How can I deal with my alcoholic parents?
April 24, 2011 4:53 PM   Subscribe

What are my opinions for dealing with my alcoholic parents while they spend the week with us?

My parents are functioning alcoholics. They don't acknowledge their alcoholism. It has gotten worse in the last decade but it has always been an issue. We live an entire day's plane ride away and we generally try to avoid visits with them altogether. We are WASPy passive-aggressive Guess culture types so there has been no formal and very little informal discussion of their drinking ever. (FWIW, my husband and I drink a little - a beer or glass of wine with dinner. I've been pregnant or breastfeeding for the majority of the last 5 years though, so I haven't drank during my parents' visits.)

All of the last visits with them (~5) in the past 3 years have been bad. My anxiety is through the roof overall, but specifically fights over little things (a disagreement about a government social policy or something) turn into heated arguments in public places and they storm off. (Despite my greatest efforts to avoid talking about such topics with them.) (After one such fight I asked "Don't you think that alcohol added fuel to the fire in this fight?" and they didn't know what to say.) And little tiny tiffs about nothing populate the day (Ex. "Why do you keep your marinara sauce in the fridge door?")
Of greater concern is my parents' inability to moderate their own drinking around my small children, even when my parents are the sole responsible parties. Since 2 incidents in which I came home to them having babysat and found them drunk beyond the ability to really care for small children and during 1 incident there was a major safety hazard that went unnoticed (a broken wine glass unnoticed on the floor with barefoot kids running around), I have decided that I will not allow them to care for my children without my husband or I present. My parents don't know this though. I always come up with excuses when they want to babysit (offering to watch the kids while husband and I go on vacation or watching them for an evening during a visit). And the kids are older now and know when adults are acting weird/drunk and they tend to find it scary.

FWIW, discussing incidents that happened in the past (like the wine glass) is futile in my 35+ years experience in dealing with my parents. They remember things in a way that puts them in the best possible light and this is compounded when they were drunk during the incident.

So, they're coming for a week to stay in our house upon their insistence and begging. How to deal with their drinking? Here's how I see it:

Option A: Say to Mom ~4 days before they come: "Hey, I think that it would be in everyone's best interests, especially the kids, if we all don't drink during this visit." (And if asked why...) "The last few visits I think had some incidents that were made worse because of alcohol, so I think that it would be best if we all just didn't drink." (Asking them to go cold turkey is going to be challenging though.)

Option B: "Husband and I have decided that it is best if people (friends, family) don't drink in front of the kids. The kids get confused by it and we don't like that." (Although this is an open invitation for them to drink once kids are in bed and thus they'll still be getting drunk and fighting at night.)

Option C: Maybe ask them to stay at a hotel and only come around when sober? This might be logistically challenging.

Option D: Let them drink but when it seems like they're getting drunker, be brave and say to them "Mom/Dad, I think that you've had too many and I don't like where this heads toward in terms of how we (daughter and parent) interact and how you (grandkids and grandchild) interact, so I'd like to ask you to not have any more to drink please."

Again, we're WASPy non-talking about things types, so all of these scenarios present challenges.

Are there other options for dealing with this? Anyone have a "friend" that has dealt with this and can share some wisdom?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If they are alcoholics, they can't just take a break from drinking. Especially if you're talking about years of dependency. Realistically, at best they'll lie and drink behind your back. Maybe that option works for you? (I do mean that seriously, sometimes that's the agreement families come to when communication isn't an option.)

Option C is the only reasonable one you've offered. Or cancel the trip. Or find somewhere for your children to stay. Maybe you and your husband can take turns staying overnight in a hotel with the kids while the other adult stays home with your parents. If you want to send an enormous nonverbal message of displeasure, that would be it. Plus it means that you guys get to have about as much control as possible.

