So the other day it was over 100 degrees, ugh. I picked Oliver up from school, and because sometimes I can be a nice mom, I took us out for frozen yogurt at Oliver’s request. On the way home, bellies full of imposter ice cream and assorted fruit and candy toppings, my kid says, “What’s your favorite beer?” This kid, I swear.
I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at. What is this discussion about beer? This is not in the parenting books! Because I didn’t think this was an appropriate conversation to be having with a seven year old, I told him I don’t have a favorite beer. (LIE. It’s Guinness.)
And then Oliver says, “Well, I have a favorite beer.”
I reminded him that children don’t drink and therefore do not have a favorite anything-with-alcohol. Then he brought up the time a couple of years ago when he was out to dinner with his dad and grandma, and they had this beer sampler of five beers in little shot glasses. When the grown-ups weren’t looking, he grabbed a shot of beer and downed it.
“That’s my favorite beer, I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s kind of yellow.”
I remember sneaking sips of my grandpa’s Old Style beer. He used to pour part of the can into a juice glass and leave it there on the kitchen table, and I would take a drink when no one was looking. Sometimes I got caught, and when I did, I told my grandparents that I liked it. They thought it was pretty cute, and a six-year-old sipping beer amused my grandpa to no end.
I might find Oliver’s sneaking-of-sips cuter, if alcoholism didn’t run in both my family and his dad’s. Neither of us is an alcoholic or addict, but we have family members who are. I hope Oliver’s DNA is a favorable blend such that he did not inherit that pesky alcoholism gene.
I may not be an alcoholic, but I went through a period in my life, in my early twenties, when I drank heavily. I mean, I could down six drinks like it was nothing, stay out until three a.m., and be up and ready for work at eight a.m.
But then as I got older, my liver decided it couldn’t process more than two drinks in an evening. And I decided that I hated being hungover so much that I would take the necessary steps to avoid one whenever possible -- and this involves either not drinking at all, or not drinking to the point of drunkenness.
I have some friends who are parents and are also heavy social drinkers; it’s sort of their thing. They party-as-a-verb, at family get togethers, barbeques, and you know, Tuesdays. I can’t judge -- it’s their house, their rules, their kids. My friends love their kids, and they like to have a good time whenever possible. And having a good time, to them, means lots of alcohol.
And I get it -- I was that way myself, at one time. You could even say I was an “almost alcoholic.” But it wasn’t only my liver’s refusal to adequately filter six vodka tonics that changed my drinking habits. For me, having a kid has completely changed my relationship with alcohol.
In fact, my kid will never see me drunk. Here’s why:
1. Seeing your mom drunk can be scary for a kid.
I remember the first and only time I saw my mom drunk: she came home from a New Year’s Eve party and was arguing with her then-husband. Her eyes were bloodshot from the booze and also from rage-crying. She did not seem like my mom. She seemed like another person entirely. It was frightening for me, and not because of the marital disagreement (a common occurrence with those two).
I was not a small child when this happened. I was 17 years old at the time. Old enough that I was going to parties and drinking and holding back my friends’ hair while they puked. But when you’re a kid and even a teenager, the grown-ups in your life are supposed to protect you from the bad things. You assume that they have everything under control. And seeing your mom in an out-of-control state creates a sense of uncertainty and a feeling of insecurity. I never want my kid to feel like that.
2. What if there’s an emergency or an illness?
If I’m drunk, I cannot handle a child who suddenly projectile vomits in the middle of the night and needs his mom. Fact: every horrible stomach thing my kid has ever had has struck either at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Why, universe, why?
3. Children model the behavior they see in the adults around them.
Most kids want to be older than they are. I mean, I was reading age-inappropriate literature in elementary school. When I was 5, I wanted to be 10. When I was 12, I wanted to be 16. If I get shitfaced at a party or at dinner, that sends my kid the message that, “Adults get drunk, it’s what they do.” At the risk of sounding like a boring PSA, it also sends a message that getting plastered is the appropriate way to use alcohol.
I had a high school Spanish teacher who grew up in Italy. She said she never saw a drunk until she moved to the U.S. (I cannot verify this claim, and I’m pretty sure there must be alcoholics in Italy.) I think what she meant was that alcohol consumption was common when she was a kid. It was mostly with meals, and it was no big deal. She said that starting at 12, she had wine with her dinner, because it’s just what you did. The people around her didn’t drink because they needed to, because it was a hard day, or because they had to let loose. They didn’t drink with the express purpose of getting drunk. When she moved to the U.S., she noticed a marked difference in the attitudes about drinking.
This is not to say that I haven’t been drunk a handful of times since having a kid. But it’s always in a situation where I either have a sitter, or my kid is at his dad’s house for the evening. Case in point -- I recently attended a wedding and had five drinks over the course of about five hours. Ouch. This far exceeds my alcohol limit.
But even then, I was not falling-down drunk, puking drunk or passing-out drunk. I was maybe like, dancing-to-Prince drunk, or grabbing-my-boyfriend’s-junk-under-the-table drunk. I awoke several times in the night, restless, sweaty and dehydrated, and the next day I felt as if my brain might explode from my temples. But Oliver was not at that wedding, and he was not at my house while I was recovering. He was at his dad’s that weekend, and I knew that when I decided to violate my self-imposed two-drink limit.
And I do drink in front of my kid, on occasion. My house is not dry, by any means -- we have a pretty well-stocked liquor cabinet. I sometimes have a glass of wine with dinner, or I’ll make a cocktail. We’ve been brewing beer. (Making a stout next, so excited!) But we don’t drink to the point of drunkenness when Oliver is present. I want to show him, through my actions, that alcohol does not have to be used in that way.
I want to teach him balance -- I don’t want to make alcohol so taboo and off-limits that it becomes this forbidden fruit, a rite of passage that will make him feel more grown-up. I also want him to know that many adults drink without getting drunk. I just hope that the behavior I model for him now makes such an impression on him that it will mitigate all the binge drinking he’s likely to do in college.
So, is any amount of drinking in front of your kids sending the “wrong” message, or is a little bit OK? Were you raised by alcoholics or “party parents?” (True story: I had a friend whose “cool mom” once made us margaritas during a sleepover, like Amy Poehler in “Mean Girls.”) And someone please tell me if there are, in fact, no alcoholics in all of Italy, I’m dying to know.