciences and disorders at New York University, tells The Guardian, "it's really unlikely that they'd be acquiring an entire second dialect from just watching a TV show."

It sure is cute though.

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