How long can it go on like this? (Rebuilding trust, part 3 – the kids’ part)
Alcoholics can be very volatile people, both when they’re drinking and when they’re dry. 1. If you find yourself in any sort of an abusive situation, get out & get out now. Not only can this save your lives and the lives of your kids, but it can also provide the impetus for him to get help, thereby saving his life, as well. 2. Do not accept any other bad, but non-abusive behavior from him. Don’t try to control him, but when he gets snarky with you, throws temper tantrums, etc. let him know that his behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 3. Never pity the alcoholic. While he often acts like a whiny, needy child, he is a grown man and should conduct himself as such. He may not FEEL like doing what he needs to do, but it is not your responsibility to do it for him. Enabling an alcoholic is a sure way to let him know he’s got no need to grow up and act right, so he might as well keep drinking. 4. Always put yourself first. And if you’ve got kids, they’re second. Yes, in a healthy relationship, it’s often advised to put the marriage first. However, when one of you ceases to be a logical, sane human being, you are incapable of handling a relationship. I don’t advise anyone to run out and get a divorce, but a little time apart will never hurt a marriage that needs it.
“But what do I tell my kids?” Isn’t that the million dollar question? This all varies by age and circumstance. The only thing I can share with any certainty is my own experience with my children. Over the past few years, my kids have come to learn quite a bit about alcoholism. When I got sober, Munch was 5 & Wee was 3. At that time, I would tell them that I had to go to “good Mommy classes” so they could teach me how to be a better mommy. Unfortunately, they did remember when I was not the best mother in the world and if they complained about having to stay with a sitter for an hour (or quietly color in the back of a meeting), I would remind them that if I didn’t go to my classes that I would be a bad mommy again. Nowadays, I don’t know that they remember much of that time, but they are able to tell when it’s been a while since I had a meeting.
We took it really slow, reuniting. We had gotten very distant (emotionally and physically) over two years, so I wanted to keep from disrupting their lives as much as possible. Meeting them on their home turf, doing what they wanted to do, not forcing anything and keeping discipline to a minimum. They had had too much chaos in their lives, the last thing they needed was me rushing back in to stir things up, open new wounds or demand anything of them. One thing I should note is that the kids never seemed shy around me. It was always me who was terrified of them. I had to ease back into motherhood. Today, they’re my kids and I’m their mom. Our relationship feels as if we’ve never been apart. I contribute our close relationship in large part to honesty. Over the past five years, I’ve talked to them in age appropriate ways about alcoholism and what I’ve learned in recovery. I tell them when I’m struggling or feeling down and encourage them to talk to me about everything. They ask a million questions about everything and I do my best to answer honestly. Now at 10 & 8, they are far more well-adjusted than most kids who haven’t had to deal with half the crap they have.
My name is Laurie and I am an alcoholic. If I have any advice to give when talking to kids about the disease, it would be this: let them guide the narrative. Don’t force them to do anything they are uncomfortable with and speak to them honestly and openly in an age-appropriate manner. You can explain what is going on in the same way you would talk to them about someone with cancer and what kinds of side-effects the treatments cause. This is a disease and the alcoholic is a sick person trying to get well. I pray your alcoholic is one of the lucky ones to find the solution, then work to keep it. More than that, I pray that you and your children find your own peace regardless of what he’s doing.