‘My adult children are exhibiting similar addictive traits as their father’
Tell Me About It: ‘My ex-partner says I am exaggerating about our children’s issues’
“They are adults and I feel I need to intervene, but if I do I will probably be branded a liar.” Photograph: iStock
Question: I am a single mum with two sons and one daughter, all in their mid-twenties and who all live independently – but within a short distance from home.
I separated from their father when they were all in their early teens. At the time, he was a heavy drinker who would often become aggressive and violent when under the influence. He was also a compulsive liar who would spend our savings on alcohol and on many occasions would go missing for several days. The kids were aware that we had difficulties, but I was able to shelter them from the most vicious aspects of our relationship. The separation was painful and took several years to finalise. But eventually I got a barring order and he left.
Since then he has gone through rehab and to my knowledge he has had long periods of abstinence and now he says that he can control the amount he drinks. The children have always had regular contact with him, but have very little memory of the problems that we had. In fact, they have all told me that I had been unfair to him and that I should have given him more of a chance.
My main concern now though is that I am beginning to recognise that my daughter and one of my sons are exhibiting similar addictive traits as their father. My daughter was very successful academically, but since she started working she is out partying several nights per week, and has changed her job four times in two years. I know that at least once she has been fired for absenteeism. My son recently asked me for a large loan so that he could repay college debts. I rarely do his laundry, but I found a betting slip for almost the same amount of money that I gave him. I asked him about it, and whilst he was angry with me, he told me that this was a bet that he put on with friends. I am afraid that I do not believe him. It sounds like a tale that his father would have told me 15 years ago.
I feel that I need to confront both of my children about my concerns, but to give context to my worries it could mean having to tell all three of them about the extent of their father’s addiction and possibly the horrific abuse that I endured. This is not something that I ever envisioned having to do. I have spoken to their dad who says that I am exaggerating about our children’s issues and rewriting the history of our marriage.
They are adults and I feel I need to intervene, but if I do I will probably be branded a liar.
Answer: If you do not tell your children of their heritage, you might not be equipping them with the information that might save them harm and hurt in their lives. There is, of course, a danger that they may react with disbelief and resistance, but that is a price you must be willing to pay as love requires that we take risks for those in our care. Your children are all young adults and as such are responsible for their own lives.
However, we are all able to block out unwelcome truths in order to continue our favourite behaviours and we can become very good at this. Often a crisis forces us to face the reality but even then we can continue on with the harming behaviour until the crisis is of such magnitude that destruction follows – this seems to have been the case in your marriage. It takes courage for a friend or family member to face us with our destructive behaviours – they risk losing the relationship and it is far easier to continue with the status quo. In other words, they have to care about us so much that they are willing to challenge us and this is the essence of a true relationship.
Thus your sense that you need to talk to your children is in their best interests even if they find it difficult to listen. In order for your children to take this intervention seriously, it may be more successful if you could involve your ex-partner. You have said that he is not concerned but it is worth a conversation with him. He has successfully gone through rehab and this usually involves facing the impact of his drinking on his family so there may be an opening here where he can be encouraged to act in the role of father and guide his children. He could perhaps check with his counsellor in the rehab centre if this is appropriate so he is not relying on your advice and therefore might be freer in his involvement.
Once you have done your intervention, you might step back from monitoring your adult children’s behaviour and take the position of a support person who is there if needed. They are all responsible for their actions and will be more likely to address their issues if the impulse for change comes from themselves. What you might do is demonstrate what a responsible adult life can look like by enjoying yourself fully and being happy – they might at some point ask you how to achieve this.
If you are struggling, then seeking some emotional support for yourself is worth considering – you have one son who might fulfil this role or if no friends are suitable you could seek a counsellor to assist you.