Five-ish Things That Kids Learn in Families

“What we remember from childhood we remember forever…”   Cynthia Ozick, American writer 1928.

Young children, and teens, sometimes have values, priorities, behaviors and feelings that they have to unlearn, or re-channel if they have been exposed to traumatic life events, or unhealthy behaviors by their parents. It can be a long, slow process but don't give up.  Healthy life skills, coping mechanisms and trust building come from watching you, as well as, being given opportunities to experiment, grow and change. 

The parameters of ‘normal’.

Family life is a microscopic version of the world. It’s where children and teens learn to interact with others. Learn how they fit into social and work (chores or working for others) relationships.  It’s where they learn boundaries and where they learn to evaluate what is acceptable, unacceptable or just plain bizarre behavior.

Often, if tragedy or abuse occurs in a child’s life, they tend to expect bad things unless we help them put things in perspective. It should be every parenting adult’s goal to help kiddos see that life is a series of possibilities–not just a steady stream of problems.

How to handle feelings and conflict.

It can be especially hard for youth who have been threatened or punished for “talking back” to engage in any conversations that they know would have triggered a violent reaction in their mom or dad.  However, their day-to-day success, as well as all ongoing and future relationships rely on their learning how to give and receive feedback honestly, respectfully, and at appropriate times.

If kids yell obscenities, hit, walk away when you are talking with them, or demonstrate other extreme behaviors create a cooling off period, and then explain rules of engagement.  Let them practice when they are calm saying “I” statements that don’t threaten or demean. Role play examples they can relate to such as, “I feel scared when you yell, like you just did.  I know that the odds of a plane crashing are very slim, however, it makes my stomach hurt when you make fun of me for not wanting to fly because that’s how my parents died.  It’s my turn to decide what movie we are going to go see since you choose last week. Was there a reason you want to choose this week too?”

Feelings are honest.  It’s okay for children and teens to be angry, mad, sad, glad, silly or whatever.  What’s important is how feelings are expressed by words, voice tone, body language and timing. They learn respect as much from watching and listening to how you talk to others, and about others as they do from lectures or coaching. If a birth parent is, or was, abusive they may need professional counseling.

Being responsible isn’t easy.

Kids learn from experience–so even when it’s painful let them try new things or re-try old things in new ways giving them more and more control and responsibility. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn about natural consequences, and most important set them up to succeed.

Not all their efforts will be painless, or pretty, but from each attempt they will learn. Show them trust and respect by honestly praising successes (even partial) and together talk through events and feelings when things don’t turn out so well. Be open to their suggestions and be flexible.  When you can’t ‘flex’ explain “why”. Is it too expensive, are you overbooked, or is it simply too dangerous, illogical, or against your values?

Learning to be a good winner or a good loser.

Don’t believe the drivel that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  I am 5’2″ and will never be 5’7″.  At seventy, I’m too old to become an Olympic champion in anything.  They too have some skills and gifts and some restrictions. If they have been cut from the high school varsity basketball team help them access the situation.  Would extra practice or coaching help?  Would joining a ‘rec’ team improve their future chances in high school, college and beyond?  Are they simply, at 5 foot, too short to compete unless they get a growth spurt?

Additionally, everyone cannot be best at everything.  If they try something and fail then they will have learned a little more about themselves and be better prepared when passed over for a job promotion or maybe learning that there are physical reasons that they cannot eat sugar without serious health consequences.

Sometimes winning comes easily.  They will be better served if they learn early on how to share the glory in a team sport or turn the spotlight to encouraging others.  “I am the greatest” (you fill in the blank) comments can quickly turn off others.

Values and ethics.

We live in a world where everything we do is quickly picked up, passed on and/or critiqued by others on social media.  It’s not easy to be bullied at school or work, but it’s mega multiplied when the bullying jumps to cyber and your child is exposed to ridicule from those he/she interacts with every day.

Since we can’t control everything that happens to our children as youngsters or young adults, we have to help them develop the self confidence and self worth to ride out the storms. Teens don’t always believe that character counts more than immediate popularity. However, surrounding them with family, mentors, good friends who share your family’s values and faith will help them mentally shrug and walk away or calmly say, “that’s not cool”.

Let them know that they aren’t victims and that asking for help from God or others takes courage and strength but we all need others…and we all can help others.

