by singlemomseeking on July 15, 2009



My guest post at Drinking Diaries is now live: “How honest should I be?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


When the editors at a new blog called Drinking Diaries recently asked me to write about alcohol, I was game.

No, not that kind of game. They did not ask me to describe my last experience with beer on tap or margaritas. Instead, they wanted me to delve into “your relationship/history/experiences/feelings relating to alcohol.”

Although I haven’t blogged much about addiction, I think about it often. Alcoholism runs in my family. I was in a relationship with an alcoholic (my daughter’s father). And recently, I’ve been emailing with another single mom —  at She Was Just a Wish — about our own struggles with co-dependency.

So, here’s the issue: at some point, we both want to tell our daughters the truth about our exes struggles with alcohol. But how honest should I be?

Of course, age and development are factors here. I’m not about to launch into a full-blown dialogue about alcohol and genetics with my fourth grader. But still, I want to be prepared when it’s time to talk.

She Was Just a Wish has written to me about growing up in a family of secrets. No one talked about alcoholism. I really get that. As the years pass – and our daughters get older — we wonder about their futures.

This mother says she wants to be honest with her own child because being mute only “perpetuates the secrecy in which addictions thrive.

Whenever I think about having a conversation about addiction in the future, however, I bite my bottom lip. Someday, I want to be honest about alcoholism, depression, and more. How will I even begin?

When I met my ex, on an airplane, one of the first things I noticed about him was the smell of alcohol on his breath. To most women, that would have been a red flag. But I had this rescue complex —  co-dependency — and thought I could rescue them. Especially men. I was obsessed with thinking that I could save him. I take responsibility for being addicted, too.

If you have any advice on this one, thank you:

How honest and open should you be with your child?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Martini Mom July 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I grew up with an alcoholic father, and it was always talked about. No secrets in our family. My parents were divorced, but my dad was still very present and active in my upbringing. He was, in fact, quite an amazing father, so maybe that made it easier to talk about. There was no need to explain his absence or inadequacies.

Instead, we had very open conversations about his addictions; about how they affected him and his personality; about his responsibility for his actions (the choices Dr. Leah talks about); and, often, about his struggles to quit.

I watched him *fight* his addictions, which is a different scenario than the one you’ve raised – so maybe what I’m about to say doesn’t apply. But for me, the open communication meant that I was able to better understand what was happening and why it was so difficult (in the end, impossible) for my dad to quit. Watching him try and fail and try and fail and try and fail and try again, even though he knew the chances of just failing again? *This* is where I learned everything I needed to know about tenacity, personal responsibility and, certainly, owning your mistakes. If there hadn’t been such open communication, I’m not sure I would’ve walked away with the same lessons.

My son is named after my dad. They never met (my dad died while I was pregnant with my son) and so, naturally, my son is very curious about the man he was named for. He’s asked a lot of questions over the years, and I’ve answered them honestly. It’s a big conversation, so he’s come to grasp it better as he’s gotten older.

Our conversations tend to center on choices, as Dr. Leah suggested. We talk about responsible drinking vs. abuse. And we talk about the dangers of drinking too much; things that can happen if you drink irresponsibly and/or habitually.

A complicating factor for us is my ex-husband, who takes a very casual approach to alcohol around my son. (He recently took my son to a kegger-style party and taught him how to play beer pong, albeit with orange juice. And this is only the most recent example). So the education on my part has been kicked up a notch. I feel like I must give him a better context in which to make sense of the “lessons” he’s learning from his dad.

And I do want him to know about the family history and explain to him why that might matter to him personally. However, I’ve found this to be a tricky angle, because I don’t want our conversation to sound like I’m condemning him to the life of an alcoholic. Luckily, I can point to both my brother and I as examples – children of an alcoholic who did not become alcoholics themselves. Still, I think family history is something to be aware of.

So, for all these reasons, we talk. Openly and honestly. I don’t know any other way to be. Check back with me in 20 yrs, and I’ll let you know if it worked! 😉

(Sorry to have rambled on. I guess I have a lot to say on this topic!)

