Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… What do you do when you want to relax with a beer or a glass of wine, but your kids’ presence gives you pause? Have your own questions? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband and I are both casual drinkers who like to have a glass of wine with dinner sometimes, or a beer or two afterward. We’ve never had a problem doing this in front of our kids. But a new friend of mine just told me she’s adamant about never drinking in front of her children because she “doesn’t want to encourage them,” and it made me think. Should I try to be more careful about what my kids see when it comes to alcohol?
I grew up with a strict parental warning that if I drank — anything, at all, ever in my lifetime — I could become an alcoholic. And I suppose this is technically true, since anyone can abuse alcohol, especially those with a predisposition to do so. But though my parents’ warning came with the best of intentions, it led to a complicated view of alcohol on my part. I was both afraid of, and intrigued by, this forbidden substance, something that seemed simultaneously thrilling and dangerous. So when I was a teenager, I did what most teens do when faced with something their parents said was a no-no: tried it anyway.
Luckily for me (and those around me), my teenage experimentation with drinking was no worse than anybody else’s, and had no lasting consequences. But when I had my own kids, I wondered if I should raise them with a different view of alcohol — not as some sort of mystery-shrouded temptation, but as a normal part of some adults’ lives. And so I’ve never hidden my drinking habits from my kids.
Let me be clear, though, that said “drinking habits” can vary greatly from person to person, and we still have to be careful about what messages we’re sending to our kids; sipping an occasional cocktail in their presence is very different than getting shitfaced on a nightly basis. For reference, my kids see me having a drink maybe once or twice in a two-week span, and these are the personal guidelines I always follow:
- I don’t tell them that I’m drinking to unwind or relax. I don’t want them to think that I need a substance to escape from the stressors of my day — or worse, give the impression that they’re the stressors I’m trying to escape from. In fact, I don’t call attention to it at all, just like I wouldn’t feel the need to announce that I was drinking, say, a glass of iced tea.
- I never drink unless there is absolutely zero chance that I’ll be driving somewhere. And if they notice or mention that I’m having an alcoholic beverage, I always point out (to eye rolls, because I say it every time, but whatever) that responsible drinking means always arranging alternate transportation or staying put.
- While I may drink in front of my kids, I don’t get drunk in front of them. “Having a drink” doesn’t mean getting drunk, and there’s a big distinction. Plus, though my kids are older now, it’s never a good idea to be drunk when I’m responsible for their wellbeing anyway. (I’ll save that for when they’re at Grandma’s. Woooo!)
- My kids know that alcohol consumption doesn’t always look like their parents’ boring post-dinner glass of wine, and that it does get misused, and it does have the potential to be dangerous. We have talked extensively about the risks of drinking, and what to do in the inevitable alcohol-fueled social situations they’ll face in high school and college.
Alcohol has been a thing for centuries, and it’s going to continue to be a thing. Sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist won’t do your child any favors. Our kids look to us as an example of how to behave, and modeling responsible drinking can help our kids better grasp what alcohol consumption is “supposed” to look like. Psychotherapist Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT tells Healthline, “Socializing children to alcohol is not only necessary for their learning social norms and cultural expectations about alcohol use, but an essential part of seeing socioculturally informed behaviors applied in day-to-day interactions.”
That being said, alcohol abuse is something that we also can’t pretend doesn’t exist … especially because, as any parent can tell you, parenting is hard AF. Normal drinking looks different in different households, so if you know it isn’t affecting your ability to parent or your day-to-day life, sip on. But if you are routinely blacking out at night, waking up feeling hungover, or it’s affecting your parenting in a negative way — or you just feel like your drinking has gotten a little bit more out of hand than you’d like — it’s time to take a hard look at your habits. (You can find signs and symptoms of problem drinking and alcoholism, plus a self-evaluation quiz, here.) And if you’re drinking too much, but only while hidden from your kids or after they go to bed, that doesn’t make things better. In the long run, abusing alcohol in private will have far more negative effects on your kids than enjoying it responsibly in front of them.
Parenting is hard, and it’s our job to model healthy behaviors for our children — so if we drink, that means it’s also our job to model a healthy relationship with alcohol. If we can’t do that, and our drinking is impeding the quality of our parenting, it’s time to kick the habit to the curb instead of kicking back with a beer … whether we do it in front of them or not.
If you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption habits, there are many ways to find help — you can start here.
Have your own questions? Email [email protected]