Met earlier this month in Seattle with a number of other grandfamily members (and Donna Butts from Generations United) at the Casey Leadership Retreat. Amazing people. Amazing organizations.

Grandparents’ feelings; grandparents’ footsteps…

You’ll feel the collective sadness, anger, hope, and “we can do this” attitudes that co-exist when grandparents raising grandkids get together.

May 10th an expected thousand plus parenting grandparents, from across the nation, will gather in Washington D.C. to spotlight their needs and find help in solving the underlying problems.

Every relative caregiver, whether forty or eighty, lives a Just Do It life.  ‘It’ being restoring childhoods and securing futures for grandchildren whose parents are addicted to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol.  ‘It’ being parenting temporarily, or permanently, infants, tweens and teens whose moms or dads are on military deployments, incarcerated, deceased or are just very young.

Sometimes these family warriors need help. By uniting in the capitol’s plaza, and meeting one-on-one with Senators and Representatives from their own states, or by sharing their stories the grandparents want to focus attention on foster care and other federal funding and policies.

They aren’t asking for more money, they are asking for system efficiencies and equal access for grandparents in or out of the system. Many need legal help to obtain custody, guardianship or adoption to help with school enrollment, access to medical care and/or counseling for traumatized or vulnerable youth.

They want a hand up, not hand out. Independence and dignity is important to them.

I understand. I am one of them. I adopted my oldest grandson, Chad, who was physically abused as a toddler and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) when four. Chad is now twenty-five and successfully launched; we’re both out of the trenches paying forward.

Together, we wrote the book Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users to help others, whether they are dealing with visitations when grandkids cry before they go, or punch holes in walls when they return, have trouble saying “no” to their adult child, or are terrified of technology and drug dangers for youth.

These grandparents aren’t complainers or quitters. But often you hear desperation in their voices and see tears in their eyes. Mostly, I’m humbled by their determination to do what they have to do to give their grandkids happy, secure, and as normal as possible childhoods going forward.

So while I don’t hear, “Poor me”, I do hear, “I’m dying and need to find a home for my grandson.” “I have PTSD from Vietnam and having three little ones under seven makes it worse…sometimes I just have to leave and let my 70-year-old wife deal with the chaos.” “My daughter threatens to take the kids and tells me that I’ll never see them if I apply for food stamps and housing supplements and hers is taken away–so I try to make my social security stretch.” “I don’t want to ask for help…I’ll just work until I’m eighty because my grandson needs 24-hour group housing.” “Melissa and Chavez are doing really well but I feel bad because my other grandchildren don’t understand why grandma does so much for their cousins and not for them.”

Last year 29 percent of children in foster care were being raised by relatives and for every child in relative foster care another twenty were being brought up by grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles outside of the system saving tax payers 4 billion dollars annually.[1]

Generations United, Casey Family Programs, and other child and senior focused groups are spearheading this up-coming May gathering to educate legislators. They need your help.

Go to for more information about the rally and ways you can help grandparents raising grandchildren by fund raising or contacting your congressional representatives.

[1] Generation United, State of Grandfamilies in America: 2016.


Stop feeling guilty for loving, or not loving, a family addict.

BreakersThe continual drama and trauma that surrounds addicts, takes its toll on the emotions and relationships of the users’ partners, parents, siblings, and their kids.

The ‘normal’ progression of parenting roles changes from caretaker to coach to cheerleader to mentor and friend. With drugs or alcohol the progression regresses, especially for grandparents raising grandkids, eventually forcing a decision between care-taking little ones or their parent.

For years I’ve couldn’t articulate how I felt about my daughter because I vacillated between, sadness, guilt, anger and wanting to believe she would change leaving me saying, “I’m done,” followed up hours, days or months later with, “one more time”.

When I discovered she was first using, first arrested, first pregnant, first on public assistance, first in prison, first embezzling from a friend who gave her a job, and so on it was difficult. I grasped for every excuse for her behavior, until the “firsts” turned into reruns and spinoffs. Eventually I admitted, when a counselor asked me, that I didn’t like my daughter’s behaviors, didn’t like the person she had become. I still couldn’t say I didn’t love her–it seemed inexcusable for a mom and “un-Christian like”.

