Sober Parenting (the early years)

Of all the blessings of sobriety, my children have got to be the biggest, best, and most important. If, as a young adult, I had been told I could have only one thing in life, I would have chosen to have children. I always wanted them. My ideal fantasy life would have been to be a stay home mother of around four. Complications…. My only child status has much to do with this. I have always hated being an only child. I still do. It’s much more common now, and that must make it easier, but I still think it sucks as I am the only child of my mother still. There’s no one to share her with me, and if she becomes someone to be taken care of, that will be all on me. There’s no one who shared my growing up experience and I’m alone with many of my memories. Of course I understand that many people have siblings who are a negative presence in their lives, or worse. The siblings I mourn are the idealized, Brady Bunch siblings but also the average and special siblings that many people have, appreciate and enjoy.

There’s lots of infertility in my family, and one reason I’m an only child may be because my mother couldn’t have any more. I think she may have tried with my father and then with her second husband. When she was around 40 she was diagnosed with endometriosis and she had a hysterectomy. Her sister, my aunt, was never able to have children. She speculates that the endometriosis prevented my mother from having more. That aunt adopted two children. Their other sister, my other aunt, neither had children nor did she adopt. Her husband is, to say the least, a piece of work. I remember my grandmother saying it’s best they didn’t have any, since he’s such a nut. I don’t know if they tried to have one or not. I would guess they did, but I don’t know. My grandmother, their mother, had four children, with lots of miscarriages and a premature baby who died after a few days.

All of that factored into my desire to have children as soon as possible once I was an adult. I felt I had to finish college before having a baby, and I did that. I would have liked to have owned a house, but not badly enough to wait to do it. I got sober in May of 1984. I met my kids’ father around that time. I graduated in August, got engaged in September, married and pregnant in December, and my daughter was born in September of 1985. This is not recommended, but I had been going to meetings for five or six years at that time, so I wasn’t really new.

Many of those details will fit better in “my story.” For the purpose of this topic, I’ll say that I think being pregnant had much to do with my ability to stay sober this time. I DO NOT recommend that, and I realize that many, tragically many pregnant women are not able to stay sober even though they are pregnant. And of course the last time I was pregnant was 21 years ago, so it did not keep me sober.

I remember the frightening thought that I HAD TO stay sober at that time. My drinking had been so bad, and I had tried so many times to moderate, that I knew then the baby had a good possibility of being damaged or killed by my drinking. Still, that thought was fleeting. I don’t even remember ever considering drinking for a moment with the second.

And so, babies, toddlers, children. Many of the tenets of AA thinking do not fit or work with your own children. We do not “live and let live,” “let go and let God,” “take our own inventory.” We guide, teach, punish, reward, shape, control, and socialize our own. Or try to.

During my kids’ early years, I moved many times, living in each place for usually a year or less. That was difficult, and I at first moved far away, so the only family support I could get was over the phone. I never stopped going to meetings, and even with giving birth, I don’t think I stayed away from meetings for an entire week until recently, actually. I took my daughter with me until my son was born, then I left her with her father, and later a babysitter for them both, in order go to meetings.

I could list endless awfulness that having an active alcoholic parent brings that thankfully my kids didn’t experience. I remember a particular sermon in church when the pastor asked what kind of legacy we had been left, as well as what we were leaving for our children. I thought of my experiences with my drunken father and the fact that my kids have never been endangered by my drinking. I still of think of that often, with so much gratitude there aren’t words. We had moments when their wellbeing was threatened, but not by that. At times I find this difficult to share at meetings because so many people have suffered the consequences of drinking around their children and grandchildren. I often tell young people that this experience makes all that goes with sobriety well worth it.

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