How Much Drinking is Appropriate in Front of Kids?
So I read this article today.
It’s about alcohol. And parenting.
And the mantra, “Do as I say, not as I do.” There was a period of time in my life where I did not have a healthy relationship with alcohol in front of my kids.
You know what I’m talking about. Having friends over for happy hour and game night. Going out to big dinners with all my friends and their kids. Barbeques. Parties. There was a period of time that I was doing this almost every single weekend.
And bringing my kids right along with me.
I felt badly about it from time to time. I would think to myself that it was wrong to be letting them see me kick back with a couple of glasses of wine.
But everyone else was doing it around their kids too. So was it all that bad?
I also told myself that it wasn’t a big deal because my kids were little. Too little to know that I’m rocking a mean hangover from last night’s book club. It wouldn’t hurt them at that age to see adults having parties and enjoying their lives. Plus, I can’t get a babysitter every time I want to have a beer, right? And I definitely can’t have a drink and drive. It’s safer just to keep it in the neighborhood. And come on! I worked hard all week – don’t I deserve to have a little fun too? I can’t live my life around my kids and give up my fun, can I?
Nobody else is giving up their fun…
But inside, I hated myself for it. It wasn’t okay with me to be demonstrating a party atmosphere in front my kids every weekend. Or even every other weekend. Or even once a month. A party or two a year, sure. But I was overdoing it, big time.
Then, thankfully, I got divorced.
Wait, that’s not what I mean. Divorce was horrible, depressing, miserable and every other adjective that applies. But it stopped me from game nights because I’d lost my game partner. So that’s why I say, thankfully, in that part.
And my ex and I both agreed that we’d been heading down the wrong road with these weekend parties and we were going to tell the other one that very thing but then divorce happened and it didn’t apply anymore anyway.
My kids are much older now. I realize they watch every single thing I do. If I snap at one of them, they will snap at that child too. If I leave my shoes on the couch, they do the same. If I laugh at something inappropriate – they watch closely to figure out what it was that I’d heard or seen so that they can laugh at something inappropriate too.
They watch my husband too. They watch how he handles stress. They watch how he remembers to mow the lawn. They watch closely how he treats me like a queen and they model his behavior. They will open the door for me or pull out my chair for me. It’s an amazing thing to see.
And they watch what we drink.
They hear about drinking in movies. On TV. From their friends. And a few years ago there were parties that I attended that they remember. They hear being drunk is funny. That beer is for chugging. People who drink too much are silly and charming and a little off balance! Drinking beer as fast as you can is a fun game!
Then they look to me to understand how to feel about this.
I am grateful that now, I live by example. To be fair, I have my kids every other week. So on my off weeks, I can attend a party without them and indulge a little. But when I do have them, I am careful to show them that I have a relationship with alcohol that is healthy.
I don’t have late night game nights. I don’t drink more than two glasses of wine in front of them. More often than not I skip parties where there’s a lot of drinking around the kids. This is because I realized that we tell them, “don’t do drugs,” and we act like alcohol isn’t a drug. When I was growing up the 80s and 90s, we had the big “Don’t Do Drugs,” campaigns. We don’t have those anymore. Kids learn more about bullying in school than drugs and alcohol. They don’t learn what drugs are or if alcohol is one.
It is very much a drug. An addictive one. Do you know that an alcoholic who stops cold turkey can die? His body becomes so addicted to the drug that he can’t live without it anymore. He stops drinking and his body can shut down.
So I tell the kids yesterday that alcohol is an addictive drug. They were shocked. And then I had a glass of wine at dinner. Good parenting there. Mother of the Year!
But what’s the answer? Total abstinence?
I don’t know. It’s just become increasingly obvious to me that I am responsible for sending the right messages. And more importantly, for me, I need to demonstrate for my kids what I want to see from them. I don’t want to get the ER call that my 17 year old has been admitted due to alcohol poisoning. I think to myself that maybe if I show him how to be responsible with alcohol by being responsible in front of him that I can avoid such calls.
Just like I teach them to eat healthy and then I cook healthy meals, just like I tell them to clean their rooms and then keep my room clean, just like I tell them to use manners, be responsible for doing good work and be nice – the same thing applies with alcohol.
Will this save everyone’s child from addiction? Will it save mine? I don’t have the answers to that. But I know this is the right course to take. The people that I used to go to parties with, invite to barbeques, hang out at the pool with, book clubs, game nights etc. – they are still doing it – every weekend.
I worry. I really do. Schools aren’t telling kids not to do it, the parents aren’t telling kids alcohol is a drug, and kids are watching and learning what fun looks like to adults.
Has “Do as I say, not as I do,” become “Do as I say, not as I drink?”