Today, I think love can’t survive long-time when you are being lied to and emotionally abused. Love can withstand your heart being broken, but possibly not as you watch your grandkids’ hearts on the line. Watching them cry when mom or dad is arrested and their picture is on the news, or as a second-grader they are left sitting forgotten on the school steps, or as a high schooler they try to ignore their drunk dad in the stands at school at 9 AM when their playing basketball. It’s also really, really difficult when you see your other adult children and their kids being hurt by your choices regarding the addict’s choices.

My daughter is not in my life anymore physically but I still pray for her most days, and still hope that she turns her life around. I’m just done holding my breath or wanting to be part of the up and down process.

“I love him/her.  I hate him/her.”  

You don’t need anyone’s permission, or approval, to feel a certain way. And you don’t owe anyone–including the addict, or other children, an explanation.  Unless others have been in your shoes, they can’t imagine the pain, the tug-of-war of emotions, or the struggle to survive.

It’s easy to continue to ‘love’ the memory of the child we raised, the partner we married. What is harder to define, and accept, is how we feel today. Sometimes we are mad at the user, other times we try overly hard to protect them, and sometimes we even tip over to enabling bad behaviors. Sometimes. we are just plain done.

In the end, if you parent minors–yours or grandkids–then their needs must come first.  Don’t let emotions stop you from doing the right thing, and sometimes it takes an outsider like a counselor, pastor, social worker or trusted friend to help you prioritize, help you succeed in following through.










Depression stalks grandparents raising grandkids…

Approximately 2.7 million grandparents are raising nearly 7.8 million children.   If you are one of them, take care of yourself.  Don’t minimize the stress of loving your adult child, your grandkids and having your dreams destroyed. Statistics show many grandparents are clinically depressed at least sometime in their journey. To avoid, or overcome, depression see a doctor and tell yourself often, “I count.”

Surround yourself with pictures, sayings and people who make you smile.

Do what makes you feel good.

Go motorcycle riding, camp, join a book club, or go shopping.  

My grandniece years ago said, “Sparkle is my favorite color”. Made sense so I started wearing jewelry to mow the lawn, pick up kids at practice, or grocery shop. I also try to buy a few new things each season, when I find a great bargain, that make me feel good about myself.

Get yourself & your problems off your mind.

A mom in an Oregonian news story caught my attention, “I’ve cried. I’ve been on meds. I’ve put him (her son) in treatments…and I couldn’t do any t100_2116hing else. And if I can’t help my own kids…” then added the reporter, “you help someone else’s child.” She did.

The story went on to talk about her buying gloves for a homeless young man on a cold winter’s night and doing other acts of love when she saw a need. She inspired me to start looking.  Took cosmetic samples from ‘gift with purchase’ to women’s shelter. Volunteered to speak at grandparent support groups, and washed toys in our church’s nursery after services.


“I Made It Through The Day With No Crazy Thoughts…I made it through the day without obsessing over my son.  I didn’t cry or fall apart.  I exercised during my lunch hour.  Thank you God for this gift today, ” said another mom, Tricia, on TAM Healthy Moms website.

My supplemental medicare insurance pays gym membership…so three or four days a week I wake up early and go to Curves and workout. Good company, smiles and sweat have made me thinner, stronger, and happier.

Try something different.

We are all students and all influencers. Brené Brown, interviewed in Costco Magazine said, “You can’t say, ‘Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these.” She explained that it’s important to, “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are.” I’m adding, embrace parenting. Re-direct your dreams. Don’t let “raising grandkids” take over all the other pieces of your life.  Carve out time to read, or play hockey, or practice guitar–even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day before the sun comes up or once a month with the guys. “The magic is in the normal moments,” says Brown. 

Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

IMG_1947The bible says, “You have not, because you ask not.” So ask God and people for help. Everyday say, “Good things are going to happen to me today.” Smile when they do, and say thanks when you go to bed if you found a lost earring, got a coupon in the mail just when you have to buy a new mattress, chatted with a neighbor, or enjoyed a jelly-tasting good night kiss.

Kid Thuggery & Other Holiday Happiness Stealers

Tree trimmed, presents mostly wrapped and stashed behind the couch, shopping list for Christmas dinner growing, and your child or grandchild’s behavior suddenly excels past naughty to out-of-control.


Do you destroy all hope for a ‘calm and bright’ holiday by grounding them, cancelling favorite events like winter prom, solstice party, or a trip to see Santa?