Martini Mom´s last blog post…My kid’s in love with an older man


Brittni July 17, 2009 at 6:49 am

I’m so glad I found this post because it is something that I think about often as well. I just found your blog today, and I’m glad I did. My daughter’s real dad was an addict. More than just alcohol. The day after my daughter was born, he took my car, phone, and debit card and disappeared to get what he needed. It wasn’t until 3 in the morning when a cop came into my hospital room that I realized what had happened. I know that I have to tell my daughter someday in the not so near future. But how? It makes me so sad to think how she will feel upon hearing about how he really was/is. I was an enabler as well. Still am to an extint. I can’t shake the feeling that I can help people. I just think that maybe with some good in their life the bad will just disappear. It is such a hard realization that it doesn’t work like that.

Brittni´s last blog post…Fun in the Sun


Amy July 16, 2009 at 6:57 pm

One of the best things I learned this past year was that my ex deserved the respect and dignity to make his own choices and experience the consequences.

But it is a tough thing to grasp when you start thinking of addiction in terms of a disease. I liken it to any terminal illness. Some cancer patients – for whatever reason – refuse treatment or chemo – some fight the cancer with everything they have. I hope I can explain to her that her dad didn’t choose to be an addict – but he chooses to let those addictions win. And he makes the choices that give the addiction all of the power in his life.

Amy´s last blog post…Journal 129: July 2009 Meet Sadie


Dr.Leah July 16, 2009 at 9:18 am

Rachel has opened up an important conversation.

There is no magic age at which kids need to “know” about addiction. Likely, kids are already familiar with the term from lessons at school about smoking and drug use.

But, since experts differ on exactly what the terms “addiction”/”addictive personality”/”addiction prone” actually mean, it’s best to stick with information that helps your kids better understand what has happened in their own lives.

What makes this conversation so difficult for many of you is that “addiction” is part of the infinitely bigger issue of why the other parent (in this case, M’s father) is not a part of their lives.

Here’s where it gets tricky:

Experts debate endlessly the role of choice in addiction. Do addicts have control over their drinking and drugging or is the physiological basis of their addiction so compelling that they are powerless to resist the urge?

Secondly, the issue of whether alcoholism “runs in families” is clouded by how familiar kids who grow up in alcoholic/drug abusing families become with drinking/drugs and the accompanying lack of supervision.
Is it genetics or environment?

No one has the definitive answers to these questions.

My opinion? Addicts make choices. It’s incredibly challenging to stay clean and sober. Most “addicts” are simply not interested in doing the hard work and commitment sobriety requires.

My advice to Rachel? Make sure that M knows that her father’s choices in no way “doom her” to a greater susceptibility to substance abuse.

I believe kids get the wrong message when they’re told that they’re “at risk” for drug or alcohol abuse due to family history. Kids hearing that message often conclude “What the heck – might as well do it” if they come to believe that they will eventually succumb to substance abuse.

Kids are best helped by the message repeated early and often that their “other parent” has chosen not to be part of their lives because he or she was simply not able to do the important job or being a parent. Drug/alcohol abuse is simply one indication that parenting is just not in the “other parent’s” skill set.

Dr.Leah http://www.singlemommyhood.com´s last blog post…Does your child use public restrooms alone?


singlemomseeking July 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Thank you so much Dr. Leah. This is very helpful.

I appreciate this reminder: Addicts DO make choices.

And my daughter does deserve to know the truth: That her father was not able to do the important job or being a parent. Fortunately, she has grown up in a very healthy, loving, communicative home.

I’m loving all of your open, honest comments. Thanks.


Katherine SOLOdotmom July 16, 2009 at 6:25 am

Expatsinglemama is my pick here as well with opening that door of communication. I didn’t live in a home with an alcoholic, but my X did and I know it continues to affect his own behavior today. Children should have this door open so when they question things, hear things, wonder things, they will come right back to you – because you will have the answer and the clarity they need to make some sense out life and the messes we each make in it.

