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Mothers who raise their children in dysfunctional homes have a difficult time dealing with all the stress that comes with domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, neglect, and mental illness. These factors influence child development in ways we can’t even begin to understand. Families living in poverty and single-households have their difficult times, but many of them do commit to making the best future possible for their children. I have great respect for mothers that create a loving and safe environment for their children despite a lack of money or a spouse to help them take care of them. These are strong mothers , courageous women who do so much with very few resources.

When alcoholism or drug addiction is involved, the  home can become an unsafe and dangerous place for a child. Mothers who take drugs and drink alcohol in access, often fall asleep or have personality changes that can be frightening to a child. Instead of focusing on the child’s needs, she focuses on herself and may be oblivious as to where her children are. When personality changes occur, like a quiet mother becoming loud, obnoxious, or unresponsive,  the child often isolates, finds a safe place to go, and even goes outside away from the smells of vomit, unwashed clothes or an unclean house. Some of them worry about the mother’s health and so becomes the responsible one in the family, the caretaker of the adult.

The greatest fear is that mother may die or go away forever and leave the child alone to fend for himself. Often the child goes without a bath, and has to dress himself in unclean, torn clothes, and then goes to school without breakfast. If he comes home for lunch, mother is passed out or walking the streets looking for drugs or alcohol.. Money becomes tight because it will go to the addiction. The child will fix himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and head back to school. He mostly takes care of himself. Nice hugs or kisses are rare. No one takes the time to care for him. Since his environment is so unpredictable, it is hard to trust or rely on anyone but himself. He does not feel cherished. He feels like he is invisible, that his needs don’t matter. He is taught not to need, not to feel, not to cause trouble, There is little eye contact between the mother and child, very little affection, or affirmations of him as a human being. He is often forgotten. There is little communication between them. If any mirroring happens, it is negative messages being fed back to the child. Sometimes terms are used such as selfish, stupid, needy, trouble. The child ends up feeling he can never be enough or do enough. He will probably be anxious, have poor self-esteem,  and want to please others. Or he may choose to externalize his rage at being invisible, not cared for, and lash out at others and become negative or belligerent.

If there is domestic violence and mental illness in the family system or physical and sexual abuse of the children, they will have trouble trusting adults, have poor self-esteem, have symptoms of anxiety from trauma, or depression. There is very little affection in these families, or affirmations about the children. The children are often taught they are bad and many negative messages have been imprinted on their minds and souls. They have been through  a battlefield and the enemy lived inside what should have been their safe place.They will have problems in their relationships because of “wounded attachment” to their mothers.

Have respect and compassion for these children for they have been through a war and survived. Many used the only coping skills they had to make it through to adult hood. They are a courageous bunch of children, resilient for the most part, and having compassion and empathy for others. Do not pity them for they do not want your pity, but they will need mentoring, good friends, good therapy, someone willing to stand by them and believe in their capacity to love, to grow, to relate, communicate and contribute something worth while to the community they live in. Give them patience for they are in need of acceptance, caring, attention, and time. If they survived that, think what they could do if given a chance to grow and heal? Mother’s day will be hard for them. They didn’t get the chance to have all the things that a  caring mother could provide.. The greatest gift you could give them is to stand by patiently and allow them time to heal with psychotherapy.