Do you shutdown the family vacation plans? Un-invite the rest of your adult kids and their kids?  Or do you try to muddle through?

None of the above.  You handle misbehaviors with consequences that relate to their actions–not to family traditions and once-a-year (or once-a-life-time) events.

Anxiety, Fear, Bitterness, Anger.

Realize that kids’ stress levels, regardless if toddler or teen, rise with special events due to past experiences involving their mom and/or dad and gets tangled up what they see and hear in media.  The Hallmark channel of eternal good endings. Also, recognize that while other kids at school are talking about presents, trips and fun, they may be remembering domestic violence, passed out parents, a police person at their door, or prison visits.  They want, as my own adopted grandson Chad said when he was in his early twenties, “…just a few happy memories with my mom.” Or they may want a few happy memories without their mom.


We all need to feel in control of our lives.  They can’t control their past, or their parents–whether they are currently in or out of their lives–so they try to protect themselves from further hurt subconsciously by acting out.  They try to force you into becoming ‘the bad guy’ so, in the crazy way immature brains process, they can prevent anticipated let downs and/or keep mom or dad safely in a fictional role where they are the victim rather than the problem. They reason, “nothing good ever happens to me,” so they do their best to make sure it doesn’t.

Don’t buy in.  Refuse to take away opportunities for family and fun.  Don’t reinforce their faulty thinking and ultimately make your life harder.   After all, you end up in house arrest with them, and often take the brunt of their mounting frustration and anger.  

Instead, give consequences that counteract bad behaviors.  If it expands their awareness of others’ feelings so much the better.  For example, if they hit their brother then have them read their brother a bedtime story about bullying.  If they put their fist through a wall, they repair it right alongside you, or they earn the money doing chores to pay to have it repaired.  Keep the consequence duration, and the talk time preceding it, as short and focused as possible.  

Then go do something else that will limit their opportunity to disengage, or ramp-up their anger, further.  If they like sports then sign them up for a Parks & Recreation martial arts class or get them involved in youth hockey.  Suggest they invite a friend and drive them to a comic book store, a favorite band concert, or together paint pottery. Engage them in what interest them, not you.

The holiday you save will be your own.  The future you invest in is joint-owned.



Raising Children of Trauma.

“When I used to get so angry it was like I was drunk and didn’t know what was going on.  Later I’d think, “What just happened?”  I didn’t know how I had gotten to the point of being out of control half of the time,” said my grandson 22-year-old Chad Dingle, co-author of Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users.¹

It was crazy scary, frustrating, and always a long, slow process of talking Chad down after he got so angry that he’d punch a hole in the wall or scream mean hateful things at me growing up. We’d talk sometimes for hours, and sometimes a few minutes, depending on his age and rage. Things would then settle into a truce only to soon start up all over again. With the help of counselors, I was able to keep him and the rest of our family safe but it took a huge toll on everyone.

Both of Chad’s parents had problems with drugs and alcohol, and after age four I tried to shelter him from them most of the time; however, his past and their continuing choices, caused Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) triggers that took years to overcome.  Only recently did I learn that to these children, “stern warnings can become  louder and brusquer and discipline can seem harsher.”²

I always told Chad that regardless what his parents did, he was responsible for his own choices and actions.  Giving him consequences was tricky because I knew why Chad was the way he was…neglected as an infant and physically abused as a toddler but he had to develop self-control and a sense of right and wrong.

Alcoholics & addicts hurt their kids.

Why? Not because they don’t love their children but because their addictions override their desire/ability to get, and stay, sober.  They do things to feed their habit that traumatizes their children.  For example, the Adapt Report©, a diagnostic multi-discipline tool currently being field tested by Dr. James Kagan, M.D., scored Chad’s personal trauma history as “very high”.  In part the commentary read, “…experienced 6 out of a possible 10 traumatic childhood events known to be associated with poor mental health and developmental outcomes.”  It noted that his parent(s) were 1) incarcerated, 2) separated, divorced or deceased, 3) verbally, emotionally or psychologically abusive, 4) physically abusive, 5) struggling with substance use and 6) emotionally neglectful, unloving, or threatening abandonment or removal of child from household.

Why trauma-informed parenting helps.

Even young infants learn survival skills, such as not crying when hungry or hiding under the bed when dad’s mad, instead of relational or developmental. Research shows trauma changes brain response to real or perceived danger. The victims never totally relax even when when just awakening from sleep and they accelerate through the arousal stages of alert, alarm, fear and terror faster than a race driver shifts gears. 

