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Parenting as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic


"Nothing can put you in touch with your childhood memories faster than being in charge of your children's childhoods....As you begin to parent and your child begins to respond emotionally, you will begin to feel again many of your own childhood emotions. Your ability to work through your own childhood issues and separate them sucessfully from your parenting skills will become quite important."  Robert Ackerman, Perfect Daughters.


I highly recommend Perfect Daughters by Robert Ackerman. I've provided a review with a touch of my own thoughts here. Ackerman also researched for and wrote Perfect Sons; I am not addressing his findings in that book about sons or men, but common sense tells me there is parallel. 


In his research for Perfect Daughters, Robert Ackerman interviewed over 600 self-identified Adult Daughters (and just under 600 not identified as) and found that, more than others, they tended to question or are concerned about their relationships with their children. Some were so concerned that they strongly did not want children for fear of doing what their parents did, or because they were burnt out from all the caretaking they've already done in their lives. Those who wanted or already had children tended to also be very aware of the impact of their childhood and strongly wanted their children to have the "normal" childhood that they didn't. There were strong feelings, especially fear, and anxiety. He suggests that these Adult Daughters were more open about their doubts than others.

A pattern seems to be that adult children think a lot about themselves as parents, and whether or not their concerns about their ability to parent are "justified" is only part of the picture. In other words, an adult child's lack of an ability to parent is not a measurable result: some go on to be very healthy parents, and some people who didn't grow up this way have great difficulties as parents. What adult children may be doing is thinking they can't be a good parent, and those thoughts get in the way of just parenting the best they can in any given moment. Because of what they've gone through they have had to think about how to get through difficulties. Thinking was at the time a good defense against feeling the deep feelings of the family, and was a way to survive.


Another pattern that Ackerman noted in his research was that more than other parents the adult daughters had a higher expectation for compliance from their children because they themselves had to be compliant to stay safe. So, they wanted their children's childhoods to be different, but they still wanted the compliance part. This expectation can lead to inner judgements about the effectiveness of their parenting as well as actual conflicts with their children, which can then lead to more self judgments.


The four most common concerns the women voiced themselves about their ability to parent were: 1) an interference of control issues, 2) questioning how to parent, more so than others, 3) noticing their lack of consistency ("parental mood swings"), and 4) a fear they won't be able to meet their childrens' needs. Ackerman makes many suggestions about how to work with these concerns, with the main idea being for the parent to separate their childhood from their childrens' childhood as much as possible. He emphasizes that adult children are at risk for self-doubt and self-criticism: "You are probably a much better parent than you think" because "you know the power of parents."


Ackerman concludes that the dual nature of trauma and wounding during childhood is that once adulthood is reached Adult Children of Alcoholics may still need help or guidance, such as with parenting skills, yet because of their childhood they already have many life skills that will help them recognize problems and find solutions.





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