My relationship with my alcoholic mother
You know those moving, mom-related Hallmark commercials that tug at the heart strings? There’s always a mature mother with a beautiful smile and an adult kid my age. They are laughing and hugging. The daughter says something like, “My mother is my rock.” Show Mom how much you love and appreciate her with a card…
I have always wondered what it would be like to have this kind of mother-daughter relationship. So many people I know call their mothers their best friend. They describe fun Friday nights at the movies with Mom. Heart-to-heart conversations. Decision-making counsel.
I will never know what this feels like. Full honesty, I’m envious. It hurts that my mother and I do not have this.
Daughter of an alcoholic mother
My father and I were close; he compensated where Mom let us down. He was encouraging and supportive. But in my 20s when I had to step in and basically raise my little sister, I resented Dad and he felt it. I resented that he never went to Al-Anon or read any books to learn about how to help Mom and all of us. I resented that he let Mom’s alcoholism rule our lives. I resented that we were always struggling financially, yet Mom always had her beer and cigarettes. I resented that Mom often became violent in her drunkness and attacked Dad. I resented that they were both so ill and so incapable of getting help. I resented the pain.
The daughter of an alcoholic mother role reversal
I have never doubted that my mom loves my sister and me. Due to her difficult childhood and adolescence, she simply never developed into a grownup with the tools, confidence and mental health to be a mother. I have early memories of Mom being so loving and supportive but I was quite young when our roles reversed. By age eight 8, I was a mini adult. I have vivid memories of cleaning our house. No one told me to do it. I just knew it had to be done because if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. I woke myself up for school, ate cereal for breakfast, fed my chubby cat, got ready and then spent several minutes begging Mom to get out of bed to drive me to school (we lived outside of the school’s busing limits). I reminded my parents of all parental obligations related to school and followed up to ensure they did it (i.e. required volunteer hours at the fundraisers, donated boxes of tissue, etc.).
My relationship with my alcoholic mother is complicated. Growing up, I always hoped things would change. There is one memory that sticks out: In the seventh grade, I had a complete meltdown. I was so insecure and shy, going to school was brutal for me. I was nervous to the point of nausea and so distracted by my anxieties, I couldn’t think clearly to absorb the lessons during class. One night, I burst into tears about this. I told Mom how hard it was for me at school. I took a chance in opening up and asking for help. I worked hard to prevent anyone from knowing how I really felt so this was a big deal. I distinctly remember sitting on our blue-and-white striped couch and digging my toes into the carpet. My face in my hands, I was crying hard – the kind that hurts your stomach muscles. Mom sat across from me; she looked surprised and perhaps a little pleased that I was confiding in her. She started to say comforting things and though I pretended to ignore them, I was listening – hopeful for reassurance, a plan to me to overcome these challenges. But as I continued describing how things felt, she said she had to “go to the store for just a minute.” I remember how much it hurt that a beer run was more important than being present there in that moment if only to listen. That’s all I really needed and wanted: attention, comfort. But she left and I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. There was grief in those tears that night. Grief that she couldn’t be the mother I needed her to be.
Alcoholic mother – daughter relationships
As the years went on and I became a grownup, Mom fell further and further into alcoholism. I tried everything to get her to go to AA meetings or go to a recovery center. Looking back, I wonder how I avoided a nervous breakdown during this period. I was working full time in a demanding job during the economic crisis. I was basically Mom to my sister. I helped my parents financially. All the while, I was dying inside. I couldn’t imagine asking Mom for motherly advice about ANYTHING. I felt I was the only adult around and that was a heavy responsibility for a young woman. I felt I was the glue holding everything together. Mom and I hardly spoke. If we did, it ended in me shouting or sternly lecturing and Mom hanging up or stomping away and slamming a door. Then there were the situations involving the police. The humiliating apologies to the neighbors.
I was a twenty-something and Mom was a post-menopausal fifty-something. I was the mother and she was the daughter.
After Dad died, I had to move my sister out of the house. While we were grieving the sudden loss of Dad, we faced an even more painful situation: we were victim to Mom’s grief-fueled binges and abuse. When I packed up and left Mom there alone, I balled my eyes out. Imagine leaving an ill child behind. That’s exactly what it felt like I was doing. This is so difficult to explain to those who have not experienced anything like this in their lives but fellow adult children of alcoholics, particularly eldest daughters of alcoholics, know well how this goes.
I will always worry about Mom. I will always be her guardian. Our relationship will never resemble what Hallmark depicts in those touching commercials. But fortunately, I’ve mostly let go of expectations about my mother. I ignore the negativity. Most importantly, I forgive her for her substance abuse disorder and the negative impact it has had on my life.
I hope you are well in your journey.
- This book – Perfect Daughters by Dr. Robert Ackerman – explores this the complicated topic: daughters of alcoholic mothers. Daughters of alcoholic mothers have particular characteristics and traits. Highly recommend it.
- Today, I chatted with fellow author and adult child of an alcoholic, Jo Huey. She has an inspiring story and is working to help children and families of alcoholics: JoHuey.co.uk.