One of the central truths of addiction is that it is a “family” disease, affecting all of the addict’s or alcoholic’s relationships. Parents of young addicts might therefore be dealing not only with their own relationship with their son or daughter, but also with the addict’s relationships with siblings, grandparents or other close family members in the household.
In our case, our son committed to addressing his addiction by moving to New Life House when his own son was just 9 months old. His girlfriend – whom we had only met once – and their child had recently moved to the area and lacked a support structure, other than our family, and our son’s need to focus on his sobriety meant that he could have little contact, initially, with either his girlfriend or his child. We were it.
What should our relationship be with our grandson and his mother under these circumstances, where our own son’s relationship with them had been muddled and confused by addiction? Though our son would always be the father of our grandson, would our son’s relationship with his girlfriend survive the separation? What principles should guide us in figuring out the answers to these questions?
Fortunately, we had the benefit of Al-Anon principles and a supportive group of Al-Anon friends to help us sort out when we were being “helpful” and when we were “enabling” or getting out of our own lane. Our goals were 1) to support stable, loving relationships with both our grandson and his mother 2) to support our son’s ability to become a good parent and partner, and, at the same time, 3) not to interfere with decisions that were our son’s or his girlfriend’s to make.
The first issue we faced involved financial support for our grandson and his mother. Our son had a duty to provide financial support, at least to his son, but was unable to do so. We were financially able to do so on his behalf, but should we? Or should everyone live with the choices they had made? If we were to provide support, should we invite our grandson and his mother to live at our house to save money? Our son’s girlfriend got a full-time job, but not one that would cover the full costs of housing and childcare. We decided that sharing housing would make it more difficult to maintain appropriate boundaries, so the answer we finally felt comfortable with was to provide financial support related to housing and childcare, supplemented by lots of back-up babysitting.
These types of decisions have come up on almost a weekly basis, and we have become more adept at finding the right balance. We have developed loving relationships with our son’s girlfriend and with our grandson. We all – including grandson and girlfriend – visit the house regularly, where it has been rewarding marking some of our grandson’s developmental steps – taking baby steps across the living room, having fun playing “peek-a-boo” with other guys at the house (our grandson’s first responses to the other guys was to cry loudly!), and especially interacting with our son.
With a little over a year of sobriety now, our son is getting closer to the time when he might resume parenting and re-define a relationship with his girlfriend. Challenges! And we will try to accept the challenge of staying out of the way.