Healing Our Relationships with Our Adult Children

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Whether or not the alcoholic finds sobriety, or whether or not we stay in the relationship, we still have to face the effects of alcoholism on our children. While they were young, we may have believed we could prevent our children’s suffering by trying to compensate for the lack of attention they received from the alcoholic. Some of us tried to educate our children about alcoholism or urged them to attend Alateen. While these efforts may have helped, we couldn’t prevent our children from being affected by the family disease of alcoholism.

The effects of growing up in an alcoholic home follow most children into their adulthood. They may suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Many have difficulty trusting other people. They may choose relationships with other alcoholics or struggle with their own addictions. As parents, we may have sent our teenage children to alcohol treatment centers, or had to ask them to leave our homes. We had to set limits and then find the courage to implement them.

In Al-Anon we learn that we cannot control the choices of our adult children. As parents, this can be especially difficult to accept. After all, when our children were young, we were responsible for their welfare, making decisions we believed were in their best interest. Once our children are grown, it can be challenging to let them make their own decisions, especially if we view those decisions as potentially unwise or harmful. This doesn’t mean we ignore problems as they arise. We can still express our concerns if asked, but we don’t have to solve every problem they encounter.

“I am learning to let go of my concerns about my son’s welfare so that he can turn to his Higher Power for help.”

Our impulse to rescue our children may actually prevent them from finding their own solutions. What we can do is turn our children over to our Higher Power’s care.

“When my adult children aren’t behaving as I think they should, I try to remember to ‘Live and Let Live.’ When I think they are in trouble, I remind myself that I can’t fight their battles for them. Though it’s painful to see them stumble, I must Let Go and Let God.’ It’s hard enough for me to stay on my own path; one way I can honor my children is by letting them walk theirs.”

It can be easy to blame ourselves for our children’s problems, especially once we become aware of the damaging effects of living with alcoholism. We may question the job we did as parents, wondering if we didn’t protect our children enough or protected them too much; if we were too hard or too easy on them. Because we spent so much time focusing on the alcoholic, we may wonder if we devoted enough of our energy to our children. Our concerns may be compounded if our children blame us for their problems.

Guilt over past mistakes can keep us trapped. It helps to have compassion for ourselves and our children. Even if we made mistakes in the past, we didn’t cause anyone to become an alcoholic, including our adult children. We simply don’t have that kind of power. We can remember to forgive ourselves. We can accept that we did the best we could at the time with the resources we had. Today we can make a commitment to do things differently.

How can we be there for our children today? We can offer our love, support, and encouragement. We can model a healthier way of life. We can talk openly with them about the mistakes we made. We can listen without getting defensive if they want to talk about their childhoods. We can allow room for their feelings and experiences, even if we might see things differently.

Our children’s lives may not have turned out the way we had hoped, but we can’t prevent them from learning the lessons they are meant to learn today. Whatever problems they may be facing are theirs to face. They have their own path, their own journey. Though it may be unclear to us now, perhaps our children are meant to go through exactly what they are going through for a reason.

Page 93-94, Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses, Al-Anon Family Groups

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.