Boundaries are important to any successful custody arrangement. They become even more important when an alcoholic ex is involved with your children. We all have a tendency to be protective of our children and that only compounds when co-parenting with an alcoholic ex.
But how can you further protect your children?
Below are 5 ways to protect your child during and after divorcing from an alcoholic:
1. Depending on the age of your children, have a conversation with them.
Have the conversation no parent wants to have. You want to do everything in your power to not be negative about your ex – but you’ll need to be honest. Don’t view a conversation with your child about their alcoholic parent’s drinking as negative but, as proactive and protective.
You need to sit your child down and explain to them that when daddy or mommy drinks, they are not to get in the car. Teach them to dial 911 if they feel unsafe at any time while in the alcoholic parent’s custody. They need to be empowered and know how to protect themselves when not in your custody.
If they are old enough to use the phone, have a code word. They can use it when they talk to you so you’ll know they are not safe but they don’t have to say that on the phone, in case the other parent is listening.
Explain to your child why it is important that this conversation not be discussed with their alcoholic parent. It’s almost the same conversation as “don’t talk to strangers”. Let your child know that you are always just a phone call away, and that isn’t information they have to share with the alcoholic parent.
2. Have wording in your divorce decree that protects your child.
If you fear your alcoholic ex will drink and drive with your child in the car, have it stipulated in the divorce decree that you are responsible for all pick-ups and drop-offs during visitation and that the child is not to be in the car with the alcoholic parent unless their level of sobriety has been monitored.
Expect your ex to have anger over the suggested wording and to resist. If it has been proven in court that he/she abuses alcohol, more than likely a judge will sign off on and order your ex to follow the wording in the decree.
3. Make sure your child has access to an age appropriate therapist.
Your child is not only dealing with the divorce of their parents, they are also dealing with the negative impact an alcoholic parent can have. A professional therapist will allow your child the opportunity to speak freely, and they have a gift when it comes to speaking to your child on their level and in a way that is understanding and neutral.
If the alcoholic parent has a problem with your child being in therapy, you can have it added to your final decree of divorce and ordered by the court.
4. Have the conversation with your ex that you had with your child.
Explain to your ex that when it comes to your child and the care they receive while in your ex’s custody, there are firm boundaries that must not be crossed. Make a list of those boundaries and what actions you will take if they are crossed.
Express your concerns for the safety of the child, but be prepared for your ex to react negatively. The conversation needs to happen, but you also need to protect yourself. Have the conversation with a third party present and don’t engage in conflict with your ex. Plainly state what behavior you expect of them when your child is in their custody, and what steps you will take if you find out about any safety concerns.
5. Be there for your children.
There may be times when your ex misses visitation due to drinking. Your child may call you occasionally to tell you they feel unsafe with your ex. You have to be in a position to be proactive and be able to help your child. Be a role model for your children. Be a good listener. Be the parent they know they can count on to take care of their needs.
Don’t degrade or belittle your ex in front of your child. Validate how your child feels without tearing down their other parent. When they are old enough to understand, talk to them about the disease of alcoholism, and teach them what it means to set boundaries and not enable the other parent’s drinking and bad behavior.
Your job is to protect your child from the alcoholic parent without breaking the bond they have with his/her other parent. As your child grows older they will appreciate your attentiveness, as well as the struggle that their alcoholic parent is facing.