Monday, 22 August 2016

What about the kids?

The other day someone questioned my sober life by asking whether I was missing an opportunity to model responsible drinking to my daughters (who are 6 and 3). I reckon this question is wrapped up in a part of our drinking culture we just never really question: How we bring the young ones through into the drinking world, as if it's inevitable that they will be drinkers.

It's the old giving your 13-year-old a few sips of beer at the family barbecue, buying your 16-year-old some drinks to take to a party, celebrating the right of passage that is their 21st with them chopping a yard glass as everyone cheers. I always cringe when see proud dads cradling their wee babies in their arms and giving them a tiny sip of something, or letting them suck on the end of a beer bottle. This is common. Is it to get them used to the day they'll be a drinker like dad? Is it to get their wee bodies acclimatised (for want of a better word) to alcohol? It's weird that people think it's harmless to give wee babies tiny sips of alcohol when it's generally accepted that there's no safe level of alcohol for pregnant women. One thing that makes me cringe as a dad is wondering if my daughters will drink like I did when I was a teenager.

Back to the question. Am I missing a golden opportunity to model responsible drinking for my daughters? My answer was that my wife can play that role now. She is a responsible drinker after all. She, perhaps influenced by my journey, hardly drinks at all now and I haven't seen her drink at home for ages. I've never been rolling drunk in front of my girls, but one of the reasons I decided to give up alcohol was I felt I was starting to model my drinking habits in front of them. It was the wine or cider while cooking dinner, and the drinking on the weekends at home that I was starting to get uncomfortable about. They were seeing me drinking pretty regularly. When my youngest started asking whether me or my wife were drinking "pinot noir or rose?", while heart-crushingly cute, it did give me pause for thought.

I know they will get to an age where they start to make decisions for themselves around alcohol. But here's the thing. My parents' mostly moderate drinking never influenced me one way or another. When I was 16 all me and my friends could think about every weekend was whether we were going to be able to scam our way to procuring beer. I'm not blaming my folks at all, because I hid 90% of my teenage drinking from them, but I might have benefitted from some frank discussions around the dangers of alcohol (or is this just the parent in me talking).

What I question now is why is it inevitable that our children will just be enveloped into the booze culture, as if it is their birth rite? And why do we have to be complicit in it? Yes, I know when they get older it will be their right to make their own decisions around booze. Yes, I know they will probably follow the crowd and drink before they reach drinking age. I know they will have to learn by their own mistakes rather than mine. But I've decided I'm not going to help them along in their drinking endeavours, other than giving them all the information they need to make their own, hopefully responsible, choices.

What can I tell you about the effect my non-drinking has had on them. Well, they no longer ask about what variety of wine we're drinking. They still have to deal with their grumpy sleep-deprived dad on occasions, but they haven't had to deal with their hung-over dad for months. Alcohol is just not really on their radar anymore.

They can be influenced by the drinking culture, by their peers, by their family and now they have another option - being a non-drinker - to add to the mix.

I think it can only be a good thing that they see that as a valid choice too.



  1. that is such a strange thing to put to someone who has quit drinking - aren't you missing an opportunity to model moderate drinking to your kids? - by golly that's a new one on me!

  2. I think it's hilarious! A drinker attempting to ask an intelligent question to a newish non drinker. Good flipping try! haha
    I think by the time your daughters are teenagers the culture around drinking in NZ and the world will have already had quite a shift, as it is beginning to happen now. I also think having a sober Dad is something that will influence them and that they will be proud of, whatever they choose. x

    1. Yes, it does seem to be going that way. They can't do worse than us!!!

  3. Speaking here from let's be honest BINGE Britain, we have one of the hardest drinking cultures worldwide. We invented the passed out, vomit pillow, urine soaked, weeping or belligerent drunk teen. The streets here are littered with people unable to walk or speak on several nights of the week. However, there is a slight culture change happening. My 18 year old daughter and most of her cohort do not drink, they have the odd cider but it is a rare occurrence. Going to parties I have asked her if she woul like 4 cans of cider so she knows what she is drinking and she has always declined. Her boyfriend is 6"7' rugby player and on his 18th birthday he had ONE and HALF pints of beer, he didn't even have a game next day. I am not a parent in denial either, I have collected my daughter and friends from parties and none of them have appeared remotely tipsy. As an aside I would have been mad as all hell because I had to stay sober all night so I could go pick them up, in my mind it would have been a ruined night. What a great mother huh? At your kids age it will be a miracle if in a few months time they even remember you drinking, kids do notice somethings but you might be surprised if when you ask the oldest if she remembers you drinking that she actually does. You are setting a brilliant example and the rest will be down to peer pressure and cultural norms. I do understand your worry though.

    1. Thanks Groundhog Girl. You make some good points. Cheers for the support!