How you parent greatly increases, or decreases, a child or teens’ anxiety and tendency to overcome inappropriate responses such as dissociating (withdrawing into themselves and even physically hiding to avoid a drunk dad or a strung out mom) or by hyper-arousal and aggression.  They need to learn from you skills to substitute for the missing checks and balances in their brains.  They have to learn social awareness, empathy, and how to self-sooth.

Basic parenting tips.

Always say what you are going to do, and then do what you say.  Be consistent, calm, and predictable.  Schedules are as important as rules and consequences; posting them helps.

Pre-empt challenges with choices.  “You can choose to do your homework now and go to the basketball game tonight, or you can choose to stay home and do it after dinner.”

Be nurturing and offer physical comfort to the degree they seek.  For example ask for, don’t demand, a hug and if they reject your attempt don’t make it a big deal, “I guess you’re out of hugs–well maybe tomorrow you’ll have one to give away,” or go for a fist bump or high five as your first step to establishing physical connection.

Incorporate frequent breaks.  “Want to shoot hoops for ten minutes?” or, “You’ve earned a break, what would you like to do for an hour?”, even, “Let’s get a snack, okay?”

Final thoughts.

I’m not a counselor.  I have no formal training in medical or mental health. I wrote this as a mom who adopted a traumatized grandchild and spent/spend time with professionals who generously share their time and expertise.  I always urge professional counseling.  What I’ve written is just a conversation starter.

Contrary to what you might think, the younger the infant or child is when subjected to trauma, the wider the impact and resulting problems. Infants cannot change their own dirty diapers or make themselves dinner…a five-year old can open a box of cereal or tell a neighbor they are hungry.  A one-year-old may learn not to cry, but they can’t go out the back door when dad staggers in the front door swearing.

Let your grandchildren talk about past experiences and emotions.  Emotions are facts and there is no right or wrong way to feel.  How emotions are processed and expressed is the issue.  Help them feel safe in talking with you and a few select others in their lives.

Teach them how/who they can contact (911, neighbors, teachers, etc.) to get help if a situation turns ugly.  Never tolerate actions that endanger you, other family members, or themselves.


¹Dingle, Chad.  Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users. ©2015.


What to do when grandkids blame you…

Blaming other people is a kid thing.  Most outgrow it, but addicts don’t. So when your grandkids blame you for their birthparent’s problems remember that it probably originated from something mom or dad said to them–or because of immature and wishful thinking. Instead of stressing, take up their challenge. Picture yourselves engaged in a Scrabble™ game.  Grandkid starts play with ‘blame’, daring you to respond. While it may be tempting to take the “S” from your letter rack and stick it under the “B”, don’t do it.  Open up the playing field by finding words/mental phrases that help you keep your emotional balance:


B –  Bring it on…this is an opportunity for us to talk.

L Lies and love.  I can deal with both.

AAnalyze, Attitude, Approach, Action, and Accountability. All skills I will teach you to help you walk a different path than your mom/dad.

M-E – as in Me.  I count too.  I will earn your respect, but until then I will settle for your showing me, and others in authority, respect because it’s the right thing to do.

Bring it on.

Keep them talking so you know what they are thinking and feeling and who is influencing them (mom/dad, a certain teacher or friend). Listen to what they are saying, and what they are hiding.  Don’t lecture. Ask non-judgmental questions and keep your responses brief. Correct only vital misinformation in an age/stage appropriate manner. Better to come in the backdoor another day if things are emotionally charged.

Lies and love.

Children of addicts and alcoholics have lived in a world of lies.  Lies from mom/dad. White lies from family (possibly even you?) trying to protect them. Unintentional lies of promises broken from a society that says, “We’ll keep you safe.”  You have to break the chain of lies. Always be honest or they will never re-learn how to trust.

Love won’t blind them long term to their parents’ faults.  They will eventually see the lies told by their parents, and the distortions in their thinking. Only years of you being there–saying what you mean, and meaning what you say–will lead them to understand you don’t lie and you aren’t to blame for their, or their parent’s, choices.

“A” game strategies.

