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Dealing with Dad's Drinking

"Our children-ages 16, 13, and 11-are really struggling with their dad, a non-Christian and an alcoholic. We pray for him often, but it's still difficult. When sober, he's a wonderful father and husband, but when he drinks he's sullen and moody. The older kids are pulling away from him. How can I help our children deal with this situation in a healthy way?"

A. First let me say how much I respect you for wanting to build healthy relationships in spite of a difficult family situation. This desire most definitely comes from God, the Great Healer, and he will be with you every step of the way.

The best place to start is to talk with your husband when he's sober. Share your concerns about the impact his drinking is having on the family and see if he is willing to seek professional help from a Certified Addictions Counselor. You may want a trusted friend or family member to join you for this conversation.

If you have already done this without success, consider pursuing Al-Anon/Alateen, support groups for families and friends of alcoholics (www.al-anon.org). Drinking problems tend to isolate family members from each other and from social circles, so the support and understanding of people in similar circumstances can be a tremendous help for you and your kids.

Your children pulling away from their dad is actually a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. As strange as it sounds, many parents in your situation expect their kids to put up with the drinking behavior without complaint. This is unhealthy and considered codependent behavior. It's important for you to validate your kids' feelings about their father's problem and the value of their coping strategies.

There may be times when your husband is drinking that it is best for the children to just leave the room—possibly even the house. While normally this behavior might be disrespectful, in the abnormal world of drinking it's likely to head off arguments and spare your children from verbally or emotionally abusive behavior from your husband.

I also strongly encourage you to consider seeking a professional Christian family therapist who specializes in addictions. In counseling, you may consider doing an intervention with your husband. An intervention is a structured therapy session designed to help the person with the drinking issue to see the impact of the drinking on their relationships. If you do so, have a large circle of prayer warriors praying for the effectiveness of this intervention.

Finally, remember God's promise that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). Drinking problems have a powerful ability to shut people out, shut them up, and scare people off. Don't give into the fear when you confront it. Trust that God can and will bring good out of even the most difficult situations.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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