You can't make them stop drinking. You can control how much your kids are exposed to it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:03 PM on April 24, 2011 [11 favorites]

I would ask them to stay in a hotel during their stay (even better, offer to pay for it). If they ask why and you really don't want to confront them about their drinking, you can always blame it on space/fussy kids/the upstairs toilet broke/whatever. Don't bring alcohol out (for anyone) for dinner. Don't even let it be an option. If they want to drink, make them ask for it.

I wouldn't want them drinking around my (as yet hypothetical) children, and I especially wouldn't leave them alone with them.

I don't have any advice to offer as far as confronting them. Good luck.
posted by phunniemee at 5:08 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Mom & Dad, when I was a child I lived under your roof and by your rules.

"You wanna come and stay under my roof, it's under my rules. Because I am the adult and you are the guest.

"No drinking. It has made previous visits unpleasant and I will not have it brought under my roof in front of my children, not even by the parents I love.

"No, we're not leaving your grandchildren alone with you, because of your drinking. If you get shit-faced, there's a motel available. You begged to come and stay. Fine. but these are the inarguable rules for when you come to stay under my roof. Violate them, and you can't stay under my roof. Just like when I was a kid.

"This is not open for discussion, this is the news."

Practice giving the speech several times, with a picture of your smiling children in view. Because you're doing it for them. Your parents are adults who have lived their lives and made their decisions.

But you are responsible for protecting your children. Time to be the adult.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:12 PM on April 24, 2011 [35 favorites]

Ask them to stay at the hotel.

Don't let them into your home.

You go to them so you are in charge of when you leave.

When I go to visit my family I do my very best to not be beholden to them in any way. I am in charge of when I come over, how long do I stay and when I leave. I have the car. I come and go as I please.

You reverse this. Keep them in a fixed-place. Leave as you wish.

In my family, craziness can happen at the flip of a switch. In your situation, though alcoholism is horrible, getting drunk takes a little bit of time. You know what is going to happen when they pick up the first drink. This gives you leeway to exit somewhat graciously.

I would always meet them in public places, also and never alone.

For now they are your good enemies. They are making you smarter, sharper and more diligent. And your children need to see that you are protecting them. Kids are warriors when it comes to observing sincerity. Because of this they'll feel safer in later life.

Good luck. You control the joy-sticks
posted by goalyeehah at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

Upon reflection, go right to the motel option. Because telling them not to drink in your house is setting them up to fail. They've already done that. The rest of the speech pretty much works.

Motel it or cancel.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:14 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is difficult. I haven't been in this exact situation but have had to deal with more drunk relatives than I'd care to admit. Confronting them probably won't get you anywhere aside from a big fight. Not letting them babysit the kids and just dealing with them might be the best option especially if their visiting is a yearly thing. I'm not really in a position to judge what their response to you calling them out on their drinking would result in but with all the alcoholics I know it'd be what Lyn Never described. This is dependent on how adversely you think their visits affect your children.

Personally I'm all for possibly souring your relationship in this case and telling them to stay in a hotel or go home. They shouldn't inconvenience you.

Pirate's suggestions are the best but the most difficult. You can do it!
posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2011

As the child of an alcoholic, I would go with option E: Be gone on vacation when they arrive. I don't know what they're holding over you, but it isn't worth it. What you've described is just not acceptable behavior from adults, and you, as an adult, need to learn not to accept it. If you can't tell them not to come, let them arrive at an empty house.
posted by bricoleur at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would not confront. It's a waste of time here and puts you at a disadvantage.

For me drunks are good with words, manipulation and spin.
posted by goalyeehah at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2011

This is hard as heck and there are no easy answers. I mean, intellectually it is very, dad, no drinking, thems the breaks. And in a perfect world they would pout just a teeny bit and then grumble a little but get on with the visit and go drink at night at the hotel bar. But in the real world its likely going to be a passive-aggressive waspy guessy freak show hell-ride with tears and/or shouting. But maybe it will just take ONE freak show hell ride where you firmly and assertively stand your ground and they know you mean business. Consider it an investment towards your sanity and your future healthier boundaried relationship with them.

