Explaining an Alcoholic Grandparent to Your Children

There is nothing worse than getting a phone call during dinner after a beautiful day with your family from your alcoholic father. Alcoholism is a disease and I completely understand that my father cannot control his drinking habit, to an extent. However, he can control dialing the phone and yelling loudly at me whenever he feels the need to consume a case or more of beer. One day my 8-year-old daughter wanted to know why I hated it when granddaddy called and I realized I had no idea if I should explain alcoholism and if I should, how to explain alcoholism.

Weigh the Pros and Cons of Explaining a Complicated Disease

The only way I can approach the decision of whether or not to explain alcoholism to my young children is by weighing the pros and cons.

Pros – Explaining the disease to children means taking the pressure off you as the parent when that next drunk contact takes place. Children will already understand why the phone call causes pain and grief so they won’t ask questions or give the reaction as much weight in the future.

Cons – Explaining that a child’s grandparent is an alcoholic could affect how they react to that grandparent. I don’t want my children to love my father any less because he suffers from a disease, but I also don’t want to hide that disease from them.

Approach the Subject on Terms a Young Child Can Understand

After much thought, I chose to approach the topic of alcoholism in terms a child can understand. Being a coffee addict helps explain alcohol addiction on terms a child can understand. I simply explained that mommy needs her morning coffee to wake up and if I don’t have that morning coffee I act cranking sometimes. When my children agreed, I laughed and moved on with the next explanation. I then told my young children that granddaddy’s body felt the same way about alcohol. If he didn’t drink alcohol he felt cranky. I waited for that look of understanding.

Once they understood the similarities, I took the talk one step further. I asked my children what happens if mommy drinks too much coffee. My daughter quickly chimed in – you feel all shaky and crazy. I smiled and agreed. Then, I explained when granddaddy drinks too much alcohol, the same thing happens. Again, I waited for a look of understanding.

Change How You React to the Calls

After explaining alcoholism to my youngest children I chose to make a few changes for the future. When my father calls again with slurred speech and a louder than normal tone, I will simply talk to him as if he were sober and clear-minded. As long as my children don’t see the effects my parent’s alcoholism has on me, they won’t reflect those negative feelings on their grandparent.

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