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child of an alcoholic--need advice

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
This is my first time posting in this forum, and it has already been really helpful to read many of the postings. I have so much I want to ask, but I will start with this: my dsd is almost 15, and has lived with her mom in France for almost her whole life. She has been spending summers with my dh and I since she was 8, and then she spent all of last year with us--both because she had been planning for several years to spend a year in America living with her dad, and because her mom was having serious problems with alcohol. Her mom has always been an alcoholic, but it seems to have gotten worse over the past few years.
While my dsd was here with us, her mom went to a clinic/rehab program twice, and stayed sober for several months. This was a real step forward for her; as I understand it, she had not even been able to admit she had a problem up until then.
But once my dsd returned to live with her this past August, her mom began drinking again, and has been blacking out, going out to drink in bars in the middle of the night, and has ended up in the hospital twice. It's really awful. I can't imagine how deeply this is going to affect my dsd for the rest of her life.
My dh really wants her to come back to live with us for good. I feel like that would be best for her as well, even though living in a totally different country, with a family where she sometimes feels left out (my dh and I have a three-year-old together) was kind of hard for her while she was here. It was a little hard for me as well, I have to admit, simply because being a sudden full-time stepmom to a teenager means giving up some control of one's life and time. Oh well.
Anyway, I guess what I'd like advice on is this: 1) does anyone have experience with a situation like this? 2) what resources could we utilize to help my dsd develop healthy emotional tools out of this situation? We were thinking of trying to connect her up with Alateen if she moves here, and counseling for her, her and her dad, or the whole lot of us seems like it might be a good idea. Are there any books anyone can recommend?
Clearly, I also just needed to unload a little. Thanks in advance for any support anyone can offer.
post #2 of 8
Don't have time to write much right now, so I will be brief.

I could have been your dsd at that age, only I had two drunk parents plus a drunk stepfather. It is hard, hard, hard.

First advice: Alateen -- yes!!! I found Alanon in my twenties, and was a bit young for the crowd. I might have benefitted SO much from Alateen if I'd been in a position to attend. Just know that the "personality" of individual groups can vary widely, so if there's more than one in your area, be prepared to try a few.

Second advice: One of the most agonizingly painful parts of the divorce + alcohlism combo is that the kid, depending on temperament, can really feel torn between two loyalties. Badly needing emotional support, not wanting to "betray" a parent with problems by complaining about him/her to the other parent. What you can do to support your dsd is to never NEVER EVER bad-mouth the mom, no matter what she does. That doesn't mean you need to approve of any specific behaviors or act as though you do, but please do everything in your power to allow your dsd to vent her feelings and, if you need to comment on the mom, you can disapprove her actions while bending over backward to express a sense of compassion for her and hope for her well being. Avoid judgements as much as possible. Focus on your dsd and her feelings, her choices.

Third advice: A counsellor she can work with one-on-one could be great. Would give her a safe place to vent feelings, talk things through, while giving her a positive experience getting to be the kid while a grown up is reliably the grown up.

Fourth advice: Alanon for you and your husband, esp. if your teen is in Alateen. You guys may not be the problem drinkers, but alcoholism affects everyone in the family system. You may find it surprisingly helpful.
post #3 of 8
T.Elena has very, very good advice. I would have said pretty much the same.
I have 2 sd's who are now 17 and 18. Their mother is a severe alcohalic and drug addict with a host of emtional issues. she has given birth to nine children and had ALL taken from her for physical abuse and neglect. She's in and out of rehab and been to jail quite a few times also.
My dh won custody when they were 5 and 6. They are still trying to heal from what their mother has done to them.
post #4 of 8

Been there Done that

Atristin,

T Elena kept it short, brief and right on the mark. I myself attended Alateen, while my Mother went to Alanon and my Father was part of AA. This gave everyone an environment to vent and learn in. I am a firm believer that because I was involved so heavily into Alateen that it has molded me into a more responsible adult. Your DSD will learn that Alcoholism is hereditary but not mandatory. In fact if gave me the knowledge that it was not my fault and there was nothing I could do, while giving me the strength to let my Dad lay there on the floor passed out as he was. Being the only girl of 4 I was Daddy's little girl and felt it was my job to help my Mom take care of him. These lessons gave me the strength to walk away from a relationship because he was and is an Alcoholic.