(spellcheck says boundaried isn't a word? jeesh)
posted by ian1977 at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tell them that while yours is a dry house, they are welcome to stay at a local hotel if they'd be more comfortable in the evenings. Do not discuss or debate the whys; its an argument on which you are so far apart, it is pointless.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:19 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ahh, the magic of passive-aggressive WASPy family dynamics.

What about tweaking Option B? Are your parents going to have the means to access alcohol if you don't have it in your house? (Renting a car to go pick something up, for example?) It sucks to have to change the way you live your life in your home, and it isn't necessarily the "right" or "best" answer, but what about packing up your liquor cabinet/wine and beer for the week they are visiting and leaving it with a trusted friend or neighbor? (Trusted because you'll probably end up having to explain why you need to unload the booze on them temporarily, not because they'll drink it; I realize this violates the WASP commandment of Thou Shalt Not Air Dirty Laundry in Public (And Preferably Not In Private, Either) but if they are good friends it shouldn't be too big a deal--everyone has their family stuff.) If your parents ask you to pick something up, say that you and your husband have decided that you aren't really comfortable having alcohol in the house/drinking around the kids, so you've decided to go dry for awhile. If they don't like it, as DarlingBri says, you can then suggest they stay in a hotel.

Note: I realize this is a short-term solution to maintain the status quo, but as someone who comes from a fairly similar upbringing including dealing with relatives' alcoholism, talking about it/taking action (up to and including several paid-for trips to pricey/respected rehab facilities) head-on has never solved anything or gone well. I don't love my answer, but sometimes to keep the dysfunction functioning as best it can, it ends up having to be about the work-arounds, not the real solutions.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 5:33 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Totally agree that you should have them stay at a hotel and do all your visiting there...especially during times when they typically start drinking. If they don't drink during the day then that's the time they can spend at your house. They are probably not going to change their behavior so you need to change the way you handle it. Also, if it's too stressful and it's just going to be a big the whole thing off! Screw have no obligation to endure crappy situations just because you're related to people.

Also, I would never (and I mean NEVER) leave them alone with my kids and I would never have my kids around them after they had two drinks. You don't have to explain this to your parents, you just need to make this the way things are done at your home with your kids. I had some exposure to alcoholic relatives later in life (college-age) and it totally freaked me out. It made me realize how crazy and insidious an illness it is and it gave me far more understanding of the hell some of my friends went through with alcoholic parents. Anyway, I think it's damaging to be around that behavior at any age but certainly far more so if your kids are young.

Bottom line, protect your kids, your husband and yourself...period!
posted by victoriab at 5:34 PM on April 24, 2011

Your kids come first. They deserve to have a home that is a safe, quiet, retreat from people who yell, scream, and treat their parents badly. The alcohol and drinking are bad, but even without them, the screaming arguments and storming out are bad enough. Unstable/loud/screamy people are frightening to children and it is even more frightening for them if they aren't able to avoid the people involved.

Your children should NOT have to deal with that dynamic in their home. Just anticipating this behavior is creating enormous anxiety and fear in you, and you an adult who can understand what's going on and who has some agency and control over the situation. Your children cannot understand what's going on and they have no control.

Why take the chance that your children feel even a tenth of the anxiety you feel right now? For your alcoholic parents' feelings? Because you're tired of them insisting? No matter how much they insisted, the final decision to let them visit was yours. It still is. It's not worth it.

At the very least, your parents need to stay in a hotel, however, I feel like it will be hard for you to set boundaries and they'll end up drunk around your kids anyway (i.e. in a restaurant for lunch). Mitigating that risk is up to you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:46 PM on April 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

They stay in a hotel. You and your husband visit, leaving the children behind with a friend. Children don't deserve to be around this kind of behavior, period.
posted by SMPA at 5:50 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am sure you will get some solid advice here. My only comment: under no circumstances let them babysit. Ever.
posted by Postroad at 5:57 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

