Explaining an alcoholic grandparent to children

by Mary Jo

(Evansville, IN)

My husband’s mother is an alcoholic. The family has tried several different interventions throughout the years… nothing has worked with any sustainable success.

My husband and I have always set very clear parameters with his parents about what we will expose our children to and what we won’t. At this point, we have not addressed the alcoholism with our children.

We have 6 kids ages 13-1. This set of grandparents are the “fun”ones, who take them boating, on vacations (when allowed), and buy them enormous gifts at Christmas and birthdays. They kinda try to “buy” our kids love to an extent.

Our children have frequently asked throughout the years to do more with my husbands parents, but we just seem to always have a reason why it doesn’t work out. We are present with our children whenever my husband’s mother is around. (So no overnights, etc…)

As my husband’s mother gets older, she becomes more selfish and self centered. Currently she does not want to visit with my children at her house because of the commotion that 6 children bring. Before, my husband and I set the limits on the relationship.

We are thinking that it is time to explain to the older three children about having and alcoholic grandmother and how that has effected our relationships in the past and will continue to effect our relationships in the future.

We feel like truth is the best policy, however, we do not want to jeopardize what little relationship they have now.

I am writing asking advice regarding this situation, how/if to tell the children, what resources you recommend, emotional and social concerns regarding the family with this new information, etc…

Have that conversation

by: Ned Wicker

Dear Mary Jo,

You are making a responsible and wise decision. Having that open and frank discussion with your children will hopefully be a healing element in their relationship with your mother in-law.

An age-appropriate dialog is important to allow them to express their feelings, ask questions and receive honest answers. You may also want to have that same discussion with her and explain your concerns as a parent.

She will likely get angry and blame you, or accuse you of keeping the children away, but she also needs to understand that her drinking is getting in the way. What’s important, the alcohol or her grandchildren?

The 13 year-old is probably pretty tuned in already, but you need to communicate that their grandmother has a disease. Remember, she needs their love and support, so in your best mommy tone, try to explain that sometimes grandmother isn’t well. You have vast experience in talking to children, so I hardly need to tell you how to phrase things.

The alcoholism in my family was always swept under the rug, because properly educated and enlightened people just don’t talk about these kinds of things. Nobody dealt with it. My aunt’s drinking was family legend, but nobody took it seriously.

My mother died at an early age after years of not dealing with it. Nobody ever spoke to me when I was a child, but I saw a lot of alcoholism and I didn’t know what I was supposed to think. Because of that, I also believe, rightly or wrongly, that if someone had sat down with me and had that honest chat it would have been a sign of respect. Your children see things. They formulate opinions. Their viewpoint matters.

Have that conversation. You sound like a great mom.

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