VISITATION STRATEGIES: What to do when mom, or dad, drink or use drugs.

100_2103When your kids or grandkids have an alcoholic or drug addicted parent don’t apologize to anyone for demanding that their physical safety and emotional health overrides parental preferences.

Structure visits for success.  Pick a day and time when the parent is most likely to be sober that doesn’t interfere with your work or your child’s school and social activities. Time, place and dates can be negotiated but when safety is involved don’t backdown, even if it means talking to a caseworker’s manager or going back to court.

If you supervise visits but don’t want the addict in your home, then meet at the school track after cheerleading practice, at McDonalds to play on the indoor play structures, or ask a friend or relative to be at your apartment while you spend an hour running errands or sitting in a park reading.  It is not your responsibility to provide food, transportation, or pay for activities and doing so takes away the opportunity for the parent to demonstrate they can, or cannot, be responsible and trusted.

Never allow anyone but the parent inside your home. Friends of your ‘ex’ or adult child will shift the focus off of your child/grandchild and they could be casing your house for future break-ins, become violent, or they might help keep the using parent calm but why take a chance?

Addicts and Alcoholics are not reliable. If they are chronically late, or don’t show up, then don’t say anything to little ones until they arrive. For teens—have a back-up proposal in mind, “If your father isn’t here in another ten minutes how about I take you and Ryan to the skate park instead of waiting for hours like we did last month?” This allows youth a way to physically work off pent up energy and emotions with a peer—rather than take their anger or frustration out on you, or withdraw.

Keep notes.  Write down dates, times, excuses and/or inappropriate behaviors in objective statements if there are problems.  For example, “I smelled alcohol on Charlie’s breath and he fell coming up the porch stairs.  Marissa was slurring words when she arrived; she feel asleep twenty minutes later watching cartoons with Emma.  I saw her smoking a joint two hours after arriving after telling me she needed a glass of water from the kitchen. ‘What I saw’ information is even more important in states such as Oregon or Colorado where marijuana for recreational purposes is legal. Ask witnesses to write down their observations and attach them to your comments.  If parent is impaired and has unsupervised visits–try to talk them into leaving.  If they take the kids in a car, note the license and make and call the police.

Observed impact on child(ren) should also be tracked, such as, “May 10, 2070:  Mom was due at 1:00PM to take the kids to a movie.  She finally called at 3:15 to say she had to work late. Jax tried to hit me when I told her that her mom wasn’t coming.  Noah then started swearing and left after slamming back door.  He called an hour later to tell me he was at work.  Jax’s teacher emailed the next day–see attached–about behavioral problems.”

Logistics can be a problem when the parent is in jail or prison. If a toddler can’t sit on mom’s lap and has to talk through a glScan 113040007-aass window, or by video streaming, it can be traumatic. If a pre-teen is angry with their mom or dad and wants to tell them how they feel—or needs to see that their parent is physically safe–go once and then evaluate if you want to continue. If the parent doesn’t want visits–don’t go. If a child or teen doesn’t want to go and it isn’t court ordered–don’t go.  If a court ordered the visitations ask if suspending the visits or substituting letters is possible and explain why.  Having a counselor’s recommendation carries significant weight.

Transition time. Allow anywhere from 15-60 minutes for children or teens to mellow out after supervised, or unsupervised, visits. Create space for kids to enjoy snacks, chat with friends, or play video games without you hovering so they can decompress and process their feelings and thoughts. At the end of the time, it’s back to house rules and routines including chores, homework and bedtimes.

Don’t interrogate, instead be an active listener. Do not question your child, or grandchild, about their birthparent unless they seem extremely agitated. Let them share with you what they choose. Don’t make them feel bad about loving you and their troubled parent; it’s not a contest. However, pick up on clues.  For example, if they say, “Don’t drink, you won’t wake up,” ask, “What makes you think if I drink this (fill in blank) I will fall asleep?  Did your father fall asleep last night while you were still up or was he sleeping this morning…?”

Special occasions. Unless it’s a regular scheduled court-ordered visitation don’t invite a using parent to one-time events such as graduations, special birthdays or holidays. There are no ‘do overs’. Kids deserve happy holidays and good memories. So do you.