As background, My SO has been years coming off the bottle. He was an every night & and every-weekend-till-I-pass-out drunk. What I've learned is (1) a drunk's definition of what "drunk" is will never match yours. (2) it does no good to expect anything from them because lies, self-deception, irresponsibility & outright denial are the place they live & not just something they occasionally do. (3) Serious alcoholics don't change because they want to, only because they have to. You have to put up a road block if you want them to detour from their normal routine. So, regarding your questions:

1) Good on you for concluding (correctly) that they cannot be trusted even when they swear they can be. They're alcoholics. Whether they believe themselves capable and are willing to try or not, the end result will be the same: They will drink. That decision alone will save you a world of hurt. It's called acceptance, and when you accept a person's shortcomings and recognize your inability to change them, you are better able to respond to realities.

2) Hotel is best. You need time away from them, your family needs distance from their condition, and they need space away from you when they are in a condition you will not tolerate. And that is part of the key: If you want it to go away (as in, farther from you...I'm not talking about stopping drinking), you must refuse the behavior. You do not tolerate its presence.

3) I think you should go head-in on the drinking. No explanation, no discussion just new rule time: By phone, ahead of time, you say, Mom, Dad, We've gone dry (do NOT discuss your occasional beer; that is not relevant to this conversation & is only a tool to be used against your decree) and alcohol is no longer permitted at the house. Do not bring it, and do not show up drunk. I am sorry to be this way, but if you show up drunk, we will not be able to let you in. This is about the kids, not you. Please try to do this for us. Then, when they show up drunk, leave them outside. Or send them out when you notice.

Yes, this is very, very confrontational. And there will probably be an ugly scene (the other parent gets to quickly & quietly remove the kids to someplace distracting & you can tag team it after that, but you do not let them stay). The idea is that you make a knew rule & then educate them that this IS the rule. As long as it is a request, not a rule, they will flout it. Once it has been made clear that it is an enforced rule, they will either never come by again (TOTAL SCORE! ...okay, maybe not, but -I- love it when family doesn't visit) or they will incorporate it, to the degree that they are able, into their "functioning alcoholic" lifestyle. It IS woth the initial ugliness. It does pay the dividend you want, eventually.

YMMV: I found strict enforcement impossible for the first year or so: As long as some reasonable effort had been made, I turned a blind eye. Maybe that prolonged the weening off, but at least he recognized the existence of the rule, after the first few times. It was gradually tightened down. During that time it was every bit as exasperating as having a particularly persistent, whiny dog under the table scratching my leg for scraps, but it does get better, and they CAN assimilate the New Rule. It has now been two and a half years, and he no longer even asks when alcohol is served around him. He knows the answer will be no. Not "it's your decision (and hope he makes the right one)", not "I'd rather you didn't," just "No, sorry."

Good luck. Be compassionate but firm. Be ready to stand your ground & do not give in to whatever emotional blackmail they throw in the mix: Bad Daughter, Never Visiting Again, Trying To Take Away Our Grandkids, We Hate You, Loud-&-Shouty...Would you let your kid get away with those ploys? Don't let your parents pull it off either.
posted by Ys at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

I'm confused by the timeline here. Are they 4 days away from their visit? I know it's the anxiety that is prompting you to deal with this now. Be warned, at this stage I think any change you decree will be viewed as "last minute" and with great hostility.

In my optimal scenario you cancel. Or, I love the suggestion about no one drinking in front of the kids. And the hotel for your parents.

If I could give you the courage to confront your parents and set this vital boundary, I would.

FWIW, my family isn't allowed anywhere near my son. Ever.

You do what is best for your children. Don't look back. Don't apologize or feel badly. Just do what's best for your children.
posted by jbenben at 6:12 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Coworker's parents drank a fair bit, but would never say they were alcoholics. But his parents sure could drink, and "repeated conversation" is tedious as hell.

