Recently I wrote an article about when we, as moms, ought to warn our adult child’s new love interest about potential warning flags that come from our own beloved children. When I asked my readers what they thought, the overwhelming response was that warning the new love was appropriate, especially if our adult child had an addiction, was prone to violence, had a mental illness, or other severe mental disorders or troubles. And if the new love had minor children, our duty to warn was even greater.
Which leads me to today’s question… When do we owe it to our adult child to try and step into their life to intervene? For example, is it our duty to, say, stage an intervention, cut them out of an inheritance, or perhaps withdraw emotional and financial support if he or she fails to try and get professional help? Or should we moms simply ignore their behavior, act as if all is well, and smile a lot? Hey, they’re an adult, our job is done (hooray!) and let them be everyone else’s problem.
When I was still married to Rob the Great (Alcoholic), I attended every survivor’s therapy support group I could find, included Alanon and one offered by Kaiser Permanente. One evening, I was sitting in a group and we took turns sharing our individual stories of life with an addict. I listened with horror as parents, partners, children and spouses talked about their personal hell. It included their addict stealing money, claiming they had money they never had, passing out drunk in the front yard, failing to show up for work, fits of rage, breaking items in the home, lies, infidelity, police, physical violence and emotional abuse. I almost fell out of my chair a few times, the stories were so awful and extreme. And then some hit so close to home, I could swear they were talking about me.
“No one believes me when I tell them my husband is an alcoholic. He is so nice to everyone,” said one woman.
“I don’t know how he hangs onto his job,” said another. “I wish he would get fired because now, he denies that his drinking is a problem because he claims to be so high functioning.”
“I wish he would hit me,” cried another woman. “The physical abuse would be far easier than this.”
Some of those in our support group had been living this hell for years, others were new at it (like me, just going five years into the relationship).
And then it hit me… I was not about to be one of the people in this support group who were living a lie for a lifetime. No way was I going to be one of these pathetic, crying, barely surviving women. I needed to survive, overcome, get out. There was no peace, no promises of peace, no joy, no hope when married to a man like Rob. And, even worse, I was his enabler by sticking it out—helping him hide to the world his horrific behavior, allowing him to blame me for his addiction, and taking his abuse, one symbolic, humiliating punch to the face at a time. There I was, basically saying “Give me more, harder next time!” Oh.My.God.
It was my turn to speak up and I was angry. “I don’t know how you all are doing this,” I almost spat my words out. “Because I have one foot out the door. I am not going to find myself years later, sitting in this room wondering how the fuck I am still here. What are you all doing this for anyway?”
I left therapy that night feeling mighty low. And so angry. As I got home, Rob, who was supposed to be at his own therapy was, in fact, at the bar. When he arrived, he had that awful slurred speech, glassy eyes, and the mint in his mouth. I thought about his close family, his mom and siblings. His dad before he has passed away. Where were they in all of this? As they knew that their beloved son was struggling with a horrible disease and victimizing those around him, why were they silent? What about an intervention, a warning to me, or… something? Did they owe it to him to try and get him well? Did they owe it to me? Of the times that I wanted to scream, HELP ME! And they knew of the horrible environment in our home because of alcohol, how could they smile and pretend all was well every time we saw them? Could they not see the anger, hurt and desperation in our eyes? Did they owe no one anything? I say that they, absolutely, had a moral obligation to do something other than keep their mouths shut.
So, exactly, what do we parents of adult children do if this is our son or daughter?
I can answer you this: I will NOT be silent if this (God forbid) is ever my child. And my heart will shatter for their partner. Their husband, wife, children, friends—my heart will be with them and I will pray they will GET OUT and AWAY from my child, as awful and heaving and sad as that may sound. Because NO ONE deserves an addict.
And if my daughter’s behavior means that she is victimizing others, I will NEVER stand by and watch it happen. It doesn’t mean that I can fix it but it will be my duty as a parent to try something. After enough Alanon meetings, I know that at some point, we need to stand back and let the addict take full responsibility for their choices and behavior. But don’t think that I won’t try first. Intervention. Offers for therapy. Support for the partner and children. Love. Acknowledgement. These are all powerful and important. Because, to me, remaining silent and watching it happen is immoral and wrong.