Teaching children life and communication skills benefits your relationship, and influences their every future relationship (work, family, friends). So help them  to analyze what they see and hear, develop healthy attitudes (ethics and values), learn how to approach others (communicate), and take both appropriate action and accountability for that action. Don’t worry if you occasionally blow it by getting upset…or if they don’t seem to be listening. Develop strategies and stick with them.

Limit digital contact with parents if every tweet, text, or phone call undoes your progress. Be there for as much face-to-face contact as your legal circumstances, and their age, allows so you can challenge parental lies on the spot.

Pick your battles and consider possible consequences of your words before engaging. Sometimes grandkids are just venting, sometimes testing, and sometimes heading off a cliff.  Triage and dismiss petty comments with a “You may be right.  I might have misunderstood, or let’s ask your mother next visit?”

Every time they hear,  “I may be wrong.  Convince me.  I was wrong.  You are right,” they eternalize it and start processing their own feelings, and emotions, differently.  Gradually their communication skills will improve, and they will see that you are fair and not to blame.

Don’t skip important discussions but try to find a logical time to introduce them–unless there is an immediate safety issue.  Lysa Terkeurst in her book, The Best Yes, says that repeated choices become our circumstances. Avoidance is a choice. Timing is also.


Lyrics from Kelly Clarkson,who had a rocky relationship with her birth father, song Piece by Piece resonate with me:

“But piece by piece he collected me
Up off the ground…
And piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me.”

It is a compliment when your kids feel safe unloading on you, blaming you. Doesn’t feel good, can’t let them get away with it, but it is progress. Never give up but know when to temporarily give in.











Five Things Kids of Addicts, or Alcoholics, Absolutely Need to Hear.

1. You are not Your Dad and are not responsible for things He does.

Shared genes don’t dictate who you are, or will become…or make you responsible for what your birth dad does. 

You do not owe anyone answers about your parents, or their behavior, regardless if the person asking is a family member, friend, stranger or teacher. Always acknowledge questions respectfully by your words, voice tone, and body language, but only share what you want.    “I don’t know. ”  “Thank you for understanding that it hurts to talk about my dad,” or “If this is really important I’ll give you my mom/grandpa/foster dad’s cell number and you can talk to them,” are all appropriate responses to insensitive inquiries.

2. only your mom can choose to quit.

As much as you want your mom to stop drinking, or using drugs, you can’t make her quit. I tried, others tried.  Addictions are hard to break…but help is available.

Your mom drinks too much (or uses drugs).  It’s not because she doesn’t love you, or because of something you did, or didn’t do.  It’s because her body now is used to the chemical changes drugs or alcohol cause and she physically needs the temporary escape or ‘high’ feeling that she gets when using.  This craving overrules logical thinking and even terrible consequences like losing you or being in prison (whatever is applicable). Depending on child’s age, and circumstances, this can lead to a discussion of problems in her getting a job, dangers of seeing her existing friends, or a need for counseling to face problems.


Life is hard, but you can do “hard”.

Everyone eventually has tough things to face.  You know Kevin’s mom commited suicide, Jax is  bullied because she is overweight, and others have terrible diseases like cancer.  Remember how we saw on TV that some dads are killed protecting our country.  You can choose to stay mad (or sad) or blame your dad/mom for how you act, but you can also choose to accept responsibility for what you do. You know how you’ve been hurt, so you can help others who are hurting.

Again for older children or teens more discussion can be helpful, e.g. “In NO HERO former Navy SEAL, Mark Owen, wrote, “Only focus on your three-foot world…focus on what you can affect.” Good advice.  Don’t dwell on what might happen if your dad returns. Get good grades so you can go on to be the game developer you want to be, and learn to control your temper.  It’s my job to keep working on the things that will make it so you always live with grandpa and I.  The attorney says he thinks it will only be a few more months until the judge lets that happen.”

4.  life isn’t fair.  get over it.

Listen.  Be honest.  Don’t preach.  Honor their feelings.

“I agree it sucks that you have to spend every other weekend visiting your mom and she won’t take you to your lacrosse games.  I have talked with your caseworker and am trying to see if we can change visiting times, but for now we have to do what the judge tells us.”

If your child, or the grandchild you are raising, is unfairly accused of something, and after presenting their side are still over-ruled, then maybe it’s time for one of the, “Pick your battles”, “I can go to bat for you but the consequences may be…” or “It’s a tough break but what can you do differently next time so when someone says something mean about your dad so you don’t get in a fight and end up suspended?” speeches.  Follow up with a hug and “I love you” or whatever physical contact they will accept.

