‘I’ve always been a good mom—but I don’t have a relationship with my children’

Tell Me About It: What can I do to help my children become a family?

PROBLEM: I am a mother of four adult children. My youngest child, who is an alcoholic, has removed me from his life, and my alcoholic daughter removes me out of her life occasionally but keeps coming back. I know that’s because she needs something.

My husband had an affair and walked out after 20 years. My daughter is his child, my other children were from a previous marriage. None of my kids come around, but I do visit my middle child often.

I am just so alone. My marriage took all the trust I had and now I trust no one. My kids have torn my heart to shreds; that’s my other reason for not trusting. I’ve always been a good mom and I’m an extremely hard worker and can’t figure out why they would treat me like this. Instead of being an abusive parent, I am the one who has been abused by my children and now my ex-husband. I do have peace which I’ve always cried and prayed for, but I don’t have a relationship with my children since my ex-husband walked out.

I’m wondering is it because they don’t want to see me alone because they know I’m miserable?

I’ve been trying to figure out why my kids are treating me like this when I’ve always done everything they asked. I am definitely an empath and I’ve been working on that. I used to be co-dependent but not any more and that’s why I stayed in my abusive marriage for 20 years.

I need some advice on how to trust again and what I can do to help my children become a family. I’ve never had any kind of addiction issue, alcohol, or any type of drugs and I’ve never been abusive to my children at all. I’m so confused why they treat me like this.

ADVICE: There is a lot in the past to untangle – two alcoholic children and a blended family that has ended in a difficult separation. While you are definitely suffering, it sounds that some, if not all, of your children are suffering too.

There are themes of cutting off contact in the family as well as themes of extreme avoidance and addiction. These need to be addressed if the family wants to thrive, not only for themselves but also for the next generation, if they have any children of their own. As the mother, you have a position of influence, and this might be the time to exercise this in the best interests of everyone. A starting point could be to engage with a family therapy service and set up an initial appointment for anyone in the family who might care to attend (familytherapyireland.com). As you attend the sessions, you might keep the option open to any family member who might wish to participate and, in this way, demonstrate your interest in, and willingness to engage with, any member at any time.

At the very least, you will be able to do a detailed genogram with your family therapist. A genogram is a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships and emotional/social history. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to visualise hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships. This will map out for you the patterns and stories that play out in your life and in the lives of your family. You can ask your children to help you with this and they might be curious enough about the map to engage with you.

Tread slowly and carefully and know that all of you are fragile in this process

There is no doubt that you may have to listen to some tough comments as your children come to understand their coping skills in the face of two separations and the effect of an affair on their lives. However, if you commit to really hearing their pain and suffering, you may find you are at the beginning of developing trust. When they feel understood, and this may take some time and effort, they will be able to listen to your hurt and accept that you have also suffered rejection and exclusion.

Trust is a delicate thing, and it grows as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with another person, so tread slowly and carefully and know that all of you are fragile in this process. Managing these family engagements without a professional might lead to further grief and loss, especially so as you have family members who have addiction issues. If they are trying to stay sober, they may have emotions of their own triggered by the therapy sessions, so separate supports may need to be in place for them. Indeed, to help you come from a knowledgeable place, you might attend Al-Anon sessions (support for those troubled by someone’s drinking) so that you gain from the experience of others whose loved ones are struggling with alcohol (al-anon-ireland.org)

Love demands that we stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and if you are to lift the family out of the impasse it is mired in, you will need to remind yourself that you are doing it for the benefit of everyone. A crisis is often the starting point for change so use this time to bring the family patterns to the surface, seek help in unravelling those that need addressing and the connections and trust you so seek may appear.