Children of alcoholics can be controlling and critical. How is that working for me, one might ask. This week, I had to confront my tendency to control at my son’s psychiatrist appointment.

Keith, my tween-age son, was born with organic brain damage. it’s taken a major toll on all of us, to understate the situation. Keith has had years of occupational and speech therapy. He attends a special private school and has significant social and learning delays. This is hard enough, but I have some issues of my own.

Child Of An Alcoholic Has Issues

Being an adult child of an alcoholic, I suffer from co-dependency and the need to control. What does that mean, exactly? My turbulent childhood taught me to rescue people and this deep-seated need to help has inadvertently harmed Keith. As his co-dependent mom, I felt I had a free pass to smother Keith and be his “crutch” because of his special needs. That has harmed us both. In recovery, I have had to learn that Keith is like all other kids. He needs the freedom to try and fail. He has a right to make mistakes and learn to do things on his own. And I have to let go.

This week, our journey with Keith’s diagnosis took us to a new child psychiatrist. Keith likes to fiddle with things, so as the appointment began, he was tinkering with his iPod. The doctor interrupted his intake interview to tell Keith to put the iPod away. He wasn’t mean, but he meant what he said. There was no sugar-coating, and Keith quickly obeyed. Keith wasn’t wounded, but I was.

I Wanted To Defend My Child

It took everything I had to not say, “That wasn’t even on. He just needs to fidget with something.”

Instead, I said nothing. I had to question my motives.

My old, unhealthy thinking told me this was a reflection on me as a mom. I began to criticize myself with a barrage of questions:

  • How could I let my child bring the iPod in?
  • Why didn’t I insist he leave it in the car?
  • What kind of mother would do such a terrible thing?
  • Is this Doctor going to blame me for Keith’s ADHD?

Keith’s doctor verbalized his boundary about the use of electronics in appointments. When I realized I cannot control someone else’s boundaries, I was able to quit berating myself. The appointment continued without small talk. The doctor was direct and focused; he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. He didn’t hug Keith or praise me for doing such a good job with my son.

I Didn’t Care For His Bedside Manor

Does that matter? Not really. I was looking for a child psychiatrist with a background in addiction and I found one. I had to let go of my expectations, my critical nature, and my need to control. This is recovery. It’s not easy. Keith’s doctor only has to be Keith’s doctor. He won’t be my new best friend. We won’t be vacationing together or bonding over pedi’s while sipping mimosas. If I need to bond with a friend, I can find one at my Al-anon meeting.

To find addiction professionals in your area, click here.

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Grace Silverstone
Grace Silverstone is an adult child of an alcoholic, wife and mother. She's also recovering from co-dependency. Her path to recovery has included many 12-step meetings and mochas.

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