If an unfair accusation that would impact the rest of their life (like a sexual aggression, troublemaker or slow learner) is made then go to the mat both for, and with, them.  

5.  You can trust me.


You can tell them that you are not their addicted parent and can be trusted, but they won’t believe you until you show up, and follow up, time after time after time.  

If you promise to be at a game–be there.  If you promise chocolate chip cookies–make them.  If you say they will lose video time for hitting their little brother and they hit their brother, then get the facts but give the consequence. Make the video time loss reasonable for their age and circumstances–but do it.  Be consistent and do it again, and again until the message comes through that you don’t hit others.  The more natural the consequence the more impactful.

If they get into trouble outside your home, always listen to their side of the story before commenting or making judgment.  Teachers are people, kids set others up…don’t assume an adult or other child is always right.  Ask questions, and expect factual–not purely emotional–answers. However, also remember that children of alcoholics and addicts have learned to lie as a means of survival.  Be their advocate, but don’t blindly defend them.

Praise effort, progress, and any little thing you honestly can until they start growing in self-confidence and life skills.  Let them hear that you notice what they say, and what they do. Compliment their achievements in front of others and reward good behavior.  A lot of champions are made because they don’t want to let their coach or family or teammates, who believe in them, down.  Talk them up, don’t tear their parent down.

Helping Grandparents Raising Grandkids set Boundaries

“I’m sorry. I understand.  I’m a good listener.  I don’t know what to say but I’m worried about you.  I know you’ve got a lot on your mind but it’s seriously jeopardizing your job performance. We need to talk dad.” All good phrases to let a struggling parenting grandparent know that you are there for them.

Your  words aren’t as important as letting a friend, family member, co-worker or employee know that you are listening and want to help. Some grandparents will cry, some will discuss their worries or vent, while others will continue to deny there is a problem, or shut down. Take their lead and respond accordingly unless you need to take action–then tell them what you are, or will be, doing and why.

“I will call Children Services next week if you continue to leave Jose and Sophia alone before school or all night. It is not safe for a first and second grader. Is there a neighbor or schoolmate’s parents who can help?”

Or, “I don’t want to lose you as an employee. I know you are raising two teenagers, but you’ve had two tickets and an accident in the company truck the last six months and if there is another incident I have to let you go. If you want I can make an appointment for you to talk to someone in Human Resources. Everything you say to HR is confidential, and they can help you with family counseling benefits, resources for community services, or transferring to a job with no travel and less overtime if that’s what’s best right now.”

I won’t let “sis” keep getting food stamps while you struggle to feed her kids and pay rent. I’m calling her caseworker today.”

No ‘one size’ solutions.

With families and addictions there is always a tug-of-war of emotions and a tangle of legal and day-to-day issues.  There are no quick fixes, but there is hope. I adopted my grandson, and twenty years later finally (tried before but always eventually relented) cut all ties with my daughter.  Life has a way of hurting and humbling and healing.  You may not have had personal experience in this area–but compassion and common sense tell you that it’s demeaning, to say, “just walk away,” or “just do it”.  Family love is strong and complicated. Drugs rip apart families and laws put parental rights over the kids–unless it’s proven that the parent is an immediate safety risk to them.

Don’t assume and don’t lecture.  Ask questions, offer experiences, suggest resources.  Try to get the grandparent to see what in their situation is fact, and what is emotion. Guide them in identifying what they can control; what they cannot.  The choices they face–seeking custody of their grandchildren, breaking off or limiting contact with their grown son/daughter, or sharing information with the police or child services are life-changing.  I always ask God to give me the words to help, not hurt, others.

Tough situations and choices.   

Below are a few paraphrased real-life examples of conversations I’ve had:

Grandmother:  “My social security check barely pays for food and rent but my daughter says she’ll take her kids back so she can continue to get food stamps and housing vouchers if I tell anyone.”

My response:  Your daughter isn’t going to change while you take care of her kids and she has money for drugs.  I won’t lie, there are risks with going to Family Services (FS) but I think the risks of not doing so are greater. Right now your daughter can walk into your home, or their school, and take them at anytime.  You aren’t legally able to stop her.  In an emergency you can’t even authorize medical treatment, and your grandkids probably feel the same insecurities you do about their future.

