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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).

Blossomflowers Fri 25-Oct-13 14:12:12

Fuck I was thinking of living in France, having second thought. Are you in a rural area OP. Is moving back to UK an option?

ZorbaTheHoarder Fri 25-Oct-13 14:21:20

Would it be worth getting a lawyer to write to the social services and other authorities if they are not listening to you? I am worried (as I am sure you are) that your children are in real danger from your ex. They are simply not old enough to protect themselves - and they shouldn't be in the position of having to protect themselves from a drunken adult! I understand that they want to see their father, but perhaps French law makes provision for a lawyer to write to the court on their behalf, given their ages? Good luck with what must be a very stressful situation.

Oh yes, I think it's SOS Femmes that helped my friend so much. They're wonderful. I mean, she's still in a pretty awful situation, but it would have been so much worse without them.

Blossom -- the OP will not be allowed to leave with her kids, unfortunately.

EldritchCleavage Fri 25-Oct-13 14:27:36

Good they know people in the village. Just thinking it is worth organising it so that even if they know a local number, dial it and hang up, the person called knows to pop round on a pretext to see if they are ok.

wallypops Fri 25-Oct-13 14:39:16

No Twinkle - I'm not really aware of those groups. Any my guess is that they deal with women and not kids. I am out of what was a hideously EA relationship. I have learnt a lot reading MN. Honestly DDs do not need any extra drama in their lives, and I am really conscious of that. I have followed up on Attilas advice and have been passed to 9 different services. None of them can help; none of them deal with children of this age group. The best anyone could offer was for the children to talk with a psy for children in April 2014. We have already followed that path in the past, and I pretty much had to bribe them to go and talk. I'm not saying it was a disaster, but it certainly wasn't a success. They weren't harmed by the experience, but they weren't helped much either.

Contrary to what you might expect my kids are not f**ked up! (Yet). Or at least that is the general opinion. They are very well surrounded by people friends, good school, lots of attention etc. The fly in the ointment, is their dad. But they love him and the eldest particularly, wants to see him.

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 25-Oct-13 14:41:52

Kids often want things that are inappropriate and not good for them. I'm staggered by a system that places the responsibility for choosing one parent over the other on the shoulders of very young children. It's too much for a child. What would happen if you wrote the letter and told them they had to sign it?

wallypops Fri 25-Oct-13 14:51:11

The judge knows all this already, the judge ordered a report to be done by social services previously, for another reason, about visitation rights of the paternal grandparents. Everyone knows (apart from him) that he has a problem.

Blossom - rural normandy - been here 18 years, love it/hate it. Have 2 businesses here, so not wild about moving back to the UK. To move away from here, I would have to go back to the judge and it is unlikely that the judge would consider uprooting the children to be in their best interests. Dad lives 10 minutes away, so he would most likely get full custody in that situation.

Elditch - that's an excellent idea. That's a plan I can work on.

I am really not passive about all this, but you have to work within the law here. As a "foreigner" you are not necessarily going to be anyones first choice. We are all bilingual which helps, but.... I am still Janey foreigner.

wallypops Fri 25-Oct-13 14:55:02

Cogito - it would all come to light when the next social services report would happen. If anyone asked them, they would be incapable of lying about it. For what its worth I have written the letter - but they are not ready to copy it out for themselves. They are resistant to being forced into what they see (correctly) as a conflictual situation. They will have to continue to go to their dads all the time this is being prepared and this will take between a year and two to come to court.

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 25-Oct-13 14:56:27

They're kids. They have no idea how much danger they are in. Just tell them what to do and don't give them the choice.

Blossomflowers Fri 25-Oct-13 15:05:42

wally I feel very sorry for your situation, it must be deeply distressing to pack you little kids to a drunk. I have lived abroad and I think unless you have witnessed these type of thing first hand it is hard to believe this sort of thing happens. I am surprised that France is like this, an eye opener for me.

Twinklestein Fri 25-Oct-13 15:14:12

I'm about to move to Paris Blossom, my husbands' French.

France is a lot more sexist (& racist) and women have a long way to go...
French women really need to stand up for themselves more & build up the kind of networks that women have here.

There are great things about it, but I wouldn't want to be there for the rest of my life.

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.

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.

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!

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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