Booze And Children: What, When And How?

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alcohol and childrenIn one of the earliest photos of our first child, she is sitting on my lap in a Berlin beer garden gumming on a bottle of Bitburger. Hilarious, right?

Not so much?

Well, we’re not the only parents to photograph our unwitting babies in mature situations and live to tell the tale without the intervention of social workers. If you don’t believe me, just Google “babies drinking beer.”

My point is that a lot of us can get carried away when it comes to alcohol and young people, and how we combine the two is a lifelong concern.

I come from a long line of mothers who drank Guinness through their pregnancies, and whose antidote to teething was a whiskey rub. Ever since I can remember, there was a bottle of wine (albeit kosher) on the table at family gatherings, to be shared by all. My mother served me my first Fuzzy Navel when I was 12. By the time I was a freshman in college, I had established a decent tolerance for alcohol and rarely tested the limits. While my neighbors in the college residence were passing out in pools of vomit that may or may not have been their own, I was happily nursing my cocktails until ultimately saying “no” to the fourth.

Then, 10 years ago, as I held my friend’s tiny – and inconsolable – baby in my arms, I lightly dipped her soother in my wine glass and returned it to her. The look on her mother’s face told me I had entered a new generation of parenting that I perhaps wasn’t equipped to join.

A decade – and two children – later, my social drinking (and my husband’s; our drinking patterns are similar) has largely moved into the home. And though you’d never catch me spiking another baby’s soother, Friday-afternoon playdates chez moi will almost always involve a round of drinks for the parents. My eldest daughter is wholly uninterested in anything that comes from a glass bottle or tin can. Yet my three-year-old, it turns out, is partial to the taste – just a taste – of “Daddy’s beer” (she also, remarkably, adores coffee). We allow her a sip from time to time, if only to avoid setting a pattern for conspicuous deprivation that can sometimes lead to rebellion.

So. Should I be bracing myself for a visit from Child Protection Services? Am I on a slippery slope to The Ice Storm? Should I keep our adults-only consumables under lock and key? Or will our children’s exposure to “healthy” social drinking prepare them for a life in which alcohol is an accessory to – and not the core element of – a jolly good time?

In a few years we will start having the kinds of family dinners that run longer than eight minutes and involve actual eating. And when we get to that point, I would hope to have a bottle of wine present. When they approach their teens, I’d like to offer my daughters some, provided nobody will be driving after dessert. We’ll never be able to control what they get up to with their friends outside the house; what we can control is the responsible behavior they’re exposed to at home.

One day I may come to regret my behavior. I hope that day never comes, but who knows what temptations will be out there a decade or more from now? Regardless, I’m sticking to my philosophy. And that philosophy is best taken with 6oz of Spanish Rioja.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)