If you know what it’s like to grow up in an alcoholic family, how can you be sure that your needs are met? Parents who are alcoholic are consumed by their cravings for alcohol. And when you don’t have a parent who can parent you, it is important to develop strategies for caring for yourself, especially when you are busy caring for others. You need it, you deserve it, and you can do it!
Here, we explore how to cope with living with an alcoholic mom. Then, we have a section for your questions, experience, and feedback about what to do with an alcohol parent at the end.
Missing a mother
When you love someone who is ill, you suffer as they suffer, and the dynamics at home are impacted by their ability or inability to participate in “normal” family life. The same is true when you live with an alcoholic; the disease impacts participation in family life, it changes the structure of what we expect, and the illness changes the person is ill. Alcoholics don’t act the way we want or need them to act and we struggle to understand “why.” We suffer more because we are frustrated, with them, with the illness, and with the things we have lost because of the disease.
Alcoholism is a disease of compulsion and impaired behavior. It is a disease that one person has, but an illness that affects everyone around the individual with the disease. The alcoholic cannot be the person we expect them to be, the person we want them to be and we all suffer profoundly as a result.
Living with an alcoholic mother: What’s it like?
What happens when your mother is an alcoholic?
The short answer is that she can’t be a mother in the way we need a mother when we are growing up. The longer answer is complicated because it is emotional: we hurt and feel unloved, we miss being nurtured and feeling safe, we believe we are not valued and don’t deserve to be cared for, we feel abandoned. None of these things are true but we feel them through the unavailability of that person to care for us.
Alcoholic mother effects on self and others
“Mother” means ‘a woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth.’ We all have a mother and the mere fact that we are here on this planet means that we have enough, it should also mean to us that we are enough but that can be hard to feel inside. “Mothering” means ‘bringing up a child with care and affection,’ and this is where we suffer.
An alcoholic has a disease of the mind as much as of the body. They may not be physically present to provide care and affection, but what is even harder to understand is that they are not mentally or emotionally present to provide care and affection. If your mom is drunk, is thinking about her next drink, is hung-over, or is busy trying to hide her problem she is just not going to have the ability to care about you and your life. That does not mean that you are not worthy of being cared for. It does mean that the person who you are looking to for that care does not have the ability to provide what you need. It’s like going to buy bread from the shoe store, they just don’t have what you need.
Children of alcoholic mothers do the care taking
If all of this is not enough to handle, what’s more is the fact that often the children of an alcoholic must themselves take on the job of caregiver for others. The oldest child may become responsible for taking care of younger siblings: feeding, clothing, getting them to school, helping with homework, and all of the other things we expect from a mom. The alcoholic themselves often seem to need care and so we end up parenting our parent. Instead of being nurtured, cared for and protected we become frustrated, angry, resentful and depressed.
How to care for yourself when alcoholism is present
Nothing can fix the alcoholic, nothing can magically make a mom who is ill “better” and allow us to get the care and affection we need. It is okay to be angry and to feel like it isn’t fair that you have to take on caring for yourself when as a young person you have a right to expect someone else to give that to you, or to resent not having received that care when you were young. But we can make sure we are going to the right place to get what we need, and giving ourselves the care that we have always deserved.
Here are a few ways to start:
1. Take time everyday just for you, an hour if you can, a half hour, ten minutes or just five. This time is for you to do something that brings you happiness, that makes you smile.
2. Find a baby picture of yourself and everyday, at least once a day look at yourself and say “I love you, I care about you, I am always going to be there for you.”
3. Find someone to talk to. This can be a real person, an imaginary friend, a stuffed animal, a drawing, God – “anyone” and everyday spend a few minutes sharing about your day with this person. Tell them what was good, what was bad, what you found scary or need help with, what you are excited about and so on. You can do this out loud or in your head, the important thing is to do it – everyday!
Alcoholism takes so much away from us, denies us so much of what we should have. What we can do is make sure we care for ourselves, and give to ourselves the mothering that everyone deserves.