I agree that it would be best for her to live with her Father, you and her sibling. In my household we do not consider step anything. My DH considers my first born as his own; in fact he is closer to her than his own child. Although he does not have a great deal of understanding for a three year old; my 11 year old daughter is his side kick. Since she is 15 she really is in need of a positive female role model and a friend. I think some quality time with just to two of you at the mall would do wonders on your relationship with her. At her age she really needs to feel like she belongs somewhere and to have a solid foundation to offer her some stability. She needs to feel that she is as important part of the family as her sibling. I realize it is A LOT of effort but our children are so worth every bit of it.
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thank you so, so much for your replies. I appreciate everyone's advice, and agree with much of what everyone has said. I especially agree with the point about not bad-mouthing her mom, and have had a rule with myself about this since day one, since I never want her to feel like she has to defend her mom or choose sides, or divide her loyalties. And though her mom is quite a handful, I feel a lot of sympathy for her, because she is clearly not well, has a serious addiction, and needs help.
I do have one question, though, and I hope this isn't straying too far off topic. Re: SpecialK's post and a few others I've seen on this forum--I like the idea of not having "step anything," but I always worry about imposing or forcing too much of a relationship with my stepdaughter. I wouldn't want to force her to call me mom, and it would seem a little presumptuous to introduce her as my "daughter" to people. How has it come about that you don't have a "step anything" in your family? Was it something you talked about explicitly with your partner's kids?
It also seems like it's harder to forge that kind of a relationship when we're starting off later in her life. If she had lived with us from a younger age it might be different.
But I totally agree about making time for her and me. We often do stuff like go shopping or ice skating together, and I can tell that it means a lot to her. Thanks for reminding me of how important that is. It made me look forward to her arrival, thinking through what sorts of special things she and I can do when she gets here.
post #6 of 8
I let my sd's call me what they want. when they were younger, they called me mom for awile. when they hit their preteens and into midteens, I usually got called a bitch. (they were having ALOT of emotional problems at that time, combined with just being a teenager, which is tramatic enough in itself LOL!) Now they introduce me as their stepmother. I am comfortable with that because that is their choice.
As for how I describe them, it usually has to do with whom I'm talking to and in what context. When they were younger, I struggled with how to introduce them. Usually I would just say "my daughters" unless more of an explenation was needed. I would say things like "i aquired them." "these are my instant daughters" I didn't use "step" in front of them too much, but sometimes when they were not around. Of course, when you are filling out offical papers, like for school, then you pretty much need to use the "step".

Now that they are older, they are comfortable with me saying "step daughter(s)" .
Here on MDC I use SDs' just for clarification.
post #7 of 8
As a member of a complex family, I feel it's okay to use shorthand for relationship descriptors (parent vs. stepparent, etc.) if it's okay with those involved. Also think it's okay to change language depending on context. I refer to my dad and stepmom as my "parents" oftentimes because that feels nice and simple. But, of course, if I'm discussing something that involves all of the parental units -- dad, stepmom, mom -- I'll be more specific. My stepmom often refers to me as her "daughter," and some folks take that literally. I don't mind.

My stepmom, ages ago, felt uncomfortable being called a "stepmom" -- sounded like an evil character from a Disney film, I guess. She preferred that we talk of her as "dad's wife." That was cumbersome, I felt. Now she doesn't care anymore, and I have told her I like stepmom because it describes a direct relationship to her, not just a relationship via my dad. So sometimes I refer to her as one of my parents, sometimes as my stepmom, sometimes just Betty. We're chilled out about it.

Our daughter is ours via adoption. I am not militant about folks calling her birthmom "The Birthmom" (instead of her "mother"), depending on the context. I am happy to share the title of mom with her wonderful b'mom. I think I have just come to see familial roles as complex and overlapping, and our standard language for them is often too simple to capture the subleties of all family systems. So I use terms loosely.

My sister's stepdaughter, who became her step daughter at age 5, calls my sister "steppy." My sister thinks it's cute, and was a good alternative to "mommy" or first-name-basis. Plus it kind of reclaims "step" in a positive way. Of course, "steppy" would be a hard sell for a teenager!

Do what feels right for you and your kids. Have a talk about it. Let them know that the available terms don't really do your relationship justice, and no matter what terms you use, you love them for the unique and wonderful individuals that they are.
post #8 of 8
I have had issues with trying to pass on our family values to the stepson that lives with me while not being offensive to his mom. for example, we were watching Reba the other night (I step family show we like!) and the dad said he "had to marry" the stepmom, wink wink. My dss was so confused (he's 10 BTW), he said , "Just because she's pregnant doesn't mean you have to get married." His mom has two babies with her boyfriend. Now, I would give my bioson a different answer than I gave my dss and that is weird to me. I had to tell him, "some people believe this and some believe that" where as with my bio son ,I could say, "our family believes this." Dss's mom is also an alcoholic (in recovery) and has been addicted to drugs. She has been accused of welfare fraud and has other shady parts to her life, but she seems to be doing a good job of mothering him these days. It is sometimes hard to talk to dss about choices regarding drugs, alcohol, honesty, life choices, without seeming to bad mouthing his mom. So I am afraid he doesn't get as many of those life talks as will my bioson.

As far as not being a "step" I think some of that has to do with personality, age of child, the child's relationship with the other parent, and the family make up. what works for some people doesn't work with others. when we were first married, dss was more my kid because his mom lived far away and saw him about everyother month. Now she lives here and he sees her at least 2x a week. I still call him my kid, but he seems to not need me as much as his needs are getting met elsewhere. We are what they need us to be.
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