Katherine SOLOdotmom´s last blog post…So Much To Share and So Little Time + a CONTEST


Amy July 15, 2009 at 8:51 pm

I love what expatsinglemama says about opening the door up. I think that is what I want to do. I feel like I need to lay something out there so when she hears the rumors and even when she experiences his indifference she will come to me and we will be able to talk about it. And lord knows when you grow up in an alcoholic family – you don’t “talk” about feelings. You may yell or cry – but even those emotions tend to be centered around the alcoholic. I want Sadie to know that it is okay to be pissed off that addictions took her father and then somehow help her to move through it. Of course, I’ve got to do this myself first.

Amy´s last blog post…Journal 129: July 2009 Meet Sadie


BlueBella July 15, 2009 at 7:48 pm

This is a topic I’m going to have to tackle with the twins as well someday. . . .hopefully a long ways away. I’ll be anxious to hear how it goes with M and glean any pointers from you I can!

BlueBella´s last blog post…/drool


expatsinglemama July 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I agree with lovebabz–as long as it’s done with sensitivity and age-appropriateness in mind, kids can be told anything. I vowed to tell my girls all the “family secrets” from an early age and firsthand because quite frankly, I don’t want them getting misinformation from overheard conversations at family gatherings (this is how I found out about my mother’s affair as well as many other secrets). At age 3 & 2, I’ve already explained to them about infidelity (mommy and daddy are getting divorced because we broke our promises to each other), bipolar (grandma has a lot of sad and angry feelings because she has a sickness in her head), and alcoholism. They don’t “get it” 100% but I do hope that when they hear a rumor from a cousin, I’ve already opened the door for them to come straight to me for clarification.

expatsinglemama´s last blog post…Two years ago today


Tracy July 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I’m normally just a lurker here, but I can’t resist weighing in on this topic, because I think about it a lot. There is a saying about alcoholic families, “we’re only as sick as our secrets.”

My children have grown up with honest acknowledgment of the role of alcohol, drugs, codependency, and recovery in their parents’ lives. These are hard topics to understand, no matter what age we are, but it’s my belief that lies are usually even harder to understand than the truth.

If you turn your question around and ask, how dishonest and secretive should you be with your child, it seems like honesty is a more compelling choice. For children who don’t have to deal with the family disease of alcoholism, ignorance is a luxury their parents can afford for a while, perhaps, but in families like ours, the disease affects us, whether we talk about it or not, even if the effect is associated with the absence of a parent rather than the presence of active drinking.

In my children’s case, unfortunately, this became tragically evident when their father relapsed and died of a drug overdose after years of sobriety.

There is no way for anyone to “understand” this death, but I believe that lying to them about it would have only been more confusing, not protective. And because we had been honest with them all along, they knew already that their father had this disease, and what that meant, so they had some framework for understanding what happened to him, and that he was a sick person, not a bad person.

I’m also curious about this idea that there is a “time to talk” or an age when our kids “need to know” about addiction. How do you know when that is?

A lot of the alcoholics that I know started drinking and trying drugs when they were 11 or 12 years old, long before anyone in their family suspected. I’m hoping that giving my kids information about alcohol and genetic predispositions before they need to know will help them make healthy decisions from the start, or seek help earlier, if they need it.


singlemomseeking July 16, 2009 at 7:34 am

Tracy, it means a lot to me that you came out and commented. Thank you.

Re: “I’m also curious about this idea that there is a “time to talk” or an age when our kids “need to know” about addiction. How do you know when that is?”…. I’m hoping that perhaps an expert might chime in about this one. I’ll put the word out.

Thank you for this, too: “It’s my belief that lies are usually even harder to understand than the truth.”



lovebabz July 15, 2009 at 1:21 pm

First of all ANYTHING can be explained to children. You gotta be willing to speak plainly and in a way that they know EXACTLY what the hell you mean.

Tell children the truth…but without judgement and disdain. Treat it the same way as you would if you were telling them a loved one had cancer or some other life threatening illness.

