Father trying to regain access to children faces challenges

Q: I have been sober for about two years now. I enrolled in a treatment program way back then and with a lot of help from the counsellors and the support of my regular AA group, I have been able to break away from the old habits and that old crowd that got me into a lot of trouble.

It is great to be sober. I wake up every morning excited for the day and thankful that my life is as significantly different than it was two years ago.

The next goal is to reconnect with my kids. Their mom has been reluctant to let me rebuild my relationship with them. In fact, she has been more than obstinate.

I have only sporadic time with my children.

At first it was understandable but not so now. My life is really secure. The kids are at least as safe with me as they are elsewhere and in many ways more so than they are with their mom. She has had a number of different boyfriends, coming and going from her home and running disruptions into my children’s lives.

I am not convinced that is good for the kids, and neither is my lawyer. He is certain that I am going to get good support from the courts and that I will have at least a shared custody order giving me and the children opportunities to be together with some regularity. We are hoping for equal time between their mom and me.

However, I have to admit that I am also feeling a bit apprehensive. I don’t want to screw this thing up. I want to be a good dad, to give my children what I seldom had, and to maybe make up for some of the neglect shaking down their mom.

I want to do it right.

A: Wow. This is great. It certainly makes sobriety worth the while, doesn’t it? I suspect that three or four years ago you had any number of flashbacks telling you that it was going to be impossible for you to reconnect with your children. Yet, here you are today, sober, responsible, and getting what so many people want, a second chance.

Your first task is to make sure that you are as healthy as you might possibly be. Before you start with your children, check in for your annual physical with your physician. Chances are good that you are perfectly fine, but checking it out does not hurt anything.

Neither does checking out your mental health. If you are still lingering from both the guilt and anger that goes hand-in-glove with addictions, find yourself a good counsellor to help you resolve that.

Your children more than ever need you to be emotionally available to them. They don’t need to have your love for them snuffed out with some kind of an obsession over a mistake you made years ago. That is not fair to them. Your counsellor will help you understand that.

Your second task is to start putting up some boundaries between your house and your former partner’s house. You have too much information about what is going on in her house. The less you know, the better.

Remember, this is the mother of your children, someone who has been through the rough time that goes with being connected to an addict. Your best bet is to let her be responsible for her own relationship with her children and to ask for the same from her in return. Your worry is not what goes on in her house but what goes on in yours. The children need your drive to consistency, your support when they are struggling and your discipline when they bend the rules a little too much.

Your final task is to get to know your children. You lost a lot of contact when your addiction was carrying the ball, missed a lot of those special growing up moments, and you need to fill in the blanks.

Don’t think that you know your kids just because you are their dad. You don’t know them. And every time they come over to your house you are going to learn something new about each of them, but only if you’re listening and only if you want to know who each of them really is.

This is such an exciting time. I hope that you do well. And I hope that you find that notch in parenting that makes being a dad the fulfilling moment it was designed to be.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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