Monday, February 16, 2009

Parenting after Growing Up a Child of an Alcoholic

Growing up in a family with a parent, or both parents suffering from alcoholism sticks with a person far beyond their days of childhood, despite their best efforts conceal it and separate it from who they are now. An ACA (Adult Child of Alcoholic Parent/s) carries the baggage of their childhood with them always. Unresolved, these weighty issues then becomes a burden passed on to their family.
On average 1 in 6 families are living with the effects of alcoholism.
The scars created by growing up in this hurtful environment run deep, the depth of which is often unknown to the ACA themselves. Growing up in this dysfunctional environment only creates a warped and unhealthy reference for the child's future relationships, parenting responsibilities and commitments in their life as an adult. Being raised in a household with an unavailable or unreliable parent does not provide the consistency a child needs in order to be "available" and reliable to their loved ones themselves. Often members of the alcoholic influenced household "avoid" the tensions created by the offending member by not speaking about it and pretending the issue doesn't exist, thus creating an unhealthy, uncommunicative household. Living this way completely drills into the family: avoid conflict at all costs. This avoidance only keeps the unresolved issues "alive" forever (the baggage). This pattern also enables unacceptable behavior to continue, as the lack of communication only lets the offending person off the hook of accountability. A family that does not communicate freely is on the road to their living daily life with the issues working against them. In a defensive measure, the ACA learns to keep things buttoned up tight, not talking about feelings or acknowledge their feelings. This happens because they learned when they acknowledged how they truly feel, and the depth of those feelings, it hurt way too much when those they loved were unable to acknowledge and accept how they felt. What begins as a protective wall in their childhood becomes a stone wall in their adulthood; keeping out those they love the most. In actuality, what they need the most are their loved ones close to them, inside their wall, loving and supporting them. If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, please consider the following signs and if they are affecting your relationship with your spouse and children. Residual Symptoms of an ACA can include: 1. Problems with intimacy 2. Problems with communication 3. Trust issues 4. Very critical and hardest on themselves 5. Issues with follow through and completing projects 6. Often tend to be workaholics; a convenient way to isolate themselves 7. Strive for perfectionism to control what parts of their lives they can 8. You grew up before your time and have become ultra-serious 9. Resistant to broadening your world to include "unknown” 8. Overly sensitive to sudden change; things are fine the "way they are" 9. At times, strangely drawn to erratic or unacceptable behavior Being a parent is one of the most intimate relationships you will have in your life, right along with your spouse. If you can't openly communicate and trust those in your family, your family life will be a constant struggle filled with tension. The lack of communication often results in your children filling in the "why" with themselves – and living with the effects of self blame, very likely as you may have done when you were a child. If you are hardest on yourself, look at your children, are they reacting the same to themselves do you see a pattern of them being too afraid to fail, which makes them afraid to even try? Is your inability to follow through on promises or projects with your children creating a feeling of mistrust between your kids and yourself? Do your kids often feel let down - and "throw" this in your face, only creating tension and making you feel defensive? Do your kids have issues with follow through and completion? Being a parent is all about change. Watching and guiding your children growing up, is all about being open to, and encouraging change. Do you find sudden changes in your life hard to embrace? It could be as simple as growing up with one type of peanut butter and your spouse suddenly buys a different brand, did you find yourself overreacting? Even though you likely crave stability and control over your life, are you spontaneously drawn to erratic or "unacceptable" behavior? Do you see your children trying on personalities that are possibly dangerous or acting out in a way that is desperate for your attention?
If you grew up as a child of an alcoholic; please try to look closely inside yourself, your true feelings, and your true state of mind. Do you feel you dealt with "all that" back in the day, its done and behind you?
Give yourself a reality check – most likely it is as far behind you as you thought, take an honest inventory of your family dynamics. Even when an ACA doesn't drink at all, the legacy of a life raised in the midst of an alcoholic is most likely being passed onto their children despite their best efforts to keep it away from them. Everything about their childhood they hoped would never touch their children is with their children each and every waking momen. If an ACA doesn't communicate to their children about their own childhood, their children won't know why they "are the way they are," or why their family functions the way it does.
Break the cycle by more than not drinking. It is just as important to break the cycle of silence by talking to your kids.
  1. They will love you and respect you for it.
  2. They will love and respect themselves and understand themselves.
  3. Afterwards, they will understand everything about their household a little bit better.

Only when you identify the big, invisible dragon in the room can you begin to slay it. From my perspective, by opening up and communicating about your childhood, you will finally be on the road to recovery. Better yet, you will all be on the road together - truly together, not just next to each other, in the same house, but together in love and support of each other.

Resources to help Adult Children to Alcoholics:

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