The uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much is something that sticks in my mind. As a child you have no power, you can’t say or do a lot. That feeling of powerless really got me, sometimes I wanted to leave, and I actually did run away but it wasn’t for long.
What is uncertainty?
something that is uncertain or that causes one to feel uncertain.
I thought this topic was relevant for childrens mental health awareness week. The uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much creates anxiety. As a child it can make you feel so apprehensive, you sit and listen to the arguments, waiting for something to kick off. All the while feeling your body tense up and you’re locked in motion. You can’t move because you need to hear, to be aware of what’s happening.
If you’re aware of what’s happening you can plan, you can prepare, you can anticipate. You may not need to do anything, but you might, so you have to prepare for the might.
What’s a parent that drinks too much?
A lot of people get fixated on people that are dependant drinkers, those that have to drink all day long and as soon as they wake up. People that are homeless and sleeping on park benches.
Come on people! This is the 21st century.
Recent research shows that parents drinking negatively impact on their children’s wellbeing.
The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Alcohol andAlcoholism, reports that three-fifths of the 997 parents surveyed said they had consumed alcohol to help them cope with feelings of depression and to escape problems, while 95% spoke of instances where they drank alcohol to relax or feel happier.
The children surveyed – who were aged between 10 and 17 – reported negative experiences that included being given less attention than usual, being put to bed earlier or later than their usual time, having arguments with parents more than normal, and being at the receiving end of increased unpredictability.
How do you know someone drinks too much?
I think that listening to what children have to say is a good way for parents to know if they’re drinking too much. There isn’t a rule book, one, two, ten drinks will affect everyone differently. What each child thinks and feels about their parents drinking is unique to them.
That’s not to say these issues are unique, they aren’t. I just want people to understand that it really doesn’t matter what others day. Children are the voice, they’re the ones affected by their parents drinking, and they’re the ones that can explain how the uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much affects them.
Of course it affects friends and family members, but for the purposes of this post I’m focusing on children.
It’s all about the impact, financially, with relationships, socially, work and health.
How does the uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much affect children?
When a child is living with a parent (and often when they’re not), they will be affected in all sorts of ways. Depending on the support they have around them and the reliability and strength of the non-drinking parent, children can come off a lot worse than adults.
Whilst it’s hard, adults have the control to leave, to make decisions and change things. Children don’t have this option. Again this isn’t to shirk responsibility and to play the victim, it’s a fact.
Children can feel isolated, rejected, bullied, confused and at times unsafe. Drinking socially is enjoyable for most people, but when there are children around it’s so important to have a responsible adult that isn’t drinking to keep them safe.
Not everyone that drinks will cause harm intentionally, but that doesn’t mean harm isn’t caused. As per the research children feel that they aren’t receiving the sort of attention that they might if they’re parent wasn’t drinking. To some adults this may not seem like a big deal, but it is to their child.
Let’s not forget this is about how the child perceives the impact, not how the adult perceives the impact.
For heavier drinkers and dependant drinkers, it’s likely at times depending on the drinkers behaviour that children will feel unsafe and not know how their parent will react. They may feel scared that their parent will physically hurt them, they may worry about whether they’ll get their lunch for school the next day.
The uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much has a wide impact. Children shouldn’t have to be worrying about the bare necessities and taking on extra responsibility if their parent isn’t able to meet their needs.
This isn’t a criticism to the drinker, I understand more than most how hard things are and many of the reasons they resort to drink in the first place.
We have to be honest and realistic and do what’s necessary to protect and safeguard children that are in vulnerable situations. Overreacting won’t be helpful, so it’s important to find out all the facts before acting.
Unpredictability of a parent that drinks too much
Children will often develop strategies to cope, just like the drinker has. I remember positioning myself in a certain place in the kitchen so I could run the opposite way to my Dad. My Dad was a dependant drinker, but I’ve been around non-dependant drinkers as a young adult and you can tell their personality changes.
That can make you feel on edge, not knowing what they’ll say or do. Will they be all lovey dovey, or will they tell you to shut up and go to your room as they don’t want you around, ruining their fun.
All of this sends messages, of course it does.
What happens is then because you don’t know how they’ll react, you tend to be more cautious. Distrust what they say because you don’t believe it because so many times before they’ve said they’ll do something and then don’t.
How does this uncertainty impact children later in life?
I can speak for myself here when I say it’s impacted me hugely, thankfully I’ve done a lot of work on myself but it still impacts me.
It’s not surprising to know that anxiety is something that can develop, living with so much uncertainty can make you so scared that you want to control everything. It’s a fruitless task of course, but we do it anyway.
Planning and thinking about things 3 miles down the road, in case of any potential dangers and changes. Being able to keep safe and adjust to whatever comes your way is another trait.
You also tend not to trust people because if the people that are meant to protect you aren’t honest, they why would anyone else be. This can then affect building friendships and developing intimate relationships. Not being able to separate that these other people aren’t your parent and they can be trusted.
It’s also common for children of heavy and dependant drinkers to not rely on other people. You start to be more independant and struggle to ask for help when you need it, because when you have in the past you’ve been let down.
These are just some of the main areas where the uncertainty of living with a parent that drinks too much can affect children. It’s so hard because alcohol is socially acceptable. Please be mindful of alcohol around children and as an adult, do your part to protect children rather than feel awkward and not say when you see something isn’t right.
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If you’d like to chat then do get in touch, I’m happy to gift you some time. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (07732) 403305.
Remember you aren’t alone and you can always join my Daughters of Alcoholics Facebook group, where other daughters of alcoholics support each other with challenges they experience from the past or present. You may have lived with an alcoholic in your past, but it’s still impacting you in the present.
I also run the Two Roads Travelled podcast with my sister, click here to find out more.