Black and White, or Shades of Gray? Alcohol and Raising Children

Craig and I drink in moderation in front of our kids. 

It seems to me that there are two schools of thought on this topic, those who do and those who don’t drink in front of their children.

Either way, it’s really just about setting an example, if you really think about it.  Right?

Those who opt not to drink in front of their children argue that it is unseemly and a bad influence on them, and that they don’t want to glamorize drinking.

Then there are those who, like myself, think that responsible drinking can help to foster a healthy attitude towards alcohol, as children learn about moderation and responsible behavior.

I grew up in a home where drinking wasn’t “allowed” until we were eighteen and then it was only on holidays and it was something revolting like white wine mixed with ginger ale.  

I did, however, drink regularly with my friends in my later high school years.  Regrettably, I have far too many (very hazy) memories of getting drunk, throwing up, acting irresponsibly, and even passing out a handful of times.  Based on my experience, there goes the theory that if teens don’t see it, they won’t try it.  There’s no way to say with certainty that if my mother enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening or a few beers on the weekend I would have handled myself differently, but I do wonder.

What I do know is that I want to prevent our kids from irresponsible underage drinking.  The thought of Katie or Matthew drinking at a high school party and then getting into a car with someone unfit to drive sends me into a complete panic.

I’m curious and would really love to hear your thoughts.  Which way do you see it?  Is it black and white or are there shades of gray?  Do you drink in front of your children?  Did your parents drink in front of you?

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  1. Lindsay

    Definitely shades of gray. We do drink in front of our children in moderation, but save the drinking too much for nights away. Kids need to know that it can be dangerous which is why they can't till they're 21

  2. Nichole

    This raising kids stuff is tricky, huh?
    "In shades of gray" has become the way I view so much now. I used to think that things were so simple–before I had kids.
    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Chelsea

    I just recently started following you & enjoy reading.

    As a rule we don't drink – my husband is absolutely against it, I will have an occasional cocktail, maybe once a year while out with friends. So the subject of drinking in front of our kids is a none issue.

    My thoughts – My parents drank in front of me & it was never a big deal. As I got older I was witness to my mom getting drunk & found it horribly embarrassing. So I never idolized drinking in high school. I think that if my parents did drink & made a point to "hide" it there would have been bigger issues surrounding alcohol. They also made a point that I should never drive or get into a car with someone who had been drinking, I was to call them & there would be no questions asked. That took the rebellion factor out.

    So I believe if you are going to drink don't hide it from your kids & don't get drunk in front of them – it's just embarrassing for everyone. And, never ever drive – even if you've just had one, I believe that is the important example that should be set.

  4. Nichole

    I'm so happy to meet you, Chelsea! Thanks so much for not only coming by, but also for commenting. 🙂

    I think that all teens are embarrassed by their parents simply because they exist…it must have been difficult for you to have actual reasons added to that normal embarrassment.

    It's awesome that your parents were there for you if you needed a ride–no questions asked. I plan to offer that same safety net to my kids. I would much prefer to drag myself out of bed to pick them up than to answer a knock at the door from the police.
    I'll always strive for an open line of communication. I imagine it will be tough when they tell me something that I don't want to hear, but I think that being open with them is the only way you can build a genuine and honest relationship.

  5. Hubby and I definitely plan to teach our children the philosophy of responsible consumption – by example. Things forbidden only look more enticing!

  6. Nichole

    I honestly don't remember my mom forbidding anything. She certainly discouraged things, but I think she was wise enough to realize that forbidding something would never achieve the desired result.
    And thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  7. Peggy

    Personally, I don't see anything wrong with drinking responsibly in front of the kids.

    I think where some parents have gone terribly wrong are the ones with teens that are more concerned with being a friend than a parent, and drink WITH their kids, or worse, let their kids have freinds over, and provide alcohol for all of them. All along thinking they are the cool parent, and the kids are safe because they are home with them. So not cool.

    I know of people that had an alcoholic parent, and grew up to hardly ever drink.

    Bottom line, I think this is one of those things that are a roll of the dice with kids. You never know how they will behave (or misbehave) with alcohol.

  8. Nichole

    I completely agree with your comment!
    It isn't my job to be cool and fun and friends with Katie and Matthew. I certainly hope that we will be friends, but it is like fourth on my list of roles that I need to play in their world.

    Parents who provide alcohol to their children's friends are reprehensible. I will never understand that.

    Can't you just write me an instruction manual for raising kids? Yours turned out so darn great!

  9. Drinking was SO forbidden when I was a kid (yet the adults broke that rule ALL the time–nothing like teaching by hypocrisy), and when I got to college I was out of control. My brothers were worse than I was and had problems with the law and such.

    My hubs family, on the other hand, enjoyed drinking and set examples of what is responsible. They frequently had a beer or two in front of him and his siblings and NONE of them have had issues with drinking or being crazy with it.

    I definitely agree with the comment that if you forbid it, it makes it more enticing…and dangerous. We never talked about it in my house either. It's a good thing my friends' parents did. That is how I learned to be safe.

    I want Eddie to grow up seeing how to enjoy alcohol (if he chooses) responsibility. I also want to show him it's not NECESSARY for fun. It's a choice of beverage, not a must have for a good time.

