"All I can think about when I’m with Dad is his drinking, and I’ve never even seen him drink.  It’s going to stalk me the rest of my life."

What do you say to your sixteen-year-old daughter when she makes a statement like that? 

I’ve watched my now ex-husband go from a non-drinker to a social drinker to a hidden drinker to an alcoholic – still hidden – over the past twenty years. 

I have accidentally assuaged a cough with vodka thinking it was my husband’s water.

I have stepped on a beer bottle cap in the shower.

I have driven my kids to school in a car with a shattered windshield after my husband ran into a mailbox.

I have left.

We are newly divorced, his drinking and my inability to live that life any longer at the top of the list of reasons.

But we have two children – a sixteen-year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old son.  Two years ago, I was going out of town and believed it was time to tell them of their father’s drinking.  I felt they needed to know for several reasons.  First, they were coming to the age of experimenting and peer pressure and middle school and high school and they needed to know that they are genetically predisposed to alcoholism and one sip might change their lives forever.  They also needed to know what the “off” thing was in our family, because they weren’t stupid…they knew something was wrong.  And they needed to be able to start watching for their father’s subtle tells in case they needed to tell him they would not get in a car with him.

When I told my husband that it was time for me to tell the kids about his drinking – a problem he still doesn’t think he has – he said to me, “You are forbidden from telling them this.  And if you tell them without my consent, I will take you down beyond all recognition and the kids will be gobbled up in the crossfire.”

I put my children before my husband.  I put my children above his threat.  And now they know.  And now, as things progress, I have one task with dual purposes and I am hell-bent on figuring out how to accomplish it.

I must protect my children physically and emotionally from their alcoholic father, while simultaneously encouraging them to love and respect him.

Here’s how I’m protecting them:

I’ve introduced them both to AlAteen.  They are not currently attending but they have both tried it and know it’s available to them.

My daughter is seeing a counselor who is helping her work on communicating with her father in healthier ways.  She also spends time with a mentor who loves her and gets the whole twelve step recovery process.  She pours into my daughter and prays with her. 

My son spends time with the youth pastor and adult pastor at our church.  I want him surrounded by good men so he can see what he should be working towards.

I remind them that their dad is in a drinking season.  I remind them that he does not drink out in the open but that water might be vodka, that his coffee mug might not have just coffee in it.  I do not do this to put my husband down but to lessen my kids’ naiveté.  They are too young for this and yet, this is their reality.  They need to be able to discern if their father is drinking or not. 

I remind them that it’s their right to say no to getting in the car with him, that they can call me or even call the police if they need to.

I also pray for them and remind them that they are being watched over. 

Now, here’s how I’m encouraging them to love and respect him:

I remind them that their father loves them. I remind them that he is sad right now because of the divorce and he’s trying to figure out how to move on.  I remind them that nobody is perfect, that we all have our issues to work through.  I remind them that even in moments when we can’t respect the actual person, we can choose to respect the role.  And I remind them that he is more than a drinker, that his drinking does not define who he is. 

I am not doing this perfectly.  I mess this thing up every day.  But there is a greater grace and wisdom that is getting me through, and I’m grateful for the chance to learn how to mother even in this difficult, strange season.

Publication date: December 4, 2012