Q: Our son is an alcoholic. How he got custody of his two young children is beyond me, but he did get them, and that of course means that the children have moved over here and my husband and I are raising them.
At the moment we do not know where their mother is.
I don’t mind taking on this responsibility. I love these two kids, and hubby and I are young enough and active enough to provide the children with what they need,but we have a couple of questions.
Neither my husband nor I drink. We do not know what people get out of alcohol and we are puzzled about what it is that we have done that led to our son drinking as he does.
Whatever we did wrong, we would like to do better with our grandkids. Do you have any ideas?
A: I would like to suggest first that you make an appointment with an addictions counsellor to help you better understand what is going on with your son.
You probably made some mistakes when you were raising him; most of us messed up something or other when we were bringing up our kids. However, when your son is sitting in the bar ordering drinks, that is him doing that, not you. He must be responsible for his alcoholism.
The sooner you get rid of your guilt for your son’s addiction, the better. You are not much good to anyone, either your son or your grandchildren, until you understand the whole addiction cycle.
I also hope that you will get legal advice about custody for the children. At some point, either your son or his wife or both of them will end up on your doorstep demanding to have the children returned to their care.
Unless both of them have resolved their addictions, bouncing the children back and forth from their houses to your house could be disruptive to the well-being of the children. You need legal protection to preserve the stability you are providing for the children and to protect their well-being from their parents’ irrationality.
Your biggest challenge is likely to be unraveling the chaos that most assuredly pervaded the daily lives of the children when they were living with their difficult parents.
The children are not likely to trust anyone, and why would they? They have survived inconsistencies and disappointments for most of their lives. What they need mostly from you is a commitment to a dependable and predictable structure in their daily routines. They need to know when they can expect regular meals, when they are to be tucked into bed for the night and where Grandma and Grandpa are when they need attention. They need to know that what they think, feel and say is important to you, that you will listen to them and that even if they do not get their own way, they will still be respected. Finally, your grandchildren need to learn that their judgments are important. Children of alcoholics have a tendency to try to please others, even at the expense of their own well-being. You can best help your grandchildren by encouraging them to look after themselves first, making decisions for themselves, and if that means disagreeing with others on occasion, or standing up for themselves in moments of conflict, then so be it. If your grandchildren learn to look after themselves, then maybe they will say “no” to drugs and alcohol and other intoxicants as they bridge that moment to personal responsibility and mature into addiction-free and free-living adults.