  10. Nichole

    I love the way you put that…that alcohol isn't necessary to have a good time.
    In high school, I remember thinking that it was…we were always trying to come up with ways to get beer. Now, the idea of being drunk is so unappealing to me.

    Forbidding things certainly does make them more attractive, doesn't it?
    One day, sooner than we want to imagine, we'll be here trying to figure out how we'll deal with the sex topic! 😉

  11. KLZ

    Oh, it's gray all over.

    My parents never drank in front of us and I barely drank until I was 21 and fairly legal. I got into bars underage to have diet coke or one beer but once I was legal…I had no idea what to do with myself. But I'd controlled myself for all those years, so why once I was "allowed" did I have more trouble?

    Because everyone deals with it differently and thinks about it differently. Because it's gray all over.

    And I don't think you're ruining your kids in the least.

  12. Nichole

    Did they drink when you weren't present? Or not at all?
    And the more experience I gain in being a parent, the more I realize that so much of what we do is in a shade of gray!

  13. I agree with most of what's posted here. My parents (i.e. my mom) had the "alcohol is of the devil" approach & it made it much more intriguing to me…it was forbidden. I was an anomaly tho, & didn't really drink anything until I was 19. I don't like it much, it was never my intoxicant of choice, but we do have drinks when we go out to eat & occasionally drink with my mother-in-law, but it's really relatively rare.

    Aside from the whole taboo thing, I don't think there's anything wrong, immoral, or irresponsible in what my husband & I do as far as drinking is concerned…so why would we hide it from our kids? I don't believe in pretending to be something I'm not…and I SO hate hypocrisy…so, yeah, I don't think there is anything wrong with what you're doing. I think it's probably the healthiest approach you could take.

  14. Nichole

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    You make a great point–that if we drink only in secret, we are actually pretending to be something that we are not.
    Kids are so observant, too. Just because you think they are unaware, doesn't mean that they are.

  15. kris

    My father had a huge drinking problem. When combined with mental illness? Alcohol destroyed his family, his life, and his memory. I was witness to all of that.

    As an adult, I drink. In moderation. Usually a glass of beer at night with my husband after the girls have gone to bed. But we drink in front of them occasionally, and I do not give it much thought. Both my husband and I enjoy a glass of beer with a meal once in a while.

    Do my girls see us drunk? Nope.

    Because the one thing I took from my childhood? Is how incredibly scary it is to feel out of control. I hated feeling as though my parents were out of control (as they always were), and as an adult, I hate to feel out of control. Not going there.

    So alcohol? Yes.

    To excess? No.

  16. Nichole

    My grandfather was an alcoholic. Often, when I smell beer, I think of him. He was ever happy and although he always had a beer in his hand, I have only positive memories of him. (Perhaps because he wasn't my father and I didn't grow up in his home.)
    Still, my mom rarely drank. She will now have a very occasional glass of wine, but I can count on one hand the times I saw her drink when I was a child. She saw firsthand the damage that alcohol can do to a family.

    A thought that comes to my mind after reading your words? If you and Mark ever indulged a little too much, Maj would launch a full assault, complete with a lengthy speech highlighting the dangers of alcohol. She's a bad ass. 🙂

  17. Coma Girl

    This is a touchy subject for lots of people, I know.

    My husband and I do drink responsibly in front of the children. Since my step-son's bio mother is an alcoholic (NOT recovering, which is why we've had custody), it is important that we teach them that it is possible to drink socially and not get rip roarin' drunk.

    So far, so good (knock on wood!).

  18. You should check out another awesome blog:

    She talked about the same thing! I'm torn on the subject.

  19. WELL, my parents were the Mormon and drinking was strictly verboten. therefore, I got drunk for the first time at 15 and partied my little ass off throughout high school and beyond. I think drinking in moderation in front of your kids is the smartest way to go.

  20. Marian

    It is definitely a gray area and my thoughts on it are evolving even right now, so your post and the comments are timely for me (thank you). There is alcoholism in my family and my husband's, demonstrated quite differently. I never drank as a kid, not till college, never really drank excessively, ever. But I can see my own alcoholic/addictive tendencies clearly, and I've used booze in different ways at different times in my life, sometimes very negatively. My mother drinks and is what I would call a very high-functioning alcoholic, never dramatic, never drunk, never abusive. My husband grew up in a very violent situation amongst many adults who were drunk and out of control, and who were abusive (sadistic even), stupid, and drunk with power. He has never drunk even one sip of alcohol. He does not insist that I do the same (in fact he thinks I'm cute when I drink), but he has a tempering impact on me that's quite positive. I used to drink wine every night, just a glass or two, sometimes in front of the kids. A few months ago, I stopped. I wanted to change my habit around it, and I have. (I also gave up daily coffee, and giving up both has made me feel GREAT.) But as I've gotten farther away from needing that drink, I feel more inclined to not drink in front of my kids, to model not drinking. It just feels appropriate to model very healthy living, including not drinking in front of them. I'm also aware that it is at least disorienting, if not actually scary, for children to see their parents being out of control or acting differently when they drink. At this moment, I'm thinking that an occasional glass of wine in front of them at a social function is in my comfort zone. But, that could change. It is addictive, after all. Thanks for posting this & for the chance to write about it! xo Marian

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