Recovery for the Family

Recovery for the Family

iStock_000008560478SmallChildren are often the overlooked victims of a parent's sexual addiction. One man we worked with in our Prodigals recovery groups was "discovered" by his 11-year-old daughter. She was using her dad's computer at home and accidentally downloaded some of his Internet pornography files. She showed her mother, who confronted her husband. He ultimately joined one of our Prodigals groups.

But both the wife and the little girl were devastated. Often the sons of sexually addicted fathers will themselves become addicted to pornography in their teen years. And daughters of addicts frequently grow up with deep feelings of insecurity in relationships. They fear they will never find a man who will be faithful, or who will not ultimately find them inferior to airbrushed photos of porn stars.

Here are suggestions on how to enhance the healing process for your children.

1. Don't keep secrets. Secrets create tension that kids pick up on. Share truth in age-appropriate ways:

*  Young children can be told that Mommy and Daddy are having some problems, or that Daddy hurt Mommy (or Mommy hurt Daddy, depending on the circumstances) by some things he did. But primarily assure the children that you are not going to leave them and will continue to take care of them.

*  Middle school or high school age children will be anxious about whether or not there will be a divorce. In addition, depending on the level of sex education the children have received, you may want to share (in generalities) the nature of the offense, along with the assurances that the conflict is not their fault, and that they will be taken care of. The reality is, children this age will probably figure out what's going on anyway; it's better to be forthright early on.

2. Avoid spouse bashing. Unless abuse is an issue, children need to be connected to both their parents. Don't harshly criticize the character of the sexually addicted partner in front of the children. That only increases their insecurity. Neither should you try to defend or excuse the spouse's behavior. A more appropriate approach might be, "Daddy (or Mommy) did something wrong. It hurt me a lot but we're working on it. We both love you very much".

3. Enlist support for the children. The trauma and instability following the disclosure of a parent's sexual addiction will inevitable be upsetting for the children. Consider enrolling your children in one of the esteem-building groups sponsored by Confident Kids. (See Resource section for information on Confident Kids.) Share your family's situation in confidence with your youth pastor and/or children's pastor. Ask for their help during this difficult time.

4. If abuse is involved, get professional help immediately. If incest or any form of child sexual abuse has been perpetrated, seek help from a licensed therapist immediately. The protection and treatment of the children is the most important consideration in this situation. For children who have not been abused, but who have been traumatized by some form of exposure to a parent's unhealthy sexual behavior, they would also benefit from meeting with a counselor trained to work with children. Without professional help, many children of sexual addicts drag toxic emotional baggage into their adult lives and relationships.