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How to I teach my children to be safe when their father is drunk?

(61 Posts)
wallypops Fri 25-Oct-13 13:32:42

My DDs are 7.75 and just 9. I was divorced from their dad 5.5 years ago. He was a drunk when I met him although I didn't spot it. He doesn't drink every day, but will manufacture social reasons to drink. One drink and he cannot stop. He is never hung over. He doesn't admit that he has any kind of problem. He doesn't have very many friends, because when he gets drunk he insults them.

We live in France, he is French, and we have been to court 4 times already including the divorce. And apart from the divorce, never instigated by me. If we go back to court again it will have to be the children's choice, not mine. They will need to write to the judge to say why they want to change the current set up and they will then get awarded their own lawyer. If they choose to do this, they will then get to "choose" who they get to spend their time with. This is just the way the system works here, and in general the system is pretty good and I have had way too much experience of it. Before the summer they wanted to do this, but of late they don't seem to want to.

He has the children every other weekend and half the holidays which is standard minimum in France.

They know that there Dad has a drinking problem, but they don't seem to be able to recognise when he is drunk. He used to live with someone who pretty much protected them, but now he lives alone. In the last 10 days I have had telephone contact with him and all 3 times he has been roaring drunk, and on one of those occasions the girls were with him. Generally speaking he is a pretty hideous drunk. The girls recognise "nasty" drunk better than "nice" drunk, but honestly it is screamingly obvious from his voice, eyes, posture - everything.

What can I tell my DDs to keep them safe when they are at his house? I have read up on information, mostly US, but it is more focused at teens, and the language is complicated. They would need to understand about addiction, abuse, that they are at risk of becoming addicts themselves etc in order to get a grip on the information I have found. They used to take a phone with them but he found it and has banned it, and they aren't willing to defy him (he is bloody scary, so I don't blame them).

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 23:55:15

I doubted, not it.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 23:54:28

I'll hold my hands up to not understanding how French law, UK law and European law may or may not work together. I suppose I wondered (because European citizens can move between countries with relative ease) if French law may not necessarily be the last word. I didn't mean to sound like it doubted what you said.

wallypops Sun 27-Oct-13 23:08:45

Yes, I did consult a top British guy before I consulted a French lawyer when we were getting divorced. I'm unclear why anyone thinks that anything in the UK is going to help here. I am under French jurisdiction, we live here, work here, go to school here, have a French divorce and 2 French custody agreements, which would be valid under European law.

I actually have a completely kick ass lawyer here. One of the reasons I cannot do anything is I cannot get anyone, but anyone, to testify against him about being drunk in charge of the kids. And as I am not an actual witness to his current drinking when he is with the kids I can't testify to anything at all. I try to record his phone conversations with me when he is drunk. If he got caught drunk driving, with or without them then that would play into our hands, but my main aim is to keep them out of his car if he has been drinking. And to do that they need to recognise when he has been drinking - thus my original question.

I guess you can choose to take my word for it or not, but he doesn't drink every day. I'm not sure that that actually changes anything anyway. The fact is he abuses alcohol, and when he chooses to drink everything else is secondary at best.

The French family courts currently believe that it is in the best of interests of children to have continuing contact with both parents until such time as the children choose otherwise. And this pretty much goes for much worse situations than this.

I agree that the best way forward is to get the kids, or one of them to write a letter, but that only gets us as far as them getting a lawyer, and then it'll be out of my hands pretty much entirely. And if they say to the lawyer that they don't want to pursue it then we are nearly back to square one again. But, at least they will then have a lawyer.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 22:56:04

I'm afraid I'm at a loss as to how to help such young children become more savvy.

I hope others with experience will post, but agree that it's likely that there'll be a reluctance to advise anything other that getting them away from their father's dysfunction.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 22:46:29

But I really do know that he doesn't drink every day. If he did then he couldn't pretend that he doesn't have a problem.

Unless you're with him 24/7 how can you possibly know that? And yes he could - denial is a defining feature of the illness.

While I'm disappointed to hear it, if you say that's how it is in France then I have no reason to disbelieve you. But, regardless of how long the process will take, I think you owe it to your DDs to get it underway.

Have you consulted a UK family lawyer? There must be specialists in the area of international family law.

wallypops Sun 27-Oct-13 22:29:09

No I know that them being there doesn't stop him drinking. But I really do know that he doesn't drink every day. If he did then he couldn't pretend that he doesn't have a problem.

I'm not minimising this at all, and when they were younger it was even more bloody terrifying, and I get that it is difficult for people in the UK (or anywhere more enlightened than France) to understand/believe how rubbish it is here in regards alcohol abuse and kids.

