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We Are Our Parents' Children - Their Issues Don't Have To Be Ours

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

I Am The Adult Child Of An Alcoholic


We Carry What Our Parents Say And Do

It's hard work, being a parent.

At some point in our (hopefully adult) lives, all of us are at varying points encouraged to have children and raise them until the age of 18. Once these writhing bundles of joy arrive, we are left on our own with our plethora of parenting books and hopefully close enough to supportive family and friends that we can make a relative success of this parenting thing. Doctors can make recommendations about how to improve your child's health, particularly if one thing or another goes wrong, as is the case when viruses and bacteria run amok, but really, there's little anyone can do beyond wishing you luck when you go through your parenting journey.

The other rather thorny issue - and there's a lot of thorns there - is that if your parents themselves are what might be politely termed as troubled, that will impact your parenting in one way or another, whether you want it to or not.

We are all shaped by our childhoods - there's no question about that. We have memorable friends and teachers and neighbors that we recall either with fondness or a sick pit in our stomachs. But when it's your parent who has shaped who you are, that's a bit harder to ignore and work through.

I was speaking with a dear friend the other day, and she commented that I had "carried a lot of what [your] dad did into adulthood." It was a bit of a heavier conversation, so contextually, the comment made sense, though the impact of it didn't really strike me until hours later. I certainly didn't disagree with her; she was absolutely 100 percent right.

I understand now that my father, as an alcoholic, frequently demonstrated emotionally volatile behaviors that, while not abusive, were definitely confusing and often emotionally traumatic for my childhood and adolescent selves. I know now that I was trying to use rational thought processes to understand the irrational processes of the addiction cycle. He himself had grown up in a turbulent household, where a good lot of his family ended up addicted to various substances, where his own father was at the very least verbally abusive to him, and where a number of his family members actually died of conditions where addiction was likely at least a partial factor.

I understand that my mother, in an effort to make things relatively normal in our house, encouraged us to give our father a bit of space if he was in a low mood. Thankfully, his emotional volatility never resulted in significant anger; depression would very frequently grab a good hold of my father, and it was a battle that he fought probably until he died, himself a victim of his own addictions to alcohol and prescription medication.

As a result of this, I struggle with my own personal boundaries.

In times of conflict, I'd sooner withdraw, as I almost instantly start feeling nauseous and sweaty.

I'm an inherent people-pleaser in an effort to avoid conflict. While most of us are quite probably happier when everyone around them is also happy, it's important to note that sometimes, this is to my detriment, as I often have a hard time saying no.

I generally have a high level of anxiety, particularly if there's tension or stress in any part of my world. While I often manage this relatively effectively, there's still that undercurrent of anxiousness that I can never fully escape from.

I'm sometimes self-critical, though I often try and minimize it by saying I just have humor that is "self-deprecating."

I don't sit still well and have a tendency to keep taking on many projects, likely in an effort to quiet my mind by working on something - anything - else in those times when my anxiety is bad.

While I do not in any way place "blame" on my father for how I ended up - I'm rather pleased with that - I am really aware that there are still certain things I do under certain situations that are pure holdovers from growing up with an addict in the house. I am mindful of that, and I am also really mindful that I do not want to pass these behaviors to my own children, as the cycle will continue.

Mercifully, my children are at an age now where, if I do have a reaction that would be in keeping with behaviors I may have demonstrated while still living in my parents' house, I can stop myself and talk to the kids about that. I can explain to them that I am continuing on the road to self-improvement, as everyone should, but sometimes my road might have a few more twists and turns because of the shade my father continues to cast over certain parts of who I am. I can apologize for my behavior and assure them that I'm working towards being better. We discuss rather than stomping to our respective corners and carrying resentment against each other. Am I excusing whatever behavior I might demonstrate - part of my father's "legacy," if you will?

Absolutely not. I want my kids to understand that you have to own your crap and take your own responsibility in how you act and react to things.

Perhaps that lesson will be part of my legacy to my own kids.