Monday, July 16, 2012
What About The Kids?
Syd, over at I'm Just Fine, wrote a post this weekend that got my brain working and now I have to write down what's in my head or it will drive me nuts. That's what I LOVE about blogging.
He wrote about not ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to an alcoholic living in your home and how important it is to validate and give a voice to the children in those homes. It struck such a cord with me first as the child of an alcoholic and second as an onlooker into friends homes who have children who are experiencing this.
In my home, it was not hidden or kept secret but that was mainly because my mother was such a mess. My father's drinking was just another drama to get people to feel sorry for her which, in her world, was the equivalent of liking her. I grew up speaking openly about the fact that my father was an alcoholic although I wasn't nearly as vocal as my mother and sister. I only called it out when necessary to either avoid shock and horror on the faces of my friends or to stop the gossip before it had a chance to grow. My mother and sister spoke about it often and to anyone who would listen but only about how it impacted them.
As I got older I learned that not everyone lives this way. Many children of alcoholics live in fear and shame and don't speak to anyone about it. Often they are very, very angry. If their sober parent (if there is one) is in denial this is even worse because then they don't have anyone outside OR inside their home to whom they can speak. Sometimes siblings are a comfort but, as was in my case, sometimes definitely not.
That overwhelming feeling of shame and anger and helplessness, can lead to so many other difficulties as the child grows. From substance abuse of their own to over controlling behavior born of being the only adult in the home. And if that child is the oldest, then they may also take on the burden of parenting their younger siblings. In their mind...someone has to do it, it might as well be them.
Right now I have a friend, well...not really a friend, more like an acquaintance...well, not even that, actually a neighbor who is going through a difficult time with her spouse. We're not really that close but she knows enough about me to know my struggles with alcohol. This gives her the courage to talk to me and ask me things she wouldn't normally ask anyone else for fear she would die of embarrassment. So we talk.
She talks to me about the extent of her husband's drinking and how it is effecting her. She talks to me about their relationship and how her feelings for her husband have changed as a result of his drinking. She talks about the cloud of depression that has settled over their home.
She never talks to me about the kids.
Of course, I bring them up at every opportunity to point out that this is not a "grown-up" issue and that, even though they are young, they are feeling the impact. Even if the issue is hidden (after hours, only when they go out, etc.), children KNOW. They feel things and can look in your eyes and know. They are so attuned to our every nuance that we begin impacting their behavior the minute they are born just by how we breathe.
She still says they are fine.
So all I can do is listen and offer an ear to the kids one day if they need it. It's a frustrating place to be but it's not up to me to make this better.
But rest assured, for as long as they live close, I will be watching.