Though my husband and I strive to help our kids make healthy life choices, it isn't easy. We are far from perfect, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Our kids need improvement, too. It’s alright. We are all works in progress.
We do try. And, we are getting there. At the end of the day, we know as parents we are setting the best example we can. Sure, we have some bad habits. Who doesn’t love to leave a sink full of dirty dishes sitting overnight or order delivery pizza and wings at 10 p.m. on a weeknight or put away an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting? Don’t ask me how often these things happen. It’s embarrassing.
But, if our little quirks are the unhealthiest of our imperfections, I declare victory. Because it wasn’t always this way. Before I came to terms with my alcohol addiction and decided to get sober almost two years ago, I couldn’t possibly have been setting a worse example for my children.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence’s (NCADD) theme for Alcohol Awareness Month this April is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.” However, seeing the indelible marks both my addiction and my sobriety have made on my own children (ages 11 and nine), I know we can’t wait until the teen years to examine the role alcohol plays in our lives and what messages our behavior sends to the next generation.
What does your drinking look like to your kids? Do they see you drink daily? Have they seen you drink to excess? More than once? Do they hear you talk with your friends about drinking? How much you need a glass of wine, perhaps a bottle or even a case for the impending blizzard? Do they go with you to the package store? How often? Do your kids think you need a glass of wine at the end of a long day? Do they call it “Mommy Juice?” Do you have one of those wine sippy cups? Have you been either too intoxicated or hung over to function when they need you?
Before I get called an “anti-alcohol zealot” (again), let’s be perfectly clear. I am not saying parents shouldn’t drink. Not at all. I envy those who can have an occasional glass of wine (or two) with dinner or on a special occasion and leave it at that. And, I don’t think there will ever come a day when I don’t beat myself up over the fact that I can’t share a bottle of Merlot with my husband in front of the toasty fireplace on a snowy night or enjoy an ice cold beer at the ballpark on a warm summer afternoon. But, there are an awful lot of parents, moms in particular, whose constant declarations that they “need” a glass of wine and whose daily celebration of the arrival of “wine o’clock” or “beer thirty” make me cringe – not just for them, but for their kids.
I’m sliding slightly to the side for a moment – please bear with me because I do have a point. My almost 12-year-old son is on Instagram. Yes, I know the terms of service require users be at least 13-years-old. The majority of his friends have had accounts for a while and, after several months of deliberation, I decided to open an account for him and take the opportunity to teach him about Instagram. I stalk his account, read his direct messages, etc. He knows he has no privacy – that was part of our deal, along with a pretty strict set of rules I created just for him. (Parents, if you don’t know about Instagram’s new account-switching feature, check it out – no more logging out of yours and into your kid's.) Instagram is the first thing I take away when my son misbehaves, falls short on a school assignment, or shirks a responsibility around the house. He and I talk about Instagram almost daily – who his new followers are, what people are posting, etc. Some of his nine-year-old sister’s classmates are on Instagram. And, I've seen a few of his friends post about “weed” and “happy hour.”
On my personal account, I have received follow requests from at least a dozen of my son’s friends. I deny them all. I don't feel comfortable having kids outside of family following me. Even though I don’t post anything inappropriate, I share a lot of things meant for friends and family only.
Here’s the point I promised. I know many parents who do accept follow requests from their children’s friends. And, plenty of those adults are wine worshippers, posting daily about their love affair. Here are some examples:
I get it. I’ve posted my own photos of alcohol on Instagram and Facebook, even staging a photo of three wine bottles surrounded by D batteries, flashlights, and an old radio next to a stack of wood on the fireplace hearth in advance of a Nor’easter. In fact, I had sucked down an entire bottle on my own by the time the fire department arrived to investigate our flaming chimney during the infamous October 29, 2011 storm. I have clicked “like” on the memes others post. But that was back when I used to live and breathe by the clock, counting the minutes until I could have my next drink or, quite frequently, until the exact moment I could get away with being buzzed (or even more intoxicated).
Whether or not we’re joking around, whether or not the memes indicate how we truly feel, the question is this: how healthy is it for our kids to see us extolling the virtues of a potentially lethal mind-altering substance (albeit a legal one) in this way?
Everywhere we look, we see the glorification of beer, wine, and spirits. As a society, we are absolutely obsessed with alcohol, fixated on ways to make it trendy, desirable, needed, and even required. The pressure to imbibe is immense and getting drunk is not only acceptable but often respectable.
Like my own kids, I grew up surrounded by alcoholism. Only no one got sober. No one talked about addiction. It was in health class in high school where I first learned alcohol was a drug and when I first wondered whether certain people I knew were alcoholics. And, It wasn’t until I was about to turn 21 that I learned my grandmother was in recovery and had been sober for many years. She passed away when I was pregnant with my son and, since getting sober, I miss her more than ever. There’s so much I want to ask her about.
In the two years before I hit rock bottom, I honestly believed I could not get through anything without wine and beer – not homework, sports practices, household chores, cooking dinner, bedtime routines, playtime. At the height of my active addiction, more often than not my kids either saw me drinking or drunk.
I can’t turn back time and erase those memories. But, I can make sure I educate my children about alcohol and the differences between addiction and responsible, healthy consumption. Right now, my kids feel very comfortable asking me questions about drinking. I hope that never changes. I suspect someday their friends may ask them about my addiction and sobriety. I hope my kids will not be ashamed of me. And, I hope my story can resonate in a way that helps others explore their own relationship with alcohol or perhaps helps them understand, identify, or acknowledge addiction in a friend or family member.
Whether or not the habits we exhibit as parents are healthy, our children are going to pick them up sooner or later. It’s important that we remain ever mindful of that and make an effort to avoid demonstrating potentially harmful behavior. It's critical that we radiate characteristics we would be proud to see our kids emulate.