When an alcoholic is a parent


As far as I am concerned, alcoholics should not be allowed to have children.  But sadly I don’t think there is any country in the world that has a law like that.  So it happens that children are born to alcoholic parents. 

Worst is possibly the fact that if the mother is drinking during pregnancy the unborn child may suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome with facial abnormalities and possibly mental retardation.  So if you are reading this and even if you are not an alcoholic, please know that there is NO amount of alcohol that can be safely consumed during pregnancy.  Just one drink a day can increase the baby’s risk of FAS.

Read more: Don't drink while pregnant

Caring for a baby requires a great deal of patient dedication that someone under the influence of alcohol is not likely to have. Child abuse is frequently associated with alcohol abuse in the parents. Child abuse can take many forms from actual physical violence to plain neglect or even more minor things such as a child being affected by dispute between parents, which is more likely to occur after consumption of alcohol.

I don’t know if my father was an alcoholic. I have studied the criteria used in defining an alcoholic and he would have conformed to those. I was never physically abused but I remember lying in bed at night, heart pounding, and covering my head to try and stifle the sounds of him verbally abusing my mother. No child should have to go to sleep to those sounds.

Looking back 70 odd years later, I can laugh at incidents such as one that occurred when my parents and I were living in a boarding house.  The fact that I remember trivial things like this shows the effect that they had on my psyche.

A Christmas disaster

I was given my supper in the late afternoon. In the evening my parents would retire to the dining room to have their evening meal. At some point it was decided that I should not be allowed to remain alone in the bedroom. So my mother would go and eat while my father sat with me. Then she would return and he would go to have his meal.

On this occasion my mother had left the room and my father was enjoying the contents of a bottle of brandy. It was shortly before Christmas.

At some point he became very affectionate towards me and decided to give me a doll that my mother had bought for my Christmas present and concealed on top of a wardrobe. He reached up and got the package down, opened it up and presented me with the doll. I was entranced. It was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen.

As I stroked the doll’s hair and cooed over her, my mother suddenly returned to the room. All hell broke loose. She was furious and vented her anger on my father who retaliated with verbal abuse. During this time I clutched this beautiful doll, not knowing whether it was to be taken away from me or not.

I suppose one could blame my mother equally for her extreme reaction in front of her child but, looking back now, I see it as a series of happenings that may not have occurred had my father not been under the influence of liquor, which he was on every night of his life.

I am sure that anyone else who has had an alcoholic parent would have far worse stories to recount of tragic events in their childhood, of not wanting to take friends home because the parents might be acting foolishly, or of feeling terrified in a motor car because the parent behind the wheel was drunk and the car was veering on the road.

Read more: The sobering truth about a drunk parent

It is sad that a child probably knows very little about addiction. He does not understand why his parents drink until they are senseless. He may even think that it is somehow his fault and that he could somehow influence their behaviour.

As he grows older the child may long for some miracle that will make his parents stop drinking and behave like normal people. But even if that miracle comes about and the parents do become reformed alcoholics, it may be very difficult for him to forgive them for the hurts of the past. He may not have the maturity to deal with his own emotions.

When no one shows up to the party

I know a little boy with alcoholic parents. Recently his parents decided to pull themselves together sufficiently to give him a birthday party.  He was very excited about this happening, the first such party he had ever had. He prayed that on the day of the party his parents would behave.

The parents did indeed control their addiction sufficiently to buy cakes and cold drinks, to decorate a table, to blow up balloons and wrap little gifts. But not one of the invited children came to the party. This little boy waited and waited but his parents’ reputation had superseded them and there were no parents willing to let their children come to a party where the hosts were likely to collapse into a drunken stupor at some point. So while this little boy waited for his “friends”, his parents got out the booze and had a party of their own.

Hearing a story like that, you may understand why I say that alcoholics should not have children.

Did you grow up with an alcoholic parent? Send your story to chatback@parent24.com to be published.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
33% - 2815 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
15% - 1255 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
52% - 4457 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.