Coworkers last visit, they set a deadline in advance (we would love to visit you, if you don't mind one rule..). No alcohol before 6pm. That way, all had fun during the day, and parents were still "normal" by the time kids, and even until coworker, went to bed.
posted by lundman at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2011

In true Guess form, I would try what Honoria Glossop described: "sorry, we don't have any," backed up by, "we've decided now that we have kids, not to have alcohol in our house or do any drinking around them," backed up by, "unfortunately, we don't really feel comfortable being around people drinking, especially with the kids," backed up by, "oh, a restaurant sounds great, how about [this place without a liquor license]? They have great chocolate cake!" backed up by "you know, I really want you to be comfortable and don't want to have our thing (about not being around people who have been drinking) stop you from doing your thing. Let us get you a hotel room. I know a place above a great wine bar."

If you don't want to ever say, "mom, the real situation is that your drinking makes me really uncomfortable," you can still stand your ground in super-polite ways. Guessers are attuned to boundaries that get protected via redirection and to take hints via statements like "oh, I am so sorry, I forgot to give you a napkin." You can allude to something quite unspecified, and if they really want to play dumb, they can have a little "well aren't they odd?" attitude about your unreasonable policies toward alcohol, and that's fine, right?
posted by salvia at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

You know, upon reflection, I'm starting to agree with the people who say just have them stay in a hotel. The packing-up-the-booze tricked worked for my family, but that's because we sweep everything under the rug pretty much as a matter of policy. We don't fight, at least not in the angry-shouting sense (we are, however, masters of the thinly-veiled, cutting barb), and it sounds like that is something that happens with your dynamic and that will be unpleasant not only for you to be around, but also your children. If you think not having the booze around will tame the fighting/not lead to a different kind of fighting because your parents will be in essentially medically-unsupervised detox, then great, but if not, then yeah, having them in the house isn't going to be fun or good for anybody.

I don't know, from what you say here it seems like you are going to have an argument on your hands at some point whatever route you choose. Are they going to be more offended if you ask them to stay at the hotel rather than not come at all? Angrier if you suggest a hotel than bringing up the topic of their drinking directly? The key is, based on your knowledge of your parents that we here don't have and your long-term goals (making a change even if it is hard/causes some family alienation vs. keeping on keeping on), what is the route that is either 1) going to cause the least amount of turmoil/resentment in the long term (if that is your goal), 2) going to make you feel better in the long run (if that is your goal) or 3) both (if possible)? Choose the one that best fits with your goals, whatever it may be. I don't know that anyone here can really get any more definite than that because personalities and family dynamics are integral to this kind of situation, and the only people who really know/understand those are the ones living it. (Or, to borrow from Tolstoy: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.)
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2011

tl;dr on my last comment -- Basically, make a secret house policy that "we don't like to be around people drinking alcohol," perhaps due to unspecified "past situations." Don't compromise on it, but don't announce it, just try to steer the situation that way, and slowly reveal that policy over time, but be prepared to offer them a hotel room to avoid having your strange policy inconvenience them.
posted by salvia at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2011

Ys: (1) a drunk's definition of what "drunk" is will never match yours. (2) it does no good to expect anything from them because lies, self-deception, irresponsibility & outright denial are the place they live & not just something they occasionally do. (3) Serious alcoholics don't change because they want to, only because they have to.

I am 3.5 years sober and I can't stress enough how wise and true these words are. Others above have given great advice (nthing hotel), but I wanted to back this part up from the (recovering) alcoholic's perspective.
posted by mireille at 6:22 PM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am going to chime in and say that irrespective of what you decide to do about this particular visit, I would strongly suggest you get into Al-Anon to help you learn how to deal with these situations in the future in a way that won't leave you so anxious. Good luck.
posted by msali at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure what the best answer is, but I'm pretty sure trying to get alcoholics to stop drinking in four days will not work.
1. they don't seem to want to
2. they will lie to you about it
3. even if they try, do you want your kids around alcoholics that are drying out?
posted by calgirl at 6:59 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you afford to pay for the hotel? If so then I'd call and say, "hubby and I talked and we thought you'd be more comfortable in a hotel. Junior is teething and not sleeping well and we don't want to keep you up." then, if they say, "but that's ok" you just stick to your plan and repeat, "we want you to have a great trip and get plenty of rest so we insist.". My mom was an alcoholic for most of my life. I didn't ask her to not drink at my college graduation but she did try to abstain. One of my wonderful friends ended up having to sit in the ER with her all afternon because not drinking for even just one day made her so sick. So I don't think that asking them to quit is going to work. Figure out what would be the most successful trip from your end and work with that.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:40 PM on April 24, 2011