I would talk to an attorney first if I were you to find out about your rights, the grandkids’ rights and your daughter’s rights based on your individual case and state laws.  You do not want to be complicit in your daughter’s fraud, but more importantly your lawyer can guide you on the best way to proceed with obtaining legal custody and/or guardianship/adoption.  You can always ask if they have a “first visit free” program or if they could suggest where you could go for reduced-fee legal help.  You can also call FS anonymously to ask ‘hypothetical’ questions to gather information and learn your options.”

IMG_0379Grandpa:  “My teenage grandson is in a group home and it is tearing my wife apart, while draining our savings. We tried counseling after his mom, our daughter, died but he is out of control, refusing to go to school and causing all kinds of problems.  I don’t want the state involved in my personal finances, so I’ll just keep on working until I’m eighty to pay for his care.”

My response: “I’m sure it was a hard to put your grandson in a group home, but good for you for recognizing he needs help.  Have you checked into Social Security death benefits to help pay for his care? The only drawback is if something happens to you, his receiving social security might make him ineligible for other programs. Talk to your accountant and attorney. Estate and long-term planning is crucial. You and your wife need to protect your future while you can.”

Grandparent:  “Our three grandsons have two different fathers. Our son, and father of the two oldest, is in prison.  The younger grandson’s dad works but frequently doesn’t pay any support.  I’m afraid that if I take him to court he’ll stop altogether, or take the boy because we just have a power of attorney.”

My response: “Don’t let “what ifs” or fear stop you…and power of attorney can be rescinded at anytime just by dad tearing up the paper or changing his mind. Call your state support enforcement office for help getting court-ordered support for youngest grandson. Simultaneously, call an attorney to find out how to get legal custody/guardianship.

When your incarcerated son gets out of prison, ask him what he can contribute short, interim and long term to help you in raising his sons while making a future for himself. You didn’t mention your relationship but it’s critical to know what role you want him to play in the future before starting any dialog.”

Life changing conversations are never easy…and the thing is we don’t know they are life-changing until long after they are over.







Handling Holidays When Raising Grandkids


IMG_2974Holidays happen year round so keep reminding yourself that you need to be in control. Children, and you, deserve safe, fun, faith-filled (if faith is part of your family’s traditions) holidays. Youngsters need memories of peaceful, happy days to know what is possible.  They need to experience ‘normal’ so they can pass ‘normal’ on when they parent.  So make it happen. 

A using addict or alcoholic should not be invited and/or allowed at family (meaning with you, their kids, or other family members) events.  If you are under court order–then keep their participation separate.  Schedule it at another time, place, and preferably day other than when traditionally celebrated.


Let your children or grandchildren you are raising help with the planning for all events that you and sober family members attend.  Give them areas of responsibility where they can shine…let one be in-charge of taking pictures of everyone, another sending out evites or mailed invitations, etc.

Try something different.  If you routinely open gifts on Christmas Eve then do it Christmas Day, go out of town, swap houses with another local family for the week, or have another family member host…just don’t sit and revisit bad memories.

Help someone else.  Volunteer at the school to paint faces if they are holding a fall festival.  Take the family to a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and do whatever chores are needed.  Ask someone, who you know will be alone, to come Trick or Treating with you just to change things up.


Thoughts to keep you sane:

  • Hosting ‘alcohol free’ family events does not keep the alcoholic from drinking. They will arrive under the influence or stash away a supply in your home, their car, the bushes or “pop out for a cigarette or air” and head to the nearest store.
  • No one likes to think of their son, daughter or partner alone on a holiday, but they make it the other 364 days a year, and to someone with an addiction problem everyday of the year holds the same risks of overdose or other things that you can’t control. Only the user can do the things that will help them get, and stay, sober.
  • If the biological parent is typically a ‘no show’ don’t mention to smaller children that their parent is coming for any holiday interactions regardless of where or when it’s being held.  As they get older, discuss before hand the probability that the parent won’t show, they’ll be late or using, or things won’t be so good. Together come up with an alternative plan to get you and the children out of the house and doing something fun.  Don’t reschedule if mom or dad is a ‘no show’ or so late that you have moved on to Plan B, and don’t forget to keep a written log of incidents to share with your caseworker, or the judge, if needed in the future.