In early sobriety, it’s easy to feel a sense of pressure about lost time and the desire to make up for all the things we've missed: experiences, bonding, magic moments, gifts, trips, and so on. With the spiritual awakening that can accompany recovery, we suddenly want to fit as much into each day as possible—and often that comes with a feeling of urgency to make right what we might have done wrong. We’ve likely made a list of all persons harmed throughout our addiction. Taking personal inventory, admitting the exact nature of our wrongdoing, and making amends to those we’ve harmed are concepts woven throughout the Twelve Steps. When it comes to family, the potential result of these steps encourages us to make amends as quickly as possible—especially for our children. This desire to speed up the process means we need to check ourselves. The message of the moment is simple: slow down. After you’ve taken a fearless moral inventory of yourself, you’ll without a doubt have a desire to make amends to your kids for the hurt caused by your drinking and/or using—but it may not be exactly what 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 how you can make amends, much of which is directed by their age. How Do You Make Amends to Young Kids? Let's talk about small children. In many cases, making direct amends to them is simply not possible. You may want to get down on your knees, look them in the eyes, and give them a speech about the meaning of addiction, making conscious contact with your Higher Power, and practicing the Twelve Steps...until their eyes completely glaze over. That's your cue to go easy on the words and strong on the actions. Your children don't need to know about your disease or the Twelve Steps. All they care about is that they have their parent back—or maybe they have you as a parent for the first time. So stop making speeches, and instead just be dad or just be mom. 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 broken relationship. You don't need to delve into the past and apologize for every birthday party you missed, every fight you might have picked, or the years you were absent— either physically or emotionally. Just show up and be their parent today. Most parents underestimate the resilience of young children. They aren't scarred for life, and making yourself feel guilty is a one-way ticket back to the bottle, bong, or other substance for addictive behavior. Change your behaviors to reflect the amends you wish to make, and let go of the guilt. While it’s still important to make amends, your child doesn't want to dwell on the past. He or she will simply be happy to have you home and engaged. They aren't spending too much time thinking about the hurt you may have caused. Follow their lead. How Do You Make an Amends to Older Kids? Older kids are a less captive audience. Any kid over 10 is going to detach from the conversation at the first moment of boredom. If you’re a person who prefers to make 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’ll be there for them to the best of your ability. Don’t go into a long apology. Older children have longer and stronger memories than their younger siblings, so the key with them 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 did—things you may not recall, since those events may have occurred during blackouts. Just remember: when you make amends to older kids, it may take months—or even years—before they are willing to forgive. 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. 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 addicts to shift the blame to people who are actually blameless, as in, "I got sober, so why won't she talk to me?" Such people shouldn’t carry any responsibility or obligation in your recovery. 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 matter. What matters is that you give the people you hurt the time to adequately heal so they can trust you again. To do that, you must provide consistent words and actions. Moving from Amends to Forgiveness I'm going to let you in on a 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. You may have promised to sober up in the past, only to revert to your drug of choice. Children see it all for what it is, not what you've promised. When you make amends, you may not even fully know what you did wrong, but your kids do. Allow them to have the dignity of their own emotions. (Alateen is a wonderful resource. Also, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has an incredible children’s 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 the best person you can be, and above all, be patient. At times it's lonely and frustrating, and 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. When you make amends, it is about your kids, not about you. So go about your business, go to your meetings, keep making your amends and 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, 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.