In early sobriety, one of the first things we feel is a sense of urgency about lost time. Addicts and alcoholics don't do anything halfway, and that includes trying to make up for all the things we've missed: experiences, bonding, magic moments, gifts, trips, and so on. With the gift of a new life in recovery, we suddenly want to fit as much into each day as possible—and often that means there's also a feeling of urgency to make right what we might have done wrong. Especially for our children. Sobriety gives us a renewed desire to do right by our family, to do right by our children. Quickly. Right when we want to do things quickly, that often means we need to check ourselves. The message of the moment is simple: slow down. Yes, your kids deserve amends for the harm caused by your drinking and/or using. But it may not be the exact amend you had in mind. The amends your children need depend on where they are in their lives, not necessarily where you are in yours. Meet your children where they are. That means looking at their needs and understanding, much of which is directed by their age. How Do You Make Amends to Young Kids? Let's talk about small children. I understand that you may want to get down on your knees, look them in the eyes, and give them a 40-minute speech about the meaning of addiction, your own childhood, the moment you knew you needed to stop, how wonderful your sponsor is, all of the concepts in the Big Book, what the Steps mean, and your Higher Power...until their eyes glaze over just as much as yours might be as you read that list. That's your cue to go easy on the words and go strong on the actions. Your young children don't know, and don't need to know, about your disease. All they know about, and all they care about, is that they have their parent back—or maybe they have you as a parent for the first time. So save your speeches for the rooms, if you must deliver them anywhere. Instead, just be dad or just be mom. You don't have to be a Disneyland parent, or a perfect parent. All you have to be is the best possible you. In Twelve Step terminology, another word for "amend" is "fix." Not the fix we might have chased back in the day, but a fix to a relationship that was broken. You don't need to delve into the past and apologize for every birthday party you missed or ruined, every fight you might have picked, or the years you were absent— either physically or emotionally. Just show up and be their parent today. Right now. Put down the mea culpa and pick up some toys and start to play. Most parents underestimate the resilience of young children. They aren't scarred for life, so get over the guilt. Guilt is a one-way ticket back to the bottle, bong, or other substance for addictive behavior. Your young child doesn't want to dwell on the past and doesn't need to hear about the past. He or she will simply be happy to have you home and engaged. If your children are young, all they want is you. The current, present you. They aren't spending too much time wondering what happened. Follow their lead. How Do You Make An Amends to Older Kids? When kids are older, you have less of a captive audience. Any kid 10 or up is going to detach from the conversation, mentally or physically, at the first moment of boredom. So, keep it simple and keep it brief. If you are going to make your amends verbally, great. But keep it short and sweet. Just tell your kids that you had a problem, you're getting it handled, and that going forward you will be there for them to the best of your ability. No long speeches. Older children have longer and stronger memories than their younger siblings, so the key with older kids is to be patient. Just because you are overjoyed to be sober doesn't mean that they are overjoyed that you are back or that they are in a situation in which sobriety is even being discussed. They may well remember things you said and did—things you may not recall, since those sorry events may have occurred during blackouts. Older kids may take months or even years before they are willing to forgive and forget. It's not your job to hasten their process of accepting you any more than it was their job to try to get you clean and sober. Give them all the time they need. Forgiveness may not come on your timetable, but what gives you the right to set a timetable for them? It's all too easy for us alcoholics and addicts to shift the blame to people who are actually blameless. As in, "I got sober, so why won't she talk to me?" Maybe they got sick of watching your addiction destroy you and your family. Maybe they are guarding their heart because they are afraid you might relapse. At this point, the why doesn't really matter. What matters is that you give your older children the time and space they need to heal and to learn they can trust you again. To do that, they need to see consistent words and actions from you. Moving From Amends to Forgiveness I'm going to let you in on a little secret: It's rare—extremely rare—for a child to fail to forgive a parent in all but the most extreme situations. But if you want that acceptance and forgiveness, you'd better be patient, because it may not come today, tomorrow, or the next day. As they say in South Boston Twelve Step meetings, your kids "have the peeper" on you. You may have promised to sober up in the past, only to revert to your drug of choice. They see it all for what it is, not what you've promised. That's why patience is essential. You may not even know what you did wrong, but your kids do. Hold your head high, keep your dignity, and allow your children to have the dignity of their own emotions. (Alateen is a wonderful resource. Also, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has an incredible program that helps kids understand addiction.) My sponsor once compared early sobriety to a caterpillar entering a chrysalis; eventually we should emerge as a butterfly. If you reach into the chrysalis to try to hurry the butterfly along, all you will do is kill it. Now that you are clean and sober, your family members want to trust that this time, it's for real. Just as you went through your chrysalis and emerged fully committed to your sobriety, so those around you must be entitled to go through the chrysalis process themselves, without being rushed. Like everything in parenting, patience is required. All you can do is to be sober, be your best self, and above all, be patient. I understand that at times it's lonely and frustrating, and that you may feel angry or rejected. But, there is no one on this planet that has anything you need. More importantly, remember that you are the parent. You may want the acceptance, forgiveness, love, and affection of people around you. But don't confuse your wants and your needs, or put them ahead of your kid's needs. You may want your kid to say "I love you," or "I forgive you," or words to that effect. But again—hearing those words are a want, not a need. So go about your business, go to your meetings, keep going with the Steps, keep developing your relationship with your Higher Power, and continue to do whatever repair work is necessary with the mother or father of your children—whether you are still in a relationship with them or not. And remember that a living amend is much more powerful to people—of any age—than mere words. As the expression goes, what you do speaks so loudly I can hardly hear a word you're saying. The forgiveness and love will come.