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April is National Alcohol Awareness Month
And for those of us who were raised or influenced by an alcoholic parent or relative, it's important to note that - even though you may not be addicted - the effects may still extend to your homeschool environment.
Let me begin by pointing something out. While there are many other reasons people exhibit the following behaviors, they are very common for adult children of alcoholics. So while this isn't a therapeutic article, it is a practical post to help you:
- start identifying if alcoholism in your childhood family has indeed influenced your homeschool in any way, and
- learn a few steps you can take to move forward.
These characteristics are not specific to homeschoolers, but I have yet to see this discussed relative to the homeschooling lifestyle. And homeschoolers are certainly not exempt from alcoholism or its effects.
But I didn't even realize any of this was happening while we were in the midst of homeschooling. Over the years, however, through prayer, reading, thought, and counseling, I began to discover, process, and understand these concepts. I'm writing about it here in the hopes that you can avoid unnecessary mistakes and pain. You know: "know better, do better."
My story with alcoholism
My mother died when I was very young, and my dad clearly had lost the love of his life. He turned to alcohol to lessen the pain and quickly became addicted to it. I don't harbor any bitterness or anger towards him. Actually, when I became a parent, I began to feel great compassion for him and realized how hard it must have been to unexpectedly have to parent two young girls...all alone...
But the effects of his alcoholism meant our young years were quite chaotic. As the oldest child, I also felt responsible to become the caretaker/nurturer of the family, and so "grew up" very quickly. I felt responsible for everyone's happiness and health. I became an over-achiever in order to feel worthy of love and acceptance. Seeking some sense of normalcy, I avoided conflict at all costs. Towards this end, during my teen years, I often ran away from home. I always returned, however, hoping-beyond-hope that things would get better.
Living in a constantly-stressful environment takes an emotional toll. Being surrounded by an underlying current of anxiety makes for an anxious person. I always wondered if/how I "stacked up" against others, if I was indeed doing a good enough job.
Characteristics of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic
Over the years I have gradually come to terms with the fact that I am an ACOA (adult child of an alcoholic) and as such, displayed some identifying characteristics.
Because life during much of my childhood felt out of control and unpredictable, as an adult I often tried (some may say I still try) to over-control people and situations that I felt were, or in danger of becoming, out-of-control. I struggled - and still do at times - to express my own needs and wants, remembering how unsafe it was to speak up in my own family.
As a parent, I sometimes found that I spent a more-than-necessary amount of time and energy taking care of other people and their problems. This led seamlessly into the fairly common martyr syndrome that many young moms feel. We often sacrifice our own needs and interests in a misguided belief that it allows us to better serve our family. We allow our relationships to become dysfunctional and let others take advantage of us. To the extreme, for the ACOA, we often neglect our own needs to the detriment of our health.
Common characteristics of ACOA homeschooling parents
- We over-emphasize achievement
- We become co-dependent with our children - doing things for them despite the fact that they have become capable, rather than letting them do things for themselves
- The root of this encouraged dependency stems from a fear that when our children are capable and no longer need us, we will no longer have a purpose and be "discarded"
- This fear of abandonment sometimes leads to nagging, over-involvement, and/or giving unsolicited or unnecessary advice
- We can be critical of any less-than-stellar effort, both from our own children and ourselves
What you can do to make your homeschool healthy
If any of these characteristics sound like they apply to you and/or your situation, it's time to get to work. I would always recommend counseling from a trusted referral and lots of personal prayer. But in terms of practical suggestions for your homeschool, a few things come to mind.
Encourage and emphasize effort rather than results
Applaud the work and effort your children have put into their learning, rather than offer generalized or shallow praise about the result. We all have control over our efforts, but not always as much on the result.
Allow your children to have an increasing say in the use of their time
ACOAs tend to enable and over-control, stemming from a childhood where they often had no control. Don't create a stifling and limiting learning environment. Encourage delight-directed studies, gently lead them, and encourage your children to exercise their growing abilities. They will gradually take ownership of their time and the direction of their education.
Develop routines, but allow for flexibility
Chaos breeds uncertainty and fear; children feel safer knowing that there are routines in their day. Avoid the rigidity of having a strict schedule, which leads to frustration and inevitable failure, but develop a natural order or rhythm to your day, which instills a sense of security and safety with "home."
Encourage discussion about ethics and decision-making
Alcoholics and ACOAs often see things as black-and-white. Encouraging your children to see the many sides of a situation is a healthy skill. Discuss the different options they have in a given situation. Explore the possible consequences of their decisions. This will also strengthen their "empathy muscle" - and couldn't we all do better with a little more compassion for others?
To your children, to others, and just-as-importantly, to yourself. We're all imperfect beings, a work in progress, and as such, need the benefit of the doubt. Learn to trust your instincts, however, because it is easy to cross the line from giving grace to enabling bad behavior. Remember, however, when you do cross the line: this life is a journey, and the process is what counts...
Learn about the life around you and the life inside you. Read about mental health. (Try some of the "for further reading" articles, below, to get started.) Journal about your own journey. Seek help when necessary or desired. Be a good role model for your kids: not necessarily perfect, but always "at work!" Be approachable and open and always open to growth.
To wrap it up...
Whether you're reading this for your own benefit, or "asking for a friend", it is my hope and prayer that you found encouragement and wisdom for your own situation. No matter what environment we were raised in, or what dysfunctions we had in our childhood homes, they don't define us or need to condemn our future or that of our children.
Remember: "but God..." He is bigger, He is smarter, He loves you, and He always makes a way!
We all need support on the journey
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