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Mom Talk: Growing Up With An Alcoholic Parent


Photography by Photographed by Kisha Bari

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Lara Zukowsky talks about her mother’s struggle with alcoholism and how it’s effected her parenting today. -JKM

I began to notice her acting strange when the night came, and her behavior returned with each passing day. I was six. At least, that is the earliest memory I have of when it all started.

My name is Lara and my mother is an alcoholic.

As I grew older and more independent, her drinking at night turned into days, weeks, and eventually months. I used to dread coming home from school each day. As I would turn the doorknob to the front door of my house, the thought of her drinking never failed to rear its ugly face. I would always find her drunk, and then in some twisted way, I would blame myself for that thought, that fear. It wasn’t until adulthood when I eventually became a mother, that I realized this is what children do out of their own innocence—they blame themselves.

I would feel anger towards my mother, and then guilt for showing her the pain she had inflicted. Even as a young girl, I knew my mom didn’t want to make me feel this way, but the confusion over why she chose to drink plagued me for years. When she would binge for months, I felt as if I didn’t have a mom around, that she had disappeared. I felt abandoned while in the presence of the shell of my mother. Birthdays, holidays, graduations—many were overshadowed by her disease. She missed a lot.

That is what life looked like and still does at times. The only difference is that I have now learned not to blame myself.

When my son was born, I said all the same things that most say when they experience parenthood for the first time. “I will not be my mother/father.” I vowed I would never let my child feel what I felt when I was young. That I would be strong enough for him, that I would put him first, always. Like most first-time parents, I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.

The pure innocence I’ve seen in my son from the moment he was born to today at two-years-old never fails to dig deep into my core. I think of the guilt that accompanies motherhood, and how bittersweet it can be. How that innocence belonging to my son can evoke that guilt in me every night, while he lies asleep. It makes me question every single thing I did earlier that day. Did he go to bed happy? Was his day fun and eventful? Does he feel loved? While in that state of mind, I often find myself asking if my own mother felt this way. Of course, she did.

The hard days with my toddler are what turn those thoughts into a nagging anxiety. I know I said I would be strong, but what if I can’t be all the time? What if I yell, lose patience, let myself be tired and throw on a movie (or two)? What if he blames himself for his mother being angry all the time? I came to the realization recently that my childhood with my mom has made me build unrealistic expectations of myself as a parent. I know not everything can be picture perfect, but in my mind it needs to be, so that I don’t feel like I’m failing. Growing up, I was constantly wondering if my birthday or Christmas would be cancelled. I wondered if I would walk in to find my house turned upside down, and my mom nowhere to be found. So, as a first time mom, I found myself becoming a control freak about every little thing, and ignoring the fact that I simply cannot do it all.

My son will feel disappointment in his life, and he will feel some because of me. I have had to learn to accept that. I love my mother with all my heart, and I don’t question the immense amount of love she has for me. And, even though her addiction overshadowed a lot, it also blacked out many of the bad memories. The good ones have shined through, since I had my son. We all do the best we can. I know I do. I know that I am capable and have in me love to give my child—the kind he needs and deserves. All I needed to do was to let go of the past, and embrace the future.

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