Concern for a Family Member

Updated on May 12, 2010
S.H. asks from El Cerrito, CA
8 answers

I am concerned about an immediate family member (who has young kids - 5 & 12) who appears to have a drinking problem. The family member is single with joint custody of both kids (both kids are my nieces/nephews). The family member works during the day, but seems to drink at night and all day on weekends (starting in the a.m.). Lately there seem to be more and more excuses for not going to work (usually what appears to me to be a night out drinking/partying). Also recently hanging around the wrong people.

I have a very active lifestyle with my multiple children and we stay very busy on weekends. While there are many things wrong with what my family member is doing, I especially feel horrible when my nieces/nephews are sitting around the house waiting for their mom to get out of bed on a Saturday morning (sometimes not until noon) while I am already out by 10am-12pm with my kids doing multiple activities. I feel like I should remove my nieces/nephews from that dreary situation on weekends and let them come with me and their cousins, but also really know that I need to probably have a talk with this family member.

I would like to send a very serious email (this would be a first time ever mentioning this to this person). This person is VERY defensive and always grouchy. FYI phone does not work as I get hung up on for anything that comes off as defensive and in-person would not work either for similar reasons and also to keep kids out of it.

Any suggestions on an approach or right way to do this? Hopefully I have shared enough, but am concerned about confidentiality. By the way, this started about 5 months ago (that I know of).

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answers from Dallas on

Considering that you mentioned "VERY defensive and always grouchy" the family member may have more going on than just the wrong type of friends and an alcohol problem. He/she may also have a depression problem; which can be worse than a drinking problem. If they are unwilling to talk about their problems and/or seeing a counselor to get help, they YES the children are in danger of being neglected and abused if they themselves say something about it. You could call CPS and report him/her and they will definitely go check it out.

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answers from Denver on

She will delete the message rather than hear it.

Your choices are to turn her in to CPS because of the neglect of the children you are seeing, or to arrange a larger family and counselor intervention and hope that will be enough to break through the depressive haze she's living in. At least 4 of you and preferably a counselor should be there to try to talk to her.

If you try that, you and everyone else there should use as much "I" language as possible when talking to her. "I worry that the kids are unengaged after nights when it seems like you went out drinking. I feel like I don't see you without alcohol much at all these days. I worry that..."

She will have less to be actively defensive about if you can talk that way to her rather than saying "You drink too much" etc. She's still going to be mad about being on the spot, but there is at least a chance that she will hear it.

Make sure the 12 year old has your phone number and knows that s/he can call you for anything, day or night if s/he or the sibling need it. Use a few careful examples like if mom is ever to sick and they have a problem, or if anyone in their life is mean to them, etc.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I agree that an email would be terrible. Have you shared your concerns with other members of the family - the mother's parent, her ex-husband? You need to see if other people are interpreting her behavior in the same way. How are the kids doing in school? How are they when you talk to them? If you do determine that she is an alcoholic I would suggest that you talk to a place that does drug and alcohol rehabilitation and get some advice from them. I once called the St. Helena Drug and Alcohol Center (I think it called something else now) to get some advice about my husband's alcohol use and it was VERY helpful. Please reach out and get some guidance.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree that interventions are most helpful when not undertaken by only one family member or friend. Defensiveness can shut out one person pretty effectively, but two, three or more are harder to dismiss. Could the other parent be brought in as a participant in the process? And, ideally, a counselor with experience in this area.

I'm cautious about the usefulness of an email, as opposed to face-to-face conversation. Electronic communication is easier, but impersonal, and can and does trigger "flaming" and e-grudges. There are so many opportunities that an evolving conversation provides, watching facial expressions, body language, hearing tone of voice… all of which could be responded to with more sensitivity than is possible in an email. Even a letter in an envelope, hand-written, would suggest more human caring from you, if you really can't envision how to initiate a face-to-face meeting.

I'd like to STRONGLY recommend that you check out the communication techniques outlined in Non-Violent Communication. There are fairly straightforward steps that you can learn that will help make communication more compassionate, respectful, and receivable.

Finally, do what you feel you can for the children. They will be better for it, and be reminded that the parenting they see at home is not the only way to raise children. Be aware that this could further enable the drinking problem, however.

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answers from San Francisco on

I am so sorry for your neice and nephew. They are very lucky to have you. I don't think the e-mail will get you any further than a phone call or a face-to-face - your family member can just stop reading. I think this situation is serious enough that you have to try a face-to-face. Also, you should look into some Al-anon meetings for your neice and nephew. They have groups for children of alcoholic parents. If it doesn't stop, you might want to consider taking guardianship of the children until the family member can get herself/himself together. It's a drastic step, but the kids don't deserve this and they will suffer the most from it. Your family member has a choice; at this point, the children don't.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Hi S.,
That makes me so sad. I grew up with alcoholic parents. As the other person mentioned there is probably depression involved, as alcohol is a depressant.
I would not try an intervention alone. Are there other family members who know and are concerned about this. It would be better to do it all together. And you may also want to consult a drug/alcohol counselor first.
Please do as much with the children as possible. Your positive influence can make such a difference. They may not be getting proper meals in the evenings and weekends also. My parents often didn't pay attention so I would eat ice cream for breakfast.
I hope this turns out well.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Hi, S.. Thanks for thinking so carefully about this. It is a very complex situation. I wonder whether you have considered getting professional help for yourself to help you sort out the best way for you to approach this family member. Best wishes to all of you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I don't think sending an e-mail is going to do any good. You need to talk to her face to face.

Maybe you could schedule an outing with the kids and arrange to pick them up early Saturday morning. Chances are she'll be in bed or have a hang over, and you can approach the subject like you don't look so good, are you feeling ok? Then if you can continue on with I'm concerned.....

Make sue the kids know that if there's a problem that they can call you, or give them the numbers of other trusted family members.

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful
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