One of the most common ways that bad parenting gets expressed is by forcing the child to take responsibility for the parent. The parent misbehaves, takes up bad habits, or even blames their child for misfortune. Children will usually respond by trying to fix things.
This is most common in homes where one or both of the parents has an alcohol addiction. x
Alcohol addictions are curious addictions for a number of reasons. To begin with, alcohol is far more deadly but far more socially acceptable in the United States than other intoxicating substances. Its dependency can run deep, but at the same time, alcoholics can be functional.
As a result, the children of alcoholics will have to deal with the naturally two-faced nature of alcoholics. On the one side, the alcoholic has the face they present to everyone. Then, they have the face that they present when they are in need of a drink and have their guard down.
Some alcoholics will be able to hide the second face from their children, but most do not bother.
What we are here to talk about today is how you can deal with being in such a situation. That can mean helping the parent, but more importantly, it means helping yourself.
Always Put Yourself First
This is easily the least intuitive advice to lead with, but it is critical to talk about putting yourself first as a component of helping someone. Here is why: You have limits. There are things that you cannot do, and there will be moments where you come up short of what you want to do.
But more importantly, you have your own needs. Imagine you have to choose between driving your parent to an alcoholics anonymous meeting or going to a party you had scheduled for months. It would be unfair for your parent to ask you to change your schedule on their behalf.
An alcoholic is going to need a lot of help. If you are going to help them, then both you and they need to be ready to accept the fact that you might not be able to help all the time. If their needs overlap with your needs, then your needs come first.
Putting anyone else before yourself, even your parent, will make you miserable.
Start by Just Talking
Our first tip for actually approaching your parent is to talk to them. This can, and probably should start casually. Remember, nobody knows how to answer the question, “How are you doing?” Engage them with interesting questions. “What do you think of this movie or TV show?”
Eventually, you will have to make the choice to take it a step further. The best way to actually start talking about their problem is by introducing it when it seems related to something you are talking about. Practice what you are going to say before you say it, but don’t focus on specifics.
Basically, you want to have a general idea of what to say more than a script. The reason is that having a strict script can be daunting. If you forget what is on the script, you might panic and lose track of what you are trying to say, especially if you get interrupted. Going in with a general idea is better because it allows you to stay loose and adaptable.
When you can, make your intentions clear. Mention that you are not judging and that you love them and want to help. It is not your job to get them off alcohol. State that your goal is just to help them slow down their consumption for their health.
Deciding how, when, and why they should quit is their job, and not part of your conversation.
Build Good Emotional Habits with Them
One of the best things any child can do with their parent has clear signals as to how they are feeling. This will allow both of you to communicate your needs even if you are not in a headspace or circumstance where you can do that very easily.
Here is a good example: Talk about what it means when one of you asks the other for “space”.
“I need some space,” can mean a lot of things. It can mean, “I am mad at you,” just as much as it can mean, “I really want to be immersed in my homework right now.” In a trusting relationship, a person will heat the second one. An insecure person will hear the first one.
Remember, it is important to communicate what you are doing and how you feel. Communicating why you are doing it or why you feel that way is almost impossible. If they do not trust you, then no amount of explanation will cool their insecurity.
Doing this will help build trust and reduce the stress of drinking at home.
Have Somewhere to Go
There are two layers to this tip: The first is for yourself. If your parent is becoming impossible to be around, leave. Have somewhere like a friend’s house, a grocery store, or a park where you can go and keep your distance from them when they are becoming too much for you to handle.
The second layer to this is for both you and the parent. Alcoholics generally know to behave themselves when they are in public. It can do a lot of good for you two to agree on a place to go together in order to physically escape the craving for a drink.
Changing environments can do a lot for an addict. This way, the reminders of their past failures are not near them. This might even go so far as including a detox center (via Epiphany Wellness).
You will notice a lack of overt physical intervention in our advice. That is because you should not try to physically prevent your parent from drinking. Forcing someone to stop will only serve to isolate them and draw a line between you and them.