"When you drink, it scares the kids. You can see the kids any time you aren't drinking."
posted by rodgerd at 7:53 PM on April 24, 2011

I was that child. The drunk was my grandmother. When she wasn't drunk she was awesome. When she was drunk it scared me and was very uncomfortable not to mention I knew her being drunk upset my mom and that upset me as well. We are talking preschool age here.

If we showed up at Grandma's house and she was drunk, my mom and I left immediately. Because that is what a parent does-protect the child. Because when I was a baby, once my dad came to pick me up at Grandma's and she was drunk, and she stabbed dad (he wasn't hurt, much but really, you stab your son in law just because he's picking up HIS baby????) After that little incident you can bet your sweet bippy that backbone was found and USED.

You need to find your spine somewhere and quit blaming your lack of backbone on being a WASP in order to protect your small children who do not deserve to be upset and confused because a couple of drunks won't lay off the booze long enough not to scare and upset their grandchildren. Pick up the phone and tell them that their choices are either a hotel or no drinking at all at your house or else you won't be there when they come.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:01 PM on April 24, 2011 [22 favorites]

You need to find your spine somewhere and quit blaming your lack of backbone on being a WASP in order to protect your small children who do not deserve to be upset and confused...

posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:55 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

You need to find your spine somewhere and quit blaming your lack of backbone on being a WASP in order to protect your small children who do not deserve to be upset and confused...

Agree. I really hate the trend of trotting out "WASP" to explain away immature/irresponsible behavior. It's immature and irresponsible to leave your children with these people -- however they are your PARENTS, and doing something like being on vacation when they visit or cancelling the trip is irresponsible as well. You need to set boundaries with your parents, tell them the drinking is unacceptable around your children, and then work with their answers to find the best solution, be it hotel, etc. Don't treat your parents like people who can't be trusted to reach a fair and appropriate solution to the problem if you haven't even tried it with them.
posted by sweetkid at 10:35 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

You never deal with instances after they happen, you always deal with them at the time. Always. You don't give people, including your parents, wiggle room to get out of their own personal responsibility in situations like these.

They stay in a hotel. You use your judgment about whether or not you take your kids. Once things get uncomfortable, you leave.

They are alcoholics - they have no capacity to stop drinking simply because you tell them to - they have to want to. It's up to them.

But your duty is to protect your children, not to prevent your parents' feelings from being hurt. Your kids' safety comes before anything.
posted by mleigh at 11:49 PM on April 24, 2011

Even though it's an emotional subject, play it nonchalantly.

Don't make it a formal-sounding "we have decreed no more drinking" thing, because I don't think it will work on them. Don't tell them beforehand that there's no alcohol, let them come and find out that your house is dry and you're not into them drinking around the kids. After all, not drinking is perfectly normal and healthy. Having rules for your house is perfectly normal and healthy. It's throwing a fit over not being able to drink in someone else's house that isn't normal and healthy.

If they make a big deal out of it, pointedly ask them why they can't think about visiting you without alcohol. If they can't manage that one condition, then they get the boot. No exceptions. It's just a normal house rule just like taking off your shoes upon entering the house or flushing the toilet.
posted by autoclavicle at 12:20 AM on April 25, 2011

Frame it as a house rule. "We don't keep alcohol in the house."

