Dealing with an alcoholic family?


I’ve posted some, maybe all, of this here before. This issue comes up every holiday, even minor ones, and I’m at my wit’s end. I refuse to go to family holidays anymore. Years ago, DH and I moved far away, in reaction to my father throwing me on a bed and choking me. Thinking he’d changed, we moved back, now with a large family. Things were okay for awhile, but then slipped into my older sister screaming abuse at me and my daughter at holiday dinners, starting to hear the bizarre things my mother is saying about me to other people, and my dad going on a lengthy tirade of my faults and flaws, how he doesn’t like me, and can’t stand being around my kids, and much more.

After my dad’s tirade, I quit going to holidays at all. I feel they have unreasonable, unattainable expectations of kids. (Most people think my kids are quite well-behaved). I feel they have impossible expectations of me-- to keep all the kids 100% in line, quiet, obedient, no accidents ever, no crumbs or milk spilled, and never saying or doing anything to which any adult objects, and to do it while being sociable enough for my dad but not too talkative for my sister, and still manage to help with all the serving and cleaning up. And accept that if I can’t do this, anyone is entitled to scream abuse at me.

In doing some research, I found a chart on roles in the alcoholic family and it described my family of origin to a T, with the 2nd child often being the scapegoat. I look back over my life and see this over and over, where no matter how many hoops I jump through, I still keep hearing from mother, father, and 2 of the 3 sisters that I’m a problem. I’ve even been blamed for my parents’ marriage problems-- in the wake of my father beating up my mother!

So now, every holiday, we get the invitations. When I politely decline, my sisters often enough call my children directly and invite them (“We’ve got extra seats, we’ll bring you.”) One of these sisters has already blown up at me because she didn’t bring my daughter home AT ALL from babysitting one day and I asked her for a call next time plans change. So I know what reaction I’ll get if I ask them to stop doing this. My husband would be just as happy to go back to normal. The kids are unhappy that we’re not going to holidays. My family doens’t treat the older ones badly, so they’d like to go visit them. The younger ones don’t even like my parents (they say they’re mean), but like the big family gatherings and want to see my sisters.

For Thanksgiving, I’ve invited another family to join us, and once again declined the invitation. One of my sons is once again clearly disappointed and unhappy with me.

How do I handle this? I don’t want to badmouth anyone (my mother did this to us growing up and it was horrible to live with.) I’ve told the older kids, once or twice, some of the things that have gone on that they haven’t seen. It doesn’t seem to matter because they themselves aren’t seeing it or experiencing it.

Do I finally just tell my husband to take the kids and have a fun time? I think this sends the wrong message to the kids that abusing one family member is okay and I can either put up with it or exclude myself, and I’m also concerned about how some of the younger ones get treated by some family members.

Or do I just continue politely declining and being viewed as the bad guy by everyone, even (it seems), my own children?


Lots of things missing here: how does you husband feel about all this? How old are your kids? I had a similar situation. Both my husband and I decided to move across the country away from both our families. My kids have turned out terrific; both our nieces and nephews are having difficulties (alcohol, drugs, etc), except my one sister who still lives there. Fortunately, my parents sought help and stopped drinking-- took three tries. My kids are now teens. They love to visit but it is only one every 2 to 4 years because of money. It is hard for them… and me since all is well now and our (husb and me) parents are in their 70’s and 80’s. We have missed the good times too (once they stopped). It is a trade off. My opinion is that you have to make your own kids’ safety and mental health a priority. One more thing: as a child of alcoholic parents, there are patterns of living and depressive tendencies that need to be constantly addressed and monitored. Don’t ever forget that; you or your husband. Prayers.


I quit going to holidays at all. I feel they have unreasonable, unattainable expectations of kids. (Most people think my kids are quite well-behaved). I feel they have impossible expectations of me-- to keep all the kids 100% in line, quiet, obedient, no accidents ever, no crumbs or milk spilled, and never saying or doing anything to which any adult objects, and to do it while being sociable enough for my dad but not too talkative for my sister, and still manage to help with all the serving and cleaning up. And accept that if I can’t do this, anyone is entitled to scream abuse at me.

If it has brought calm to your life why worry about it?

In a somewhat reverse situation my brother married a woman that was verbally abusive to everyone with nasty temper (kids are too loud, men don’t include her in “shop talk” the women only talk about being baby makers). One Thanksgiving Day she lit into my mom (first time she tried that) and was ordered out of the house by my sisters until she apologized. She hasn’t come to a family get together in years and no one seems to mind, my brother attends without her.

If you’ve grown beyond the petty greivences of your family why subject your children to it?


Bailey, I have quite a few kids ranging from very young adult to pre-school. It’s hard to say how my husband really feels because he is not honest about many things. He doesn’t push to go, tells me he understands, but his body language, some things he says, and tone of voice when we talk about it leave me feeling he’d be quite happy to go. They aren’t doing these things to him; he was at work the 2 years of my sister’s screaming fits, and his main goal in life is to be liked. He’s not going to stick his own head on the chopping block to tell them maybe their own behavior really needs to be looked at for once.

