Has My Ex-Husband's Alcoholism Ruined My Daughter's Life?

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Alcohol & Drugs, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Expert Advice: Teens, Expert Advice: Home Base

Dear AdviceMama,

My soon to be ex-husband has struggled with alcoholism for many years. My 16-year-old daughter does not want to have any contact with her dad and has nightmares of him showing up drunk and out of control at one of her athletic events. I am worried that she will have trouble trusting people or males in general because of the deceitful environment she has been exposed to. What can I do to help her form healthy relationships?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned,

Sadly, your daughter is not alone in having been raised in an alcoholic household. According to the National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Addiction, nearly one in five adult Americans (18 percent) lived with an alcoholic while growing up. There are an estimated 26.8 million children of alcoholics (COAs) in the United States, 11 million of which are under the age of 18.

As much as I wish your daughter's father had chosen the path of recovery, when someone is not committed to dealing with their addiction, there comes a point when you have to take steps on behalf of your own well being. By claiming a healthier life for you and your daughter, you've moved toward helping her build a strong sense of self, which will help her learn to create healthy relationships with others. There are many ways you can further help her develop the ability to trust people, even after what she's been through with her father.

It is true that children of alcoholics may be negatively impacted as they become adults, but it is not true that they are absolutely destined for a life of failed relationships with deceitful people. By teaching your daughter how to listen to her instincts and stand up for her feelings, she will learn to choose connections with trustworthy people who honor and respect her.

Allow your daughter to find and use her authentic voice. Let her speak candidly with you when she expresses sadness, fear or anger without trying to "fix" her pain. Validate her concerns about her dad's unpredictable behavior without attempting to solve her problems with it. By knowing that she can tell you what she's feeling and lean on you for comfort, you will help her move through the grief she needs to process so she can find deep healing from the loss of a reliable, stable father.

I would also check out Alateen for her, a program designed to help adolescents recover from the effects of living with the problem drinking of a relative or friend. Having a safe place among peers to open up about the ill effects of her father's drinking would be very beneficial. Hearing kids her age talk about life with an alcoholic reduces the secretiveness, denial and shame that comes with the disease of alcoholism.

Make sure you also join Al-Anon or another support group to get the help you need as you move through your divorce and into your own recovery. The stronger and healthier you become, the better you'll be able to guide your daughter toward becoming the clear-headed, resilient young woman she can be.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.