Secrets serve no one…it only prolongs the inevitable. Truth arms us with the ability to make decisions that keep us from harm. Lies causes our actions to be inauthentic and quite possibly detrimental.

lovebabz´s last blog post…TANGO SUEÑO…TANGO LESSON #5


Ameya July 15, 2009 at 11:26 am

My (alcoholic) Dad was never a drinker around me, but he’d always tell me to tell my mom (classy i know) through me when we were on the phone (he lived across country) to come back to him, and mom would always say simply “Tell him to stop drinking and i will”. So i always grew up knowing that drinking was the cause of my “broken family” so i was never a fan of it.

Especially after he died (from alcohol- i was 12) everyone on both sides of the family made it very clear to me that he was troubled & i needed to be very careful because it was hereditary. At that point I had already secretly battled depression (without having a name for it) for years, so it made a lot of sense & I made it a clear point to never touch alcohol because i knew i had enough issues, and i knew i didn’t want to end up like that. It was goode that they were open with me about that because I was able to steer clear. I didn’t have any until I was 19, when I knew i could handle it & not let it get entangled with my emotions (it also helped that it tastes terrible, haha)

I also think it’d be really hard to wait a long time then tell them. If i was the mother i probably would have done what my mom did- she always told me the truth, but also made it clear that it was his personal issue/sickness and he was still a great dad to me (which was true) and he wasn’t a bad person for it, but I had to be careful to learn from his mistakes & not let that happen to me.

Ameya´s last blog post…Meat Free Monday


T July 15, 2009 at 9:35 am

For a few days at school last year, my older daughter’s class focused on drug awareness. I found this amusing since they were only in 1st grade! She has no idea what a “drug” is?!

But it did open the door to discussion.

My ex has a drinking problem as well. He’s a functioning alcoholic and yes, I should let my girls know that genetics will play a big part in their lives. (My ex’s grandfather was an alcoholic too.)

What I try to do, more than anything with my girls, is demonstrate a respect for their bodies. I think, at the core of it, if I can teach them that everything is ok in moderation (i.e. food, exercise, tv, work, play), then I hope that will influence every decision they make. As they get older, I will certainly approach this subject on a more specific level.

She is watching and learning all the time. Teach her that balance is good.

T´s last blog post…A little ex vent


MindyMom July 15, 2009 at 9:19 am

That is tough. I’m sure you will find the right time and opportunity to discuss it with her. Maybe you could just start with a lesson on drugs and alcohol and how anyone can become addicted/and or abuse them and then go from there.

MindyMom´s last blog post…Confessions of a Date-Stacker


April July 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

I have told my girls about their father’s drug addiction, but in bits and pieces over the years. I think it was when they were 6 and 9 that I started talking to them about it, and I think it helped them understand more about him and why we got divorced.

April´s last blog post…Why our 4th grader might be smarter than our 5th grader


Julie July 15, 2009 at 6:29 am

I think if the kids are old enough to understand just a touch of the seriousness then I think it is a good to discuss it openly. We have tailored (added) details so they knowledge is “age appropropriate” and my kids have learned the truth over many years based on their level of maturity understanding.
Our hope is that they will grow up with less questions, less feelings of guilt and resentment and more understanding of addiction as a disease and the dangers of those substances.

Julie´s last blog post…no more goodbyes


Bobbi Janay July 15, 2009 at 5:13 am

Wow, that is a tough one. My Poppy was an alcoholic but it was never a secret I remember it being discussed lots when I was a child.

Bobbi Janay´s last blog post…Wordless Wednesay


MommaSunshine July 15, 2009 at 3:38 am

This is a tough one. I agree that secrecy makes addictions thrive. My father was a ‘weekened alcoholic’ for as long as I can remember, and this is STILL something that I can’t talk to my mom about (even though he’s been dead for over 20 years now).

I think that honesty is important with our kids, and that, since it is part of our “story”, then they deserve to hear the truth about it (when it’s age-appropriate). I certainly plan on having open and honest discussions with my girls when it comes to my own issues with co-dependency, depression, and disordered eating, when they’re of an age that they can handle it, and “need to know”.

MommaSunshine´s last blog post…I’m Done.


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