Sam, it definitely has brought me calm. One of my friends repeatedly says I’m happier since I stopped interacting with them. The issue is that the rest of my family, husband (apparently) and children want to go. The ugliness has happened largely out of my kids’ sight (in the past, in things said when the kids are not in the room, even the screaming happened when the older ones weren’t in the room, in e-mails my sister has sent me, in my dad’s tirade while they were at school) and what they do see, they view (as I did for years), as a series of isolated incidents, whereas I have finally seen the 40 year pattern and finally understand it won’t stop. The younger kids have no interest in seeing my parents, but true to being kids, 1) accept it as normal, and 2) want to see the other people who will be there and play with the toys in my mother’s basement.


Yep, you are right about our roles. I was married to an alcoholic. I was the chief enabler, my edest was the family hero, my second child was the scapegoat, third child the forgotten child, and 4th child was the clown. I left the marriage, but it is really hard to break out of those roles. I think the patterns are so engrained that once we are back with all of the participants we just slip back to those roles.

You are right to know that you are not responsible for all of this and don’t deserve to have the abuse heaped on you. It would totally be damaging to have your children witness you in this role as well.

I say, have your own holiday traditions. Keep your distance from those who are abusive. Until they are sober, there is no reason to expect that anything would be any different. And keep in mind, that children of alcoholics can take on the personality of the alcoholic without ever drinking. Counseling is in order for those suffering in this way, but if they are unwilling to address their issues, keeping your distance is what’s best. If you have any relatives that don’t fall into that pattern, invite them over for dinner or perhaps dessert. I think that the peace would be worth it.

Perhaps you can arrange other times that your children can spend time with your family, where you will be less a captive to their insults and bad behavior.


Thank you, Dulcissima. My family is identical except the 3rd and 4th are flipped. It was striking to see us described so accurately in that chart, and one of the things that finally convinced me I’m not crazy. What is surprising to me now is that I never viewed my father as an alcoholic before. He came home and had 3 drinks every night, then went to sleep in front of the television. I dismissed the drinking as being for his back pain. He was even professionally diagnosed as a ‘dry drunk’ and I still didn’t consider him an alcoholic. I guess that comes from years of being told everything is fine and I’m the one with the problem.

It is good to know I’m on the right track. The kids can see my family whenever they want. They walk or bike over, we live so close. They are welcome to see my sisters, and my youngest sister, especially, has been told several times she’s welcome to come by any time she likes, and we’d love to see her.

What do I do about my kids being unhappy about not going over? I’ve already told my older ones some of the ugliness that has gone on, and I don’t want to harp on the subject. Do I tell them outright this is an alcoholic family? They probably won’t believe it because they’ve never seen my dad drunk, and they certainly have never read enough about alcoholism, or seen some of the things that happen when they’re not around, to recognize the patterns.

Do I try to tell my family specifically why I’m not going to holidays? My gut feeling is they’re dismissing all of this as me refusing to acknowledge their good advice about what a bad mother I really am, and I’ve already heard from a mutual friend that my sister is telling people I’m ‘holding a grudge because she just noticed a few things about my kids.’ (A far cry from the actual events.) I’ve already tried talking to my sister and only got spattered with more verbal buckshot about all my faults. My history with my family suggests I’ll get the same result from all but my youngest sister. So is it right to just continue to hold my tongue?


Your kids may see your actions as confusing.

You permit your children to interact with your extended family 363 days each year, but, do not permit it on Thanksgiving or Christmas?

If the family is evil and damaging, they are evil and damaging the other 363 days each year. I’d advise you to either forbid any visits or to go and be part of the holidays.


Kage_ar, I think that the big difference is in how the children interact with their family. The real danger for them is seeing their mother diminished and the source of all blame. That would be terribly disruptive to their world and would deprive them of having her as someone that they would view as a source of strength and support in their lives.

Going for casual short visits where you are not interacting with the various family members when they are “on” playing their roles in the alcoholic family does not present the same problems. For such families, everyone assembling for the holidays is a well known source of incredible pressure and conflict. If someone knows that is what they would be subjecting their children to, it’s best to avoid doing that.

One things my kids are learning is how to deal with their father on their own terms, to have a relationship with him, but not one that involves tearing them down or tearing others down. That might not ever happen, but it’s important for them to feel like they have some say so in the matter. Their dad has made a full time job of crticizing and belittling me to them, because he is very ashamed about the marriage ending. If he can pick me apart and blame me, then he feels like he is off the hook. This is typical alcoholic behavior, to take the spotlight off of them and cast it on someone else. “The real problem is over here.”

I’ve had to learn not to engage him in his nonsense. If he wants to make nonsense up, there is no point in me refuting it. I’m never going to be able to get him to see logic or reason, because his whole world is based on a careful rearrangement of reality that has him being an exceptional person who has been terribly wronged. Never mind that he would drink two bottles of wine a night and hollered at everyone, I ruined everyone’s lives by leaving him. He’s not willing to see it any other way. So, when he starts spinning, I just don’t play along. He can spin and spin, but I’m not going to be a part of it.

Holyrood, have you had any type of counseling? I’d be low key, but just say that you are trying to avoid a high conflict situation and would rather see your family under more pleasant circumstances. Your older children might benefit from learning about the dynamics of an alcoholic family.


Gotta love our husbands!
Do what makes you most at peace inside. I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision here. It’s a gray one. You have my prayers.


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