This has to go through the courts for there to be any change - and that will take an absolute minimum of a year. If social services are involved it is likely to take considerably longer - probably a further 6 months. If I "take them away" without going through the courts, I will loose custody to him permanently. That is a fact. And believe me when I say that if I magic them away he will hunt us all down and I will loose them for ever and go to prison. I have looked into it, but it would be impossible to do. Court is the only way. Being in the UK certainly wouldn't keep them safe from him.

This is why I am asking for advice on how to help them be safe and a bit more savvy about the drinking. What can I tell them, how can I explain to them in a way that makes sense to them? I am trying everything that any one here says. But none of them are really hitting home. Actually if anything I feel like I'm loosing ground, but maybe that's just my frustration.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 22:10:17

Cross-post there with Twinkle.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 22:09:02

And they don't come first with their father.

Even if they come first with everybody else, it is not good for them to be in a relationship with a parent who puts their wellbeing (physical, emotional) second to alcohol.

Twinklestein Sun 27-Oct-13 22:06:55

And I truly believe that the best I can do for them in the long term with their relationship with their Dad is by setting an example and boundaries

Honestly, I truly believe the best you can do for them is to get them away from their father asap.

I could be wrong, and I don't mean to judge you unfairly OP, but I get the sense that you're kidding yourself about how much danger they're in, emotionally as much as physically.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 22:03:10

Hmm, not that it makes much difference to the matter at hand, but how do you know he doesn't drink daily?

It concerns me that one thing they are learning is how to accommodate, and to some extent excuse, alcoholism and manipulative behaviour, which by necessity is what they have to do in order to live with him.

I'm not trying to give you a hard time, OP, but please, if it's the only way to get something done, do everything you can to get that letter to the judge written.

wallypops Sun 27-Oct-13 21:52:47

No Something I'm sure you are right. And I'm sure that this isn't the only thing that is damaging to them - I have just started a second business and teach 2.5 days a week too. So I am uncomfortably busy at the moment. They have also just started at a new school.

But, they do know that they come first with everyone - and we have a big family - they live with two other adults as well as me. But you are right they do try to protect me and one has to assume their Dad too. But also they do know that I will always fight their corner all the way to the line, and they've seen me do it again and again. They also know I wont take any more bullying bullshit from their Dad - not one single fucking sentence of it. And I truly believe that the best I can do for them in the long term with their relationship with their Dad is by setting an example and boundaries.

It is really interesting though what they can and cannot spot. The manipulation just pisses them off - yet he did such a total job on me!! It took me ages to really believe that he was an alcoholic or alcohol abuser - only when we were separated and divorced to I really get it, and understand how he manipulated situations so that he could get wasted.

He doesn't drink daily - only in "social situations" so he will manufacture those so he can drink. One drink and he cannot stop.

SomethingOnce Sun 27-Oct-13 21:28:43

What an awful situation for you and your DDs.

I think elder DD needs to be persuaded to write to the judge. Could you perhaps frame it that her father is unwell, and part of the illness is that he's unable to recognise it?

I was going to say I'm glad that they do not seem too badly affected but, tbh, I don't believe they are not being psychologically harmed - children are more than able to conceal their distress, particularly when trying to protect a parent or parents, in this case both their father and you. Sorry if that's the wrong thing to say, but I don't think it's wise to assume they are coping as well as it might appear.

wallypops Sun 27-Oct-13 20:53:20

He was never physically abusive but he did a major mental job on me. EA in extremis. He is incredibly manipulative and my DDs spot that and talking about it has helped them both to understand what his aim is when he does it. i.e to control them. They just seem to have a total blind spot about the drinking. They both said they couldn't spot the smell - but that is probably cos they stay out of his way. We have made a bit of progress on how little wine is legal and they were surprised that it's just 2 glasses. I've explained about the breathalyzer that he has to have in the car but they are not buying that they can get him to blow in it.
In all honesty they are getting on with him better now than ever before. Which is weird. I don't quiz them about it but they've gone from wanting out of going to being unstressed about going. He will blow it with them because he screws up every relationship. This week he plans to get them to do an autumn clean which they definitely won't appreciate! I will talk to them about the window and I'll talk to him about the phone and see if we can sort out an agreement.

Do you think there is the slightest possibility that he will physically harm them or harm them to hurt you?

Did he physically abuse you?

If there is the slightest chance then you need to come back to Britain and bring your children with you immediately - I assume you have passports? And that without your ex being suspicious in any way it is actually possible to just leave?

