How to Deal with Alcoholics and Boundaries

Updated on February 25, 2014
J.A. asks from Cartersville, GA
18 answers

Let me just start this question by saying that I've personally known four alcoholics in my short life (I'm 27.) - my stepdad, two good friends' moms, and my mother in law. So I do know how manipulative and crazy these situations can get.

I've known my mother in law for 4 1/2 years. She is actually my husband's stepmom. They are not close, but both are forced to be around one another regularly. Pretty much the whole time I've known her I have noticed her issue with alcohol. She was always drinking or talking about drinking. She would ask my husband to buy her alcohol because her husband (his dad) didn't want her to get more. And she's spent money they don't have to fulfill her drinking habit.

Recently she took up babysitting in her home (she is unemployed). The little boy was only a year old. (She since stopped babysitting him because of "scheduling" issues.) A couple of months ago my father in law told my husband that he came home to find her drinking while babysitting the little boy. He said he was going to leave her. (Not long after that he changed his mind because she "stopped drinking".) Needless to say, knowing all of this put my husband and I in an awkward position. We decided not to allow her alone time with our two young daughters anymore (2 and 3). So the next time she asked to have them we secretly planned for it to be a day my father in law would be home. She still had no clue that we knew. Then a couple of weeks passed and she asked to have them again. We decided that hiding our feelings, and the situation in general, benefited no one. So I personally informed her that we know all about her drinking issues and how she had been consuming alcohol while in charge of a young child. She of course made excuses - "it was only 2 beers". Then I told her she could not have our daughters alone anymore, that my father in law would need to be home.

I've asked a few people I know if I handled this properly. I even asked for advice before I spoke to my mother in law. But I wanted to bring it to a wider audience. I'm sure my experience with alcoholics is influencing my feelings/fears and concerns here. However, I also believe my previous experience leaves me more prepared than some might be.

Which choice would you make if you were faced with this dilemma?

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answers from Dallas on

You made the right choice. I will not let my mother alone with my child because I don't trust her judgement. Luckily we live 1000 miles apart, so it's not an issue, but it would be the same way if we lived close.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I'd do the same thing you did. You can't leave little children in the care of an adult who may not supervise them correctly or be able to take care of an emergency situation.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Los Angeles on

Well, what choice do you REALLY have?
Leave your kids with an impaired adult or put a stop to it--for good?
You did the right thing.
Lying, making excuses, staring her feelings is called ENABLING.
Alanon can teach you all about it. And more.
It would be great if your FIL, your husband AND you could go to a few meetings. Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Stick to your guns. Your daughters have only you to protect them. I was assaulted by someone repeatedly while in the care of a relative who my parents thought was a "functioning alcoholic". There is no such thing. All alcoholics are dysfunctional in multiple ways. They just manage to hide their shortcomings in those areas. The safety of a child is too much to gamble with.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i think you did just fine. my father and husband are both recovering alcoholics (my dad sponsored my husband into the program). you deftly managed to walk the tightrope between frankness and honesty, and non-belligerence and guilt-tripping, which are the two big stumbling blocks.
i'm sorry your in-laws are so trying, and glad your girls have such responsible parents.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Your FIL is an enabler. I would not feel comfortable leaving him as the
"supervisor" when the kids visit. His judgement is clouded in denial, so who knows what your MIL might say or do to the kids that he won't "see". Words hurt too. Let alone how she would know. So I would be there in person with the kids or FIL and sober MIL can see kids at my house till she is 6 months clean with a sponsor.

It is hard to get someone treatment against their will. But you,FIL, and DH can start seeing a licensed therapist certified in addiction to learn about addiction and how to get her in treatment. I would also let any physicians prescribing medications that she is an alcoholic and that will also provide assistance to get her into treatment.

Last, you, FIL, and DH need to go to alanon or an OPEN AA meeting REGULARLY. FIL can watch the kids on your night.

Have you read Claudia Black, Melodie Beattie, John Bradshaw or Suzanne Somers? They are all ACOA's (adult child of alcoholics) and have written informative books about navigating this disease.

You've got some work ahead of you.

EDIT: yes, being honest with an addict is always best. You did the right thing. Her behavior is hurting others. She needs to see, feel and hear this.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Erie on

It worries me that you are still questioning your decision here. I also grew up with alcoholics, it's doesn't "cloud" your view of a situation like this, it makes issues crystal clear. You did the right thing, but you also really need to go to Al-Anon. Good luck. It's never easy dealing with addicts, but it is easy and necessary to continue to make good choices for your kids.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I truly feel sorry for you and your family. This will be an on-going situation and the suggestions for going to alanon are great.

May I also suggest that when angry most of us may tend to say more than we would otherwise. In the future, you do not need to explain yourself or explain that you know of instances when she has been drinking. Just settle on one line. Perhaps that you are not comfortable with her drinking and that your daughter will not be left with her. Period. Whatever line you use, continue to use it. Thank goodness you are putting your child first. All my best.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I think you handled it fine. She's allowed to be a drunk if she wants, but no one has to enable her, or allow her to watch their kids. I think the direct approach is appropriate.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You absolutely made the right choice. But in all reality, dealing with alcoholics (my soon-to-be ex-husband is an alcoholic) there isn't always a right or wrong way to deal with their addiction problems. I feel sorry for your FIL.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

You already have an issue before you said anything. Now she knows what the issue is. Sure things might be awkward, but your kids safety comes first.

I think it is weird that she is asking to be alone with your kids. Just me. Now, if she watched your kids so you could have a date night that makes more sense to me. Do your kids call her grandma or by her name?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

To answer your question, I think you did handle it as well as possible. She would never be happy with hearing the unpleasant truth that her addictive behavior is causing you to not leave your children alone with her. It is true, however, and while you don't need to rub her nose in it repeatedly, you two are wise to see that denial doesn't work.

Long-term, I would echo what several other people suggested, namely that you and your husband might find Al-Anon meetings very helpful for your interactions with your families. You will have to deal with their illness and its effects for a long time, and Al-Anon will give you the tools. Wishing you good luck with everything.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lancaster on

No way, no how would I leave a child in the care of your MIL. Not even an older child. I always feel that even at home, a child might become sick or need to go to the emergency room. they should never be left with someone who can't be responsible. "It was only 2 beers" just doesn't cut it.

You handled the situation well. The only thing I might have done differently would have been having my husband inform HIS step Mom of your decision.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You have to put what's best for your kids first - so you did the right thing.
Her babysitting days are over whether she likes it or not.
Try getting to some Al-anon meetings.
It sounds like she doesn't want to admit she has a problem and until she does (if she ever does) there's nothing anyone can do to help her.
Even if no one buys her booze she might still be getting alcohol in things like vanilla extract or mouthwash.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I suggest your FIL start attending Alanon. He will learn how to handle these situations and learn not to ignore signs and to not be a part of her problem.

They offer a lot of good information.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

If you don't trust her, don't let her babysit.
I like a good beer, but I would not partake while responsible for someone else's small child.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Great first question! Welcome to the site.

Yes, you overreacted. You just couldn't wait to stir up some drama with the nugget of info about her drinking. You did it.




answers from Appleton on

You and your husband need to join Al-Anon so you can learn how to deal with her and never enable her drinking.
Depending on the laws in your state there is a chance the 3 of you can have her involuntatily committed to a rehab center. Call your county Social (Human) Services department and ask how to do it. Usually all you need to to do is write a statement that you have seen her drinking out of control. If you have heard her doctor say anything about her drinking add in what he said. A Social worker will take the statements to a judge and the judge will order her to be picked up by the police and she will be taken to the closest rehab center. Usually the hold is for 72 hours but if the staff see a real problem the hold can and most times will be extended.

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