In one of our aftercare groups a man was talking about his children with tears in his eyes. The two children, a boy and girl, were being raised by his mother. He had granted custody to her because the mother wanted to protect the children from his drug addiction. And now he was hoping, as he stayed sober, that he was going to become a participant in the children's lives. As he was talking the intensity of his emotion affected all of us in the group. His pain of not being a participant in his children's lives was apparent. Finally, to move the group along I asked him a question.
"And how old are your children?" I asked him.
"I think they are 16 and 18 now," he said after some thought.
His answer changed my perspective. For some reason, because of the intensity with which he started talking about the children, I thought that they were still very young, maybe under five years old.
"How much of a role do you think you're going to be able to play your children's lives at this point?" I asked him.
He replied that he wasn't sure. But he wanted to participate in their lives. As the group went on it became apparent that he had some kind of disconnect when it came to his children. It seemed to me that he overlooked the fact that he hadn't been in his children's lives for many years. The group pointed out that he would have to face the possibility of rejection from his children. After all, his parents had raised them and had functioned as their real parents. He would probably be dealing with some confusion and resentments on the part of his children. After all, he might just be a distant memory to them or someone that they only knew of through the eyes of his parents.
As the group went on it was pointed out that he should learn to live in the moment. The reality was that he had been out of his children's lives so long that it was unrealistic for him to think about playing the traditional role of a parent. The group members had a lot of good insights. Among them was that, as it became apparent to his family that he was succeeding, he would likely be invited back into their lives.
Before concluding the group, I shared with him my personal experience. Nearly 20 years ago, when I first got sober, it took me a while to reunite with my family. After all, for most of their young lives I had been in and out of jail and rehab because of my addictions. They had seen me fail more than once at efforts to get sober. However, as time passed, they realized that I was serious about changing my life. At that point our relationships began to change. I now have a great relationship with my family.