Talking to Your Child About Prenatal Drug or Alcohol Exposure

When is the best time to approach these conversations? How can you make them effective?

Rebecca Tillou August 13, 2016
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Well, in this article, the author IS the child being talked to. Only, the author is not a child. The author is 34 years old, and the “talk” is a conversation between two adults, not a child and a parent.

However, the conversation that I had with my adoptive mom as an adult about my birth mom’s alcohol abuse contained information that I believe is important for a child to understand as well.

Understanding Quirks and Limitations

After my diagnosis of FAS, my mom and I went to lunch. She exclaimed how so much of my life she didn’t understand (my struggle with math, my overfriendliness, my trust of everyone, my immaturity) she now did, because we now knew about my birth mom’s alcohol abuse.

Talking to your child about his/her parent’s alcohol or drug abuse is important because it will likely answer some questions regarding their abilities and life skills and explain some of their “quirks.”

Some children exposed to alcohol in vitro are born with no effects at all, and that is awesome if that is the case. Even so, a discussion needs to be held with the child, explaining that they are at a higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse themselves, given they were born addicted.

Picking the Right Time

Now, at what age should a parent discuss a birth parent’s alcohol or drug abuse? That is a question that the parent will know the best answer to. I had a discussion as an adult, but then again, we had no idea about the extent of my birth mom’s alcohol abuse until then. When I was around 28, my mom told me I should watch how much I drink because she believed my birth mom liked to drink and may have been drunk during my delivery. Had my parents known my birth mom was an alcoholic from the moment I was adopted, I think they would’ve discussed her lifestyle with me in my teenage years, when I began to watch movies with alcohol themes and learned about alcohol and drugs in health class.

Tips for Making Discussions Effective

So, what tips do I have for talking to your child about his/her birth parent’s drug of alcohol abuse?

  1. Wait to discuss this matter until your child is old enough to understand.
  2. Tell them their feelings are okay. If your child has a disability or a disorder as a result of drug and/or alcohol consumption by his/her birth parent, please tell them it is okay to feel every emotion under the sun about their parent causing their disability. They have the right to be angry, they have the right to be sad, and they have the right to feel empathy and feel sorry for her as well. Speaking from personal experience, I do feel angry occasionally at my birth mom for her alcoholism and my resulting Fetal Alcohol Syndrome . . . I also feel sad for her, because I know the life she had. I know she was alone and lived as an orphan while her brother grew up in their family. I know she had pain that she drowned in alcohol. Please, let your children feel every emotion, and tell them it is okay. Through feeling them, they will come to understand what questions to ask and how to deal with the emotions they feel.
  3. Talk to your child about being aware that they are more prone to alcohol and/or drugs than their family and most likely some of their friends. Explain this is because they were born addicted.
  4. Be there for your child. Let them know they can come to you with questions and/or concerns about what their birth parent may have gone through. Let them know that if they feel they are headed down a path of addiction, they can (and should!) come talk to you about it. Please maintain open lines of communication.
  5. Use the internet. The internet is an amazing tool. If your child is a visual learner, have them watch videos about addiction. Let them hear stories about those who overcome it, and those that don’t.
  6. Give hope. Have your child watch videos of hope for those diagnosed with disabilities because of their birth parent’s addiction. Here is a video about my disability, and my life with FAS.
  7. Educate yourself as an adoptive parent (s)about addiction, and the possible disabilities and struggles that children born to addiction may face. You are the adoptive parent (s), but you are also your child’s teacher.
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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with nofas.org and thearg.org to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.


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