The following post is a “re-print” from the old website – but I think it is a very important topic, so I’m posting it again on this site. I hope you find it beneficial – Liz.
I’ve recently been asked by several moms to elaborate on “drinking around children” and offer some thoughts and possible guidelines. Let me start by saying that I in no way want to seem like I’m passing judgment or trying to instill guilt upon an already self-destructive situation. However, I do have my own personal guidelines that I follow and I’m going to share them with you in this post. Then hopefully you can develop your own rules for drinking around children – rules that weeks, months, years and generations from now, you can feel good knowing that your child grew up in an environment that was nurturing, emotionally healthy and safe.
Don’t forget – children emulate their parents or role models – For those of us that have battled with alcoholism for any significant period of time, we know that problem drinking isn’t just physical – it’s also learned. I grew up witnessing heavy drinking and even “alcoholics” on both my mother and father’s sides of the family. Three of my grandparents were problem drinkers (two could be labeled as
“alcoholics”), as well as aunts, uncles and others. Heavy drinking was just a part of being an adult, as far as I could tell. What a child is raised around is what becomes “normal” – even if it seems crazy.
Stable and reliable behavior – In general, children need stability and regularity. A parent whose behavior is unpredictable can cause a child to feel scared, insecure, unsafe and ultimately it effects their self-esteem or possibly other issues (obviously – I’m not a child psychologist, but I’ve observed enough dysfunctional families to find this to be true). So when alcohol becomes a factor – high one minute and low or angry and violent the next, the child feels insecure. And children / people resort to various different things to fill that void – including abusing alcohol.
Drinking affects your parenting. Children need consistent discipline and patience – alcohol causes us to be inconsistent and often more impatient even though we think it makes us more tolerant. I’m a firm believer that the little irritation that we get from the things that our children do is nature’s way of “teaching” us how to parent. If we are irritated because our child is nagging, it is up to us to teach them to stop. It’s how we do it that’s important. If one minute we ignore it because we’ve been drinking, and the next minute we lose our temper, then the child is not really sure how to behave…and ultimately negative attention is better to them than no attention. Not to mention that alcohol actually causes us to have less patience ultimately. If you find yourself at a loss for how to handle certain issues with your child, get a parenting book or go online. I particularly like Dr. John Rosemond’s work. He had a great strategy for dealing with sibling rivalry which I’ve modified a bit now that my children are older (I have 2 beautiful daughters, ages 10 and 14). Being an only child, I had no clue how to deal with my children arguing and fighting – over what I considered to be some of the most ridiculous issues! Anyway, when I tell them I’m implementing the “check system” they know that there is an imaginary checklist where if they fight, they get one warning, and then there is a list of what they will lose for the week for each time they fight or argue. And then I’ll spell out what they will lose for the week if they continue to fight (and it doesn’t matter whose fault it is…they both deal with the consequences). I always choose things that I don’t want them to do anyway – like eat sweets, watch TV, play on the computer, etc. If you think about it, it’s really a win-win situation! I don’t want them to fight and I don’t want them to eat sweets either! It’s brilliant! (HINT- Don’t ever give your children consequences where you’ll have to suffer, too – like leaving the swimming pool if you’re having fun. There are 2 main reasons for this – 1) Why should you have to be punished for your children’s misbehavior? and 2) If you don’t carry out the consequence (leave the pool), your child will learn that what you say doesn’t mean anything!
Get some time for yourself – Too often, we get so caught up in being everything for everyone that we lose sight of who we are as individuals and even what makes us happy. (See Finding the Right Balance and Taking Care of YOU!) For moms / parents with younger children or pre-school children you have to find or create some more time for yourself. Do you know any teenagers, or even tweens for that matter, that may want to come and be a mother’s helper in the afternoons for a few hours so you can get off to your own space and get in touch with your inner self, etc.? Or would you and your husband be open to hiring a nanny for a few hours 2-3 days a week?
Ideas & Guidelines for drinking around children:
1- Plan your 1 or 2 drinks for “date night” when you have a babysitter.
2- Have a drink after the kids go to bed.
3- Occasionally, at specially events or once in a while at home, let your children see you drink only ONE drink and be in control. If you don’t think you can stop at just 1 or 2 yet, then don’t drink at all in front of them.
4- Children should not start drinking – even “just to try.” Would you let your child “try” a cigarette or a Valium? Of course not – but alcohol is a drug and it has no place in the body or mind of a child. You have no idea how the child is going to react to it, and if for some unpredictable reason they like it, then they have no real tools established yet for being able to control it. I can vividly remember the first “buzz” I felt when I was only 9 years old. I tried some of my grandmother’s sherry after a violin recital. I immediately fell in love with the feeling and struggled for most of my life to find a feeling that could replace it (of course over time and through a huge amount of self-discovery, I’ve found a few natural highs that are ultimately better – but it took a long time).
5- Instead of letting your child “try” drinking, explain to them what alcohol does and can do in excess. Explain why a child’s body isn’t ready to deal with alcohol. It is important that they understand why the best decision in not to drink – and not just because “you said so” (although there is a time and place for that type of philosophy in parenting – just not with alcohol). The reason is because you don’t want to set up a scenario for rebellion and defiance later. You want them to be educated and make the best decisions possible with the information that you can provide. Too many teens (and even adults for that matter) drink out of defiance or for a power struggle. They don’t want to feel like someone is trying to control their life – even if that means concerning drinking.
6- If you’ve had problems with alcohol in the past, perhaps got into some trouble because of drinking or made some bad decisions while under the influence, it’s OK to share that with your children. Let them know that mom or dad wasn’t perfect, but that you learned the hard way from some of your mistakes. Don’t glamorize it by any means! But let them know that you don’t want to see them go through the same misery that you did by using alcohol irresponsibly.
7- Enjoy your children! Let yourself be a kid from time to time and have fun with your kids! They honestly do grow up so fast!