Doncaster MP Caroline Flint talks of agony of alcoholic mum as she backs campaign to help children of drinkers

MP Caroline Flint has spoken of the misery of living with an alcoholic parent as she revealed her backing for a new drive to help the children of heavy drinkers.

Tuesday, 9th February 2016, 9:12 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2016, 12:20 pm
Doncaster MP Caroline Flint has spoken of her agony of living with an alcoholic mother. Photo: Policy Exchange.

The Don Valley MP is supporting Break the Silence to End the Cycle, a project seeking more help for children of alcoholics.

Ms Flint, who is an officer of the All Party Group on Children of Alcoholics, and is herself the daughter of an alcoholic, has written about growing up with a parent addicted to alcohol. The Don Valley MP’s mother died at the age of 45.

She said her mum Wendy's addiction to booze "ruined her" and that she could "love and hate" her mother all in one day.

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She said: "My mum, Wendy, made me who I am.

"Born to a 17-year-old lone parent in 1961, it showed strength to keep me. I watched this kind and beautiful woman die at 45 from alcoholism. For years, I felt guilty that, maybe, keeping me ruined her life.

"Mum married and my sister and brother came along. Life wasn’t easy. We never owned a home but I was happy.

"In my teens, alcohol took over as her marriage and another relationship failed. Lacking self-esteem, drink ruined her.

"Twice I lived away from home. First when mum took my sister and brother to live with our grandparents in Lancashire. I lodged with mum’s friend during O Levels.

"Later, back together in London, her drinking made me leave. With a charity grant I rented a room to finish A levels. After that university was an escape.

"I volunteered on Nightline, a student helpline. My sister knew when to ring to keep me in touch with home.

"I could love and hate mum all in one day. I’d go to school not knowing what I’d come home to, frightened of people finding out. She worked most of her life. People loved her. But, I’d know she was drunk, even if others couldn’t tell.

"When alcohol took hold, Wendy could turn nasty. A different person. I’d get angry, emptying bottles down the sink.

"Sometimes, it was easier to just let her drink and pass out on the sofa. Mum went to AA, took medicine to block her drinking, spent time hospitalised. Nothing worked. Once, our family met with a social worker at mum’s choice of venue, a pub!

"Not every day was a bad day. The times she stopped drinking I hoped for the best. But in 1990, her liver ruined by alcohol, pneumonia killed her.

"Elected in 1997, I pinched myself. Wendy’s daughter - me, an MP!

"I never spoke about her illness. Too embarrassed. Then years later, a journalist asked: “How does it feel to be the age your mother died?”

"My heart stopped. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Not how I would have chosen to speak about life with an alcoholic.

"I hope my story encourages understanding and support for children of alcoholics and for adults to see how alcohol affects families.

"I still never drink alone. You survive. You stay strong. Wendy would have wanted that for me."

The report launching the campaign has shown that some 2.5million children live with an alcoholic parent. Yet a survey of local authorities showed that none had any specific plans in place to support children of alcoholics.

Said Caroline: “Growing up with an alcoholic affects children for many years. And the experience today has improved little since my childhood. Too many children suffer this in silence. They don’t tell friends, they don’t invite people home from school, and they get on with life despite the horrendous problems.

“The lack of dedicated support for these children is a national scandal. That’s why senior MPs and Peers are launching this campaign on behalf of the 2.5million children of alcoholics. We need to identify these children and connect them with the help that can make a difference.

“We want every part of Britain to have a plan in place and we want more investment in crucial helplines like the helpline run by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics - 0800 358 3456.

“Crucially, we’re calling for a public information campaign aimed at parents so they know the damage they’re doing their kids, and we want every council to publish details of their treatment budgets so we know everyone is spending what’s needed.

“I will be writing to Doncaster Council to seek their support for this important campaign – and for it to take a hard look at the services it provides.”