If you believe that he won't physically harm them then try to minimise the impact of his drinking on them by being as frank as their age allows.

independentfriend Sun 27-Oct-13 17:52:58

Other things to try in your circs: first aid classes for children, some sort of martial arts class, teaching them about their rights in general; helping them develop the confidence to say that they don't like something and want something else instead - starting with stuff much less emotionally difficult than this.

Practically, do they know where the nearest telephone box [assuming they exist in France] is from their father's house or where the nearest shop is [and the opening times]? How about the nearest pharmacy/chemist? These would be useful places to go in an emergency if the immediate neighbours aren't useful.

Yamanba Sat 26-Oct-13 14:42:39

I'm sorry you are in this situation, it must be tough for you.
One thing I learnt growing up with an alcoholic father was to stay out of arms reach, if he was going to get nasty I could always out run him.

Make sure they can unlock a door or window to get out and have first, second and third choice of neighbours to go to.

I think you may find this situation changes as they get older and begin to see him for what he is, hopefully then they will be ready to write that letter.

wallypops Sat 26-Oct-13 13:54:31

Gosh Killer - thank you for that advice. It's the reality of the situation beautifully put. I was talking to a friend about this in RL yesterday, and he mentioned smell, and thinking about it, that is probably the easiest one for my girls to spot.

I'm going to print out what you wrote and go through it with my girls. I spoke to one of them yesterday about having an adult friend pop over from the village if they made an sos call - but she said that Daddy no longer has any friends in the village! thlsad Not surprised, but a bit of a downer frankly.

I'm sorry you and your girls are going through this Wally.

Obviously you need to work within the law of the country to prevent your DDs ending up in an even worse situation.

I'm sorry but in my opinion you are going to have to have some very honest, serious and unpleasant conversations with your DDs.

Explain to them the effect that alcohol can have on people and behaviour and the very real danger this poses.
Tell them about how an addict needs to be at rock bottom before they can change (and rock bottom for their Dad would be to stop seeing them, this is his best chance to change).
Tell them about support that addicts can receive and how this could help their Dad if he had an inventive to get it.
Tell them how precious they are to you and how you are frightened thy might be hurt.
Tell them this often and remind them they have the power (with your full support) to write this letter, talk to the police and keep themselves safe.

Obviously I want to tell you to keep your DDs home with you and away from this selfish and frightening man. I wish you had more power to protect them. But if you really, really don't then you can't protect them from the true danger of the situation either. They need to know how serious this is and be encouraged to write that letter.

Twinklestein Fri 25-Oct-13 20:19:55

I agree dreaming. Afaik SOS Femme & Solidarité are similar to Women's Aid.

They definitely help women & child victims of abusive men OP. Even if they can't help you directly, they may be able to direct you to organisations that can.

Twinklestein Fri 25-Oct-13 20:11:59

I don't know that the French really believe in alcoholism Loopy, they just see it as the freedom to appreciate fine wines. (My FiL has a close relationship with the bottle, but he is seen as a 'connoisseur' rather than a soak). The AA programme & philosophy doesn't seem to be as well established there as here. And they have a completely different attitude to drink driving too, it's acceptable & many people do it. There are 4 times as many road deaths in France, partly, I suspect, as a consequence.

In short the whole approach to alcohol abuse is missing key factors.

It's worth contacting SOS Femmes, I think. It certainly can't hurt.

SHRIIIEEEKFuckingBearBlood Fri 25-Oct-13 15:45:47

Bloody hell my almost 7yo can barely write.
That is shocking. France seems so backward.

Loopytiles Fri 25-Oct-13 15:35:27

How worrying and stressful.

If the children are known to social services, would an option be to update them on the ongoing risks of their being in his sole care?

And/Or challenge the agencies on why they don't provide support for at risk younger children, through the complaints procedures or regulators?

Shocked at the french system, it's well known that children of alcoholics an be protective, guilty about the alcoholic, so requiring DC of that age and in that situation to write to a judge is shock!

wallypops Fri 25-Oct-13 15:19:13

Hanging - he is in conflict with everyone in his family, every single person. He took his mum to court to stop her having them to stay, and then she took both of us in return match and now has huge visitation rights - she get's a month a year of their holiday time.

Twinklestein Fri 25-Oct-13 15:18:57

OP can you not just insist your children write that letter? I think it would be difficult if you wrote it yourself & got found out, the judge may not look kindly on that. But they are still of an age when you can tell them to do something & expect it to be done.

The fact is he is dangerous, as kids they don't know that. But if they kick up a fuss about writing the letter I think they're not too young to tell them.

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