ACoA Parenting: On the Job Training
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

Pam used to dream of living with the Brady Bunch. Everyday she'd share hugs, get help with homework, and play with plenty of kids. Mom would make waffles, and after work, daddy would be the best pony ride in town. She could relax, feeling safe and free.

But then Pam would awaken to a nightmare. Every night, she had to feed her brothers and sisters, clean them up, put them to bed; drag mom and dad upstairs, clean them up, put them to bed; toss the bottles in the trash, clean the kitchen, finally feed herself, and then, exhausted, crumble in the tattered chair by the TV. There, the late show would finally lull Pam to sleep, with its watchful eye standing vigil through the night.

Pam, a Child of an Alcoholic (CoA), felt like an orphan with two living parents. Sometimes it seemed like a witch had placed a spell on her real mother and father, and left drunks in their place. But somehow, Pam believed that if she loved them enough, and did what she was told, she could break the spell and bring her parents back. Then warmed by their love, she could get on with being a child.

But Pam had to raise herself. Not having parents to guide her left her feeling empty and unsure of everything. Still, she discovered that if she acted confidently, then usually no one found out. Sometimes she felt she should win an "Oscar" for the century's best impersonation of a life.

Nevertheless, with grit and courage, Pam managed to leave home, finish school, establish a career, and marry a man who cherished her. Professionally, colleagues admired her, but Pam still saw her life as a "house of straws," ready to tumble with the barest breeze. Insidiously, her uncertainty grew.

Then, when Pam gave birth to her baby girl, she vowed she'd provide all the love she had wished for, and more. But then, her anxiety grew: she didn't have a clue about how to raise a child. Most of what she knew about parenting had come through a parent's bottle of beer.

So Pam resolved to reinvent mothering, while jealously guarding her secret. Fearing discovery, she treated her husband's attempts at help as a hinderance; his advice, criticism. Feeling excluded, her husband fumed, and soon, the love that had forged their child changed to a smoldering wedge between them.

But Pam was determined to be the tolerant mother; she emulated Mrs. Brady's perfection. When the child was contrary, she was the figure of control. When the young one screamed, she smiled. As she grew more demanding, mother's mouth stretched tighter, until....

Pam could never forgive her explosions. She could feel the flush, and without warning, a stream of abuse would rush from her mouth like lava erupting from the ocean floor.

When the fever broke, she'd be filled with remorse, and would summon strength to comfort her shuddering child. The terror they felt was mutual, but Pam was appalled: the tidal wave of rage had come directly from her parents' mouths.

So again Pam would pledge to contain her fury, while another torrent of torment would pour from her lips. And each time, her heart would swell with shame.

Then after a long, difficult day, as Pam held her tightly near the top of the stairs, the child screamed a soul ripping scream. In a flash, Pam's body jerked, and her muscles gave the signal to send her baby hurtling down the steps. Pam blinked hard; miraculously, she found her child still tucked safely in her arms.

Stunned, she called her husband, and quietly pleaded, "take her; I just don't know what to do." Then, she handed him their child, and in that moment, finally found her family.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved