QUESTION: Six months ago I made a choice to either stop drinking or lose my family. My wife told me she had had enough and was going to leave and take our two young children with her. I made the choice of staying with my family, and frankly, I don’t miss the alcohol and our family time has improved considerably, which I really enjoy.
My problem is I still hang out with old friends because we play sports together, and even when I tell them I don’t drink anymore, they keep asking me if I’ll have “just one beer.” How can I make it clear to my friends that I no longer drink and still keep my friendships of many years?
–Non-drinking Family Man
Dear Family Man,
I honor and respect your decision to stop drinking. There is no greater gift a father and husband can give his family than himself through quality time. Those who know you and love you best are not only going to applaud your effort but they will also recognize the need to continually support and encourage you. They will help you fight for what means the most in your life: your family. Your friends that want you to drink are probably good people who don’t intend harm to you or your family. Certainly some may be thinking, “What’s one beer going hurt?” They may not understand the commitment you made and how much is really riding on your keeping it.
You may not be able to clarify, interpret or convince all of your long time friends the need for them to respect your decision by not trying to get you to change it. The straight and honest approach will help qualify which long term friends want to continue to be your friend. They need to choose if they are going to continue to be a friend to you or not. You should simply state to them that you have chosen your family over drinking, you don’t miss or want to drink and you need them to support that decision by not asking you to drink again. Tell them you value their friendship and really don’t want to have to choose your family over them. But if they keep teasing, hounding or simply asking you, you will have no choice. These are hard words to say sometimes but you need to trust that your friends really want the best for you and your family.
And if they don’t, it will be their decision, not yours, that changes the long term relationship to a new term acquaintance.
Pastor Mark Yeager
Senior Pastor Verdugo Hills Church
Dear Conflicted Family Man,
Congratulations on your choice to live a sober life for yourself and your family. As a person with a lot of experience with 12-step programs, I can tell you that being involved in a support group is invaluable in getting sober, staying sober, and learning to live happily and productively. So many people “in the rooms” have experiences like the one you are describing. Staying involved with friends from our old lives while navigating this unknown frontier of living without alcohol [and] learning how others have done it is a big part of my own sobriety and I recommend 12-step support groups for anyone who is testing the waters of sobriety.
To find meetings in your area, call Los Angeles Central Office at (310) 474-7339.
QUESTION: My husband’s parents are very impatient with our two children, ages 5 and 7. We visit them regularly, at least once a week because we want our children to know their grandparents. Instead of complimenting our children for their accomplishments, all they do is criticize them. Both children have played musical instruments since they were 4, and both are doing well in school. We’re not parents who think our children can do no wrong, but I believe their criticism to be a result of their grumpy dispositions.
The children do not want to visit and it’s always a tug of war when we do go. My parents are just the opposite, engaging the kids in conversation, asking how they are doing in school, etc. They get lots of love from my parents and seldom, if ever, a hug from their paternal grandparents. Is there a way to talk to my husband’s parents in a way that will help them understand that they are destroying valuable family relationships?
– Discouraged Mom
Dear Discouraged Mom,
The first thing I would suggest is to talk to your husband and suggest that your family not visit his parents as often as you do now. Assuming that you and he are on the same page, visit your parents only for the time being. If his parents begin to wonder why their grandchildren haven’t been around, then perhaps it’s time to mention to them what you think and feel. Again, be sure your husband agrees with you on this one.
While grandparents can often seem overly critical (that’s why God made grandparents, right? To spoil the grandkids rotten and then to complain how different these kids are!) (“Why, when I was your age…”) It just may be possible that your husband’s parents simply aren’t happy people. Unhappy people complain a lot and think the world is out to get them, and that unhappiness can spill over into other areas, even the area of grand progeny.
So try what I said; I guess it’s a version of the “silent treatment.” It’s just possible that maybe the paternal grandparents really don’t want so much contact with your kids. Have you even thought that perhaps they resent you, and so that resentment comes out against your children, not their sweet, darling, perfect little boy whom you married and who chose you? Couldn’t be his fault; has to be yours.
Obviously, I am guessing as to why your husband’s folks are so critical of their own grandchildren. But try some of those suggestions. One thing is certain: your children shouldn’t have to suffer simply because their grandparents are crotchety old curmudgeons!
The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Discouraged Mom,
I am so sorry to hear about the difficulty you and your family are having with your husband’s parents and their relationship with your children. And the truly sad thing is that the difficult grandparents are acting in ways that virtually guarantee your children will not want to have a close relationship with them in the future – what a loss for everyone.
You don’t mention whether you are a part of a religious community. But if you are, your clergyperson may be willing to act as a mediator with you, your husband and his parents. Sometimes a third party can bring insights to people that they would not reach by just talking with each other. Or a professionally trained counselor could also be helpful. But please don’t ignore the situation in the hope that it will improve. It may even be that your husband’s parents don’t realize what a negative atmosphere they are creating.
Now I know this next idea sounds callous, but perhaps you could also cut back on the frequency of your visits. Your children are already protesting about your taking them to see these grandparents. Maybe if the visits were less frequent, there could be fewer hassles about going. Forcing them into a situation where they are going to be criticized and treated without warmth and affection can make a bad situation even more unpleasant. You may not be able to help your children’s grandparents see what their behavior is causing, but you can protect your children from some of its effects until you can find another solution.
I hope that the love your husband’s parents must have for their grandchildren will find its way to the surface in more positive ways. And I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Minister of the Unitarian Universalist
Church of the Verdugo Hills