Did you grow up with a liquor cabinet? I did. The first time I had a boy-girl party, (when I was in eighth grade, brimming with hormones) said liquor cabinet was broken into. I don't remember if anyone drank anything, but someone must have because I do remember being called into the principal's office the following Monday morning for a scolding. Someone had narced and I was branded "good girl" no more. Instead, I was a "boozer." This incident — along with many others —is why the things I hope to teach my kid about alcohol are going to be vastly different from the things my parents taught me.
I felt shame sitting there in the principle's office, because I'd thrown a party where alcohol was consumed. Though I didn't get drunk until I was a freshman in high school, for a whole year I lived with that shame and not really understanding why. Sure, I knew that alcohol was not for kids, and I knew it was something that made adults do "crazy" things, but I couldn't wrap my head around the shame I felt for simply being associated with alcohol. Now that I'm actively preparing for motherhood, I want to do the best I can to prevent my kid from feeling shame about anything, and especially about drinking. In my experience, the more you shroud alcohol with secrecy and shame, the more havoc it tends to wreck on your life.
Let me make it clear: I don't blame my parents. They did the best they could as second generation Italian Americans who were raised by parents who had a different understanding of alcohol than they did. And so too, I have a different understanding of alcohol than my parents did. With that in mind, here are some things I hope to teach my kid about alcohol.
Alcohol Is A Drug And Not Cuisine
Certainly the alcohol industry capitalizes on the fact that people pair food and booze together, and regularly. Whether that means whiskey and ribs, wine and cheese, or pizza and beer; adults are socialized to think that alcohol is part of a complete dining experience.
That's all well and good, but I want to make sure my kid knows that alcohol is a drug. When you consume a moderate amount of alcohol, it's a stimulant. When you consume alcohol in excess, it becomes a depressant. Even if I raise my kid in a sober house, there's no way to keep him or her from the rest of the world, where drink menus and happy hours are flaunted as part of the complete dining experience. But no matter how chic the restaurant or how artisanal the cocktail, booze remains a drug.
There's No Such Thing As Being Responsibly Intoxicated As A Teen
The organization Partnership for Drug-Free Kids pointed out that when it comes to teens and drinking, parents who allow their kids to drink in a safe, controlled environment are misguided. I grew up in such an environment. My mom's motto was she rather me drink at home than booze out on the town. Of course, I did both.
Like I said before, I'm not blaming my mom for any problems I might have developed with alcohol later in life, but I'm going to do things differently in my home. I don't want to sanction drunken nights before my kid is of age. I don't want to send my kid the message that there's something comforting about drinking or help steer my child in the direction of a life filled with liquor. Why? #YOLO (see, I can still be the cool mom, even if I'm sober).
Adult Parties With Alcohol Are Not Occasions For Kids To Drink
As a kid, I'd have a sip of my dad's beer or a even a glass of wine at a dinner party. It was almost as if my drinking was some kind of parlor game to my parents' friends. "Isn't that cute?!" No. No, it's not.
Alcohol Is Highly Addictive
Alcohol abuse is based on many factors, including, but not limited to genetics. Because I've struggled with drinking as a functional alcoholic, and it's safe to say that my parents did as well, the chances of my kid having the drinking gene is likely.
You bet I will make my kid aware that alcohol abuse runs in the family. Because alcohol abuse is a form of self-medicating, I'll do my best to make sure my child has a plethora of resources to deal with any potential to develop an addiction to alcohol. I'll also be sure to educate my kid on the effects alcohol has on the brain, and how addiction is a very real, chemical phenomenon, backed up by neuroscience.
Alcohol Abuse Can Come In Many Forms
There's more than one way to abuse alcohol, because people are complex and have numerous anxieties, insecurities, or addictive tendencies. My child will understand that alcohol abuse is a disease, and one I've struggled with. Though my life was never in shambles because of my drinking, I'm living with consequences of drinking years later. Why? Because as aforementioned, alcoholism is a disease that you can treat, but at the end of the day, it's still a disease. I'll be living the rest of my life in recovery. (Don't feel sorry for me; I'm doing just fine.)
Alcohol Is Not The Only Way To Lose Your Inhibitions
When I quit drinking, I thought, OK, there goes my ability to be a free spirit. How misguided I was. Do you know that running in the park on an autumn afternoon gives me a similar rush as that first sip of bubbly? Or riding a rollercoaster, something I'd always been too afraid to do, can also thrill to the bone? How about petting a puppy, because even if it's a dog I stop on the street (yup, I'm that person) it sends waves of euphoria throughout my body.
I will model all of these sober ways of cutting loose for my child, and hopefully he or she will learn that alcohol isn't the only way to let go of your inhibitions.
Alcohol Consumption Does Not Represent A Rite Of Passage
As a Catholic, I was taught to drink the blood of Christ. In reality, that blood was wine, a ritual called transubstantiation that marked a rite of passage, washing me clean of sin. From the Bible:
Matt. 26:28, "for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."
Although no one I knew ever got wasted off of the blood of Christ, this is only one of the ways culture uses alcohol to symbolize rites of passage. Other monumental occasions might include Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, graduation, birthdays, holidays, and so on. In my home, however, I want to set clear boundaries about alcohol use. In other words, there will be booze-free ways to mark life transitions.
Alcohol Abuse Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
I will do my best to make sure that my child never feels shame for drinking, because alcohol abuse is a disease. Yes, addiction is governed by choice so, as a parent, I will do everything in my power to guide my child to make healthy choices. But ultimately, there will come a time where he or she must act on free will, and the only thing I can do is give myself up to a Higher Power. Shame is a disease of the soul, and I will never let shame erode my child's inner core. Nope. Not happening.