Somewhere deep down, you know you have a problem with alcohol. You may think that you simply drink too much from time to time, or you may have admitted you are an alcoholic. In either case, you insist that the reason you won’t give up drinking is because you simply don’t want to. You are sure you could quit any time you choose, and most of all you believe with all your heart that you are not hurting anyone but yourself.
Alcoholics who have children may think that they don’t hurt their children by drinking excessively, but this is most likely not true. There are many ways that children are hurt by the bad choices of their parents. Hurt doesn’t have to take the form of physical abuse. Emotional wounds caused by alcohol abuse are often subtle and not necessarily obvious, but the wounds cut just as deeply as physical injuries and may remain long past childhood.
The Absent Parent
Although you may not be abusing your children, if you are habitually using alcohol or drugs, you are probably neglecting them. Before you deny it, consider if your child has found you sleeping in the middle of the day from an alcohol-induced collapse. At times your child may have needed your help with homework or wanted to show you an art project and was told that you simply are “too sick” or “too tired” today.
Have you ever passed out and failed to pick your child up from school? Has your child ever asked you to attend a school play or other event and you couldn’t bring yourself to go? There may have been times that even though you did show up or attempted to spend time with your kids, you weren’t present mentally. You may have no recollection of things you did with your child.
Your child may not tell you how disappointing this is for him or her. Inside he or she is probably carrying a world of hurt. Many children of alcoholics develop a deep-rooted fear of abandonment because of a parent who was checked out.
The Emotional Parent
A parent who abuses alcohol or drugs may have a wide range of unpredictable emotions. Frequent or unexpected mood swings are common, leading your child to feel insecure and on edge. Your child may try to hide from you or find ways to escape. Once a teenager, he or she may also turn to alcohol or drugs.
Alcohol is a depressant and may intensify feelings of depression or sadness. You may cry for no apparent reason, and even if you think your child isn’t aware of this, you’re probably wrong. If you’re not depressed, you may be full of anger. You may fly into a rage with no warning because of mind-altering chemicals or because you have run out of your drug of choice.
Mood swings and unpredictable outbursts of emotion can have a damaging effect on your child. He or she may become fearful or cynical, or may be learning that rage or extreme sadness is an appropriate response to life stressors.
The Embarrassing Parent
Parents who have a drinking problem frequently cause embarrassment for their children. They may be loud or obnoxious. They may publicly collapse on the floor or giggle at inappropriate times. They may slur their words or appear unkempt.
Children of parents who frequently cause embarrassment become afraid to invite their parents to school events. They are even more reluctant to bring friends home from school.
If you are causing embarrassment for your child, you are failing to set an example of handling life as a responsible adult. Even if you think you aren’t hurting anyone except yourself, you may want to reconsider how deeply your behavior is affecting your children.
If you are having a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor, minister or counselor. Consider going to a treatment center to get yourself on the right track so that you can really be there for your children and can set a good example. Your children are watching you and learning from you, even when you think they aren’t.