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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Teen

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

My mother is an alcoholic and she expects me to lie for her when people call from work or to collect bills. I also have to watch my little sister all the time while my mom is out drinking and get her to school every day. What can I do about this? I hate my life!
I am a frustrated 16 year old male.

Answer

Man, you have your hands full! In single parent families (I am assuming yours is since you did not mention a father figure) the kids sometimes have to take on more responsibilities than in two parent families. Coupled with that, having a parent with an addiction as the primary care giver really puts the pressure on the kids . . . especially the oldest.

It is really important for you to understand how this can affect you, so I am really glad you asked.

You have several options, but there are no guarantees that any will work until your mom wants to get help. It is important to understand that an addiction is a sickness, and like most it can be treated. The catch is, your mom has to realize this and follow the prescribed treatment. This is usually giving up alcohol, going to counseling or self help meetings and learning new ways to cope with life' s demands. Let's focus on what you have control of, which leaves out getting your mom to stop drinking.

Have you tried talking to your mom about how you feel when she asks you to lie for her? Did you try telling her that your life is really stressful when you are forced into being responsible for your sister? Many times we make it easy for the person with the addiction to continue to act this way because we are afraid to say anything that may upset them. No doubt the consequences of trying to reason with an alcoholic may be extreme, but by not speaking up you still suffer pretty severe consequences.

Unless she is physically abusive, you may need to try to talk to her about your feelings. Here are some things to remember about dealing with people who have addictions.

- Catch them at the time of day when they are most likely to be sober and not feeling too badly. This may be hard to do if she gets up with a hangover and starts drinking early in the day so she will feel better. If this is the case, try to catch her after the hangover has subsided some, but before she has very much to drink.

-Talk about your feelings, not her actions. Start your sentences with the words "I feel." Like this: "I feel stressed out when you ask me to lie for you (take care of _______) and I would like it if you would not put me in that position again." Remember to start with "I feel ___________" then point out the specific behavior that is causing your distress "when you ______________" and end the sentence with your request "I would like it if you would _____________________." Then be quiet and wait for her to respond. Don't make excuses for her or add more requests to this one . . . just wait for a response.

-Be prepared for getting a response other than the one you were looking for. Before you start this conversation talk to yourself. Remind yourself that you are dealing with a person who has problems and may try to turn your statements around to make you feel guilty. Tell yourself that you will not fall for the guilt trip, but will not argue with her either. She may say how sorry she is then add "but" and try to make you feel guilty for being so selfish as to point out that you have feelings and needs. You will know if she is sincere if she does not ask you to lie for her again or to take care of your sister all the time. Until then, just take pride in the fact that you have asserted your needs and come up with a plan for the next time if happens, if it does.

-Figure out your plan ahead of time in the event that it does happens again. Decide now how you will handle it if she asks you to lie for her again or take care of your sister. You may want to stick to your guns and say "Mom, I asked you not put me in that position again because it makes me feel very stressed. Please handle this yourself." Or, if she has been drinking and/or is irrational you could take the call or care for your sister and tell her later how you feel about her not granting your request. It is up to you to make the decision about how to deal with that, but think about it now so you will be prepared.

-Come up with a backup plan. If your mom continues to put you in this position, think about your next step in addressing the problem. You may need to get a counselor at school to talk with about the problems at home and to help you learn to cope with the demands placed on you. It is important to stay in touch with your feelings and realize what your role is as the child and what her role is as the parent. Role reversal is common in families with an alcoholic parent. Role reversal means that the child takes on many of the parent's responsibilities. This can lead to long term problems for you in your relationships and with your own family and children if not addressed.

Since you don't want to do anything to place your sister in threat of harm, you may be forced to care for her at times. However, if you are left alone to care for your sister a lot, it would be important for you to report this to a counselor at school and let them guide you about how to handle that.

I hope that helps. Good luck!

3/12/98

LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
Author of Growing up Sane (in uncertain times)
Seminar Leader Growing Well Adjusted Kids
Editor-in-Cheif Person to Person: Strengthening Youth & Families
Telephone Counselor Affinity Counseling Center
Affinity Books & Resource Center: Your Source for Emotional Wellness

 

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