Children, Animals, Cell Phones, And Other Distractions/Disruptions Are Inappropriate At Meetings

The How It Works group wants common sense, common decency, and respect for others to guide the conduct of its meetings. We neither lay down laws nor set any rules, recognizing that we are all here for the purpose of seeking an answer to our common problem. We can count on most members to pay attention, or at least remain respectfully quiet, as the meeting progresses because they want to hear and learn from the experiences and insights being shared by others.

It is in the spirit of mutual respect that members are asked to turn off their cell phones and are encouraged not to bring non-alcoholic children or pets to the meeting. The rationale for the suggestion that pets be left at home and that cell phones be turned off or set to silent mode is obvious. This avoids the distraction inevitably caused to them and other members in attendance. The rationale as it applies to children requires additional explanation.

Many of our members are parents of young children. We all recognize the demands on one’s time that comes with parental responsibilities. These demands and responsibilities, however, shouldn’t prevent the parents from seeking help to recover from alcoholism. Thus, at one time, mothers and fathers brought their children to the How It Works meetings. Inevitably, however, both the parent(s) and the group as a whole suffered because of disruptions and distractions. Some disruptions were to be expected – the result of the ill-conceived notion that children would always be on their best behavior and/or that they could sit quietly for an hour at a time. Setting aside a separate room for the children provided little or no relief from such problems. Either the children or the parents were moving back and forth between the meeting room and the children’s room.

Other problems were more subtle, including the fact that some members and newcomers were reluctant to speak freely about their alcoholism and experiences in front of the children. One member, for example, had been sent to A.A. by a judge. After a short time he refused to go to How It Works meetings because of the children. As he put it, “I may have been sentenced to A.A., but I wasn’t sentenced to nursery school.” Another member involved in a child abuse situation, had been ordered by the court to stay away from children and, through no fault of his own, found himself in an untenable situation.

Initially, members with long-term sobriety recognized the problem and spoke to the parents privately. Although some of the parents were responsive and found ways to attend the meetings without bringing their children, others were not able or willing to find alternatives. As a consequence, the problem continued and ultimately became the subject of open discussion in the meetings. The controversy blossomed into a full-scale debate. The group was divided on the issue and unity faded away. The net result was that rather than presenting newcomers with a unified message and solution to their alcoholism, the “answer” was being lost in contentious controversy.

There was also evidence that the group was suffering financially as many members became discouraged. They felt they could no longer support a clubroom that was characterized by in-fighting among its members rather than presenting a unified answer to the newcomer.

A group conscience meeting was held, with the primary discussion focused on the issue of children attending meetings. After several hours of long discussion, it became apparent that the group wanted to restrict or limit attendance by children. However, the group conscience was equally clear than no rule could be made that would strictly prevent attendance or would bar anyone from attending the meetings. The group conscience that emerged suggested that individual members either had to sacrifice their ideas of right and wrong for the benefit of the group, or both the individual and the group would suffer spiritually.

One member who was at the center of the controversy became unusually agitated and for that reason, perhaps, had the obsession to drink return. Having struggled with the obsession for several months, this individual came to see the selfishness in continuing a personal crusade. She came to recognize that anyone who sought help for their drinking problem, even those who, for whatever reason, are not allowed around children, should be welcome to attend the How It Works group meetings. In a spirit of reconciliation, the member returned and became reconciled to the suggestion that children not be brought to meetings.

Once children were no longer attending meetings, some interesting things began to occur. Members, who had remained “above the fray” and considered the issue of little importance, began to express gratitude for the absence of the minor disruptions. Virtually everyone acknowledged how much freer members seemed to be in discussing their problems. As a result, the general consensus was that with fewer distractions, newcomers walking through the front door would have a better chance of “hearing the message” and, therefore, have a better chance of remaining sober.