We see it all the time: adults imbibing in front of their children. Julie Bowen’s character, supermom Claire, on the hit TV show Modern Family does it. It happens at kids’ birthday parties and hip baby showers. Your own parents might have even done it. But is it as common in our neighborhoods as it is on screen? And is it OK? This month we tackle the battle of the bottle to get some answers.
According to a poll of DallasChild readers, the majority of parents do occasionally consume alcohol around their kids, and most are honest with their children regarding the contents of their glasses. Defenders of this practice speak of integrity and open communication between parents and children, exhibiting their own responsible drinking habits as an illustration of good behavior, including limiting the amount of alcohol consumed and practicing sober driving.
Christina Wester, Dallas mom of three and advocate for Partnership Parenting and Alternative Education, says alcohol is consumed openly and responsibly in her home. “I need to adequately and honestly prepare my kids for what is out there in the world,” she explains. “Alcohol is one of those things. They will be faced with a choice over and over again of whether or not to drink and how much to drink. I want them to be armed with information to make the best choices.”
“Being honest with your children, especially when they’re asking questions, is critical,” says Charette Dersch, Ph.D., of Serenity Family Therapy in McKinney. However, she advises against allowing children to consume alcohol, in any amount, as their brains and bodies are not yet developed enough to handle it. “They should know that there are some things that are OK for adults to do but not for children, and alcohol is one of those things.”
Parents who abstain from drinking around their kids also speak of integrity and setting a model of good behavior. We’re all aware that kids absorb more than just our words; our actions and attitudes give powerful lessons as well. “We need to lead by example. Not do as I say, but as I do,” says Betty Winters, a Roanoke mother of two. “Our children know that we take a biblical point of view when it comes to drinking — not to get drunk but to be in your right mind. How can you handle an emergency situation if you’re drunk?”
“Children should never see you intoxicated,” Dersch agrees, but adds that parents who conceal their drinking from their kids may unintentionally send the wrong message. “If you’re hiding it, you’re telling them that you’re doing something you know is wrong,” she says.
When it comes to influencing children to be responsible with alcohol and other substances, Dersch believes that dialogue and open communication is what makes the biggest impact. “Children need to know what your expectations are for them, and their behavior will follow,” she says. When parents avoid the issue, or are “dishonest about what is going on, they lose an opportunity for open discussion with their kids.”
Whether in favor of drinking around your kids or not, honesty and personal integrity on the part of parents is vital. So whichever side you find yourself on, own it. Every time your kids give you an opening, approach the topic with personal conversation. “By talking about it now, in age-appropriate ways, we can make it less of a scary thing,” says Wester. “It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s a part of life. We, as adults, have a choice to lead by positive example or, at best, hope our kids can learn from our mistakes.”
Published June 2015