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The Stages and Breakdown of a Recovering Parent’s Apology

You’re in early recovery. Getting here wasn’t easy, but you’re proud of the progress you’ve made and determined to live a life of continued sobriety.

Your head is finally clear and you realize the damage you’ve caused to the people who love you the most. You’ve apologized to your spouse. You’ve told your boss you’re sorry. You’ve asked for forgiveness from friends, relatives and co-workers. But there’s one apology you haven’t made yet – and it might be the most difficult of all.

How do you apologize to your kids?

Earning Their Forgiveness

Mother and child apologizing, hugging and looking through the window, sitting at homeIt’s possible you’ve apologized before and made promises that didn’t last. Your relationship with your kids might be strained, awkward, or estranged. Or your children might not have a full understanding of what’s been going on in your life (and theirs) due to age and maturity level.

Now that you’re on the right track to lasting recovery, what can you say to your kids? Once sober, how should a parent communicate in order to properly apologize to their kids?

If you’re a parent in recovery – and these sound like some of the questions and fears lurking around in your head – here’s a look at some basic guidelines to follow as you tackle this difficult apology:


  • Accept Responsibility: Don’t make excuses. Acknowledge the negative impact your actions have had. Also, since kids tend to blame themselves for parents’ actions, assure them that nothing is their fault.
  • Be Specific: Vague apologies or generalizations won’t cut it. State exactly what you are apologizing for, keeping in mind what might be significant to your child. (Missed events, embarrassment in front of friends.) You don’t need to (and probably can’t) go through every disappointment they’ve ever felt, but you’ve got to be more specific than “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
  • Offer Empathy: Let your child know that you understand how much your substance abuse has impacted them. Try to see things from their perspective and reflect these feelings to them. Acknowledging and understanding their feelings is a big part of a sincere apology.
  • Discuss the Future: What are your plans to stay sober? What steps are you taking to keep yourself from hurting them again?


  • Make Empty Promises: As you discuss the future with your children, don’t fall into the trap of making promises you can’t keep. Be honest. You may want to reach for the moon to make up for past hurts, but you’re probably only capable of small stretches right now. Don’t soil your apology with promises that are beyond your limitations. Make commitments, but make sure they are ones you can keep.
  • Pretend: Set realistic expectations for what life will be like now that you’re sober. Don’t set them up to believe that everything will magically go back to the way things were before the substance abuse began. A true apology is grounded in two-fold truth – about what has happened and what is to come.