Don’t Say It’s Medicine

One of life’s more difficult circumstances – addiction – often causes a parent to lose custody of their child. A foster mother who is going to adopt such a child because there are no family options, still believes in reunification. She maintains a good relationship with the child’s mom and plans to continue to include her in here child’s life as much as is possible.

The question is how to explain to a very young child about the legal system and addiction, while respecting the mother’s right to tell her own story. However, seeing a need to also provide this 2 yr old child with the information she deserves. This foster mother is struggling with how to tell this child about addiction ?

So, she was reality checking her rehearsed explanation and good thing she was – here is what she was thinking of saying. “The judge decided you have to live with us because your mom was having a hard time when you came to live with us. Your mom was having a hard time not taking medicine that made her feel less pain, but that she wasn’t allowed to use while she was being a mommy. That medicine can make people feel sleepy and confused and forgetful. Sometimes people aren’t allowed to live with their kids when they start taking that medicine. Those mommies still love their babies more than anything in the world.”

It was very quickly pointed out to her how damaging it would be to call addictive street drugs (or even misused pharmaceutical drugs) “medicine.”

Do not call drugs – medicine. Have open conversations, age appropriate, with the child regarding the addiction, which is a kind of disease. Unless it is literally a misused Rx, do not call it “medicine.” And if that is the case, you can only really discuss such nuanced distinctions when she is old enough to ask about it and able to understand – heroin vs methadone vs fentanyl vs oxycontin. That probably would not be possible until her later teenage years.

Here’s one reason why – suppose you have an aunt who has cancer, and the chemo she had to take made her lose her hair permanently and even worse, she has an ostomy bag. People telling you, she got very sick and the medicine she took made those things happen to her, will leave a child terrified of getting sick and having to take medicine. The language used needs to be MUCH more specific. Don’t talk down to kids. Always go as specific, whenever possible, as you are able to.

Another example of why you have to be careful about switching words to describe something. While you may feel like it softens the blow to use the word medicine instead of drugs, consider when the child is four and the doctor prescribes medicine for an ear ache. Say someone dear is diagnosed with breast cancer, the child should not be told it is a boo boo. That is a terrible idea. So, explain that her mother takes drugs. Of course, the child will ask harder questions as she gets older, but it will also be easier to explain the situation more specifically then, however it has become by then.

Another possibility is to take that original explanation, leave the word medicine out of it and stay with the mom is going through a hard time. And call the issue what it is directly – drugs, plain and simple. Explain what drugs are and how they can affect someone. Drugs are not something you should ever shield any child from.

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