I am in a similar situation with one of my parents. I actually don't drink (largely as a result of what I experienced in my childhood), but I find this is a non-confrontational way to get my point across.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:51 AM on April 25, 2011

Asking them to go cold turkey for four days will not only not work, it won't improve their behaviour either. Alcoholics are meanest when they HAVEN'T had a drink. Not to mention you're not medically qualified to manage their withdrawal.

I know you won't do this but I think you should cancel the trip. Let them have their reaction. They are going to do what they are going to do anyway. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that you will ever be able to do to control any part of their behaviour whatsoever. NOTHING. You are not in control. They are not in control. Alcohol is in control.

Also, they are capable of anything. Somebody above mentioned stabbing? You think something that bad couldn't happen? You're wrong. You're adults and you're afraid of them. Why insist that your kids be terrorized by them too? Do you think it's good for your kids to be around people who, left in charge of them, neglect, terrorize and endanger them? As good WASPs have you fully explained to your kids that you do not want them terrorized or are they just left to Guess from your behaviour that some level of terror just has to be endured?

Sorry to be so harsh, and if it would make any difference I'd be saying this to your parents instead of you. But I think you need to cancel this visit and think carefully about how to do supervised visits in the future.
posted by tel3path at 4:05 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

"something like being on vacation when they visit or cancelling the trip is irresponsible as well. You need to set
boundaries with your parents, tell them the drinking is unacceptable around your children, and then work with their answers to find the best solution, be it hotel, etc. Don't treat your parents like people who can't be trusted to reach a fair and appropriate solution to the
problem if you haven't even tried it with them."

Again, I'm sorry to have to be this negative, but the fact is your parents can't be trusted to find a fair and appropriate solution or rationally discuss and respect boundaries. They're alcoholics, they're beyond rational discourse. If they briefly lay off the booze while your kids are around they'll still be alcoholics and still not be rational, trustworthy adults. Trying to act as if they are might seem responsible but unfortunately the effect will just be more pandering.

I'm not saying never see them again, I'm saying this trip is too close up to have time to strategize. And that trusting them or reasoning with them can't be any part of your strategy.
posted by tel3path at 4:47 AM on April 25, 2011

I'm amazed no one has commented on your freudian slip:

What are my opinions for dealing with my alcoholic parents while they spend the week with us?

Sounds like you do need to solidify your opinions about your parents.

But keeping your children safe comes first, of course.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:20 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on what you've said, I agree that putting your parents in a hotel is the only way for you to stay sane during their visit. You'll know the best way to present this change of plans to your parents: whether openly say it's because of their drinking, or come up with a white lie they won't be able to dispute why they can't stay with you. Clearly they want to see you and/or their grandchildren if they're getting on a plane to do it, so instead of getting anxious about all the potential negativity, focus on figuring out what it'll take to make the most of their stay.

1. Book them into a hotel, and expect to foot the bill if they can't afford it or if they protest on account of cost. While it'll be more expensive than having them at your house, the greater peace of mind will surely be more than worth it to you.

2. Minimize the time you personally spend with them - instead have your husband and the kids visit them at the hotel without you as much as you can get away with.

3. Organize your time together around external activities like visits to museums, the zoo, whatever keeps you moving/busy, giving them no opportunity to get into a heated conversation with you.

Difficult parents can really poison your life, but at the end of the day, they do love your children and you'll feel so good if you can engineer it so that this visit results in some positive memories together.
posted by Dragonness at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2011

I second Al-anon for reducing your anxiety about this. Nearly everyone in there has dealt with this and will be good support.

As someone one said, the person expecting alcoholics not to behave alcoholicly is the person with the problem.

Not that this should be your motivation (I think your sanity and your children's safety and sanity are better for that), but these sorts of consequences are sometimes what make people realized that their drinking effects more people than themselves. Sometimes they even change for the better because of it.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:36 PM on April 25, 2011

I know exactly what you're dealing with, and I also recommend a hotel for the folks, keeping no booze in the house, and calling it an early night after the kids go to bed. Deprive them of their booze, and they will leave good and early to go back to the hotel to have a drink.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:29 PM on April 25, 2011

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