Is it right or wrong? And how much is too much?
For many stressed mums wine is now overtaking tea as a way to relax during the day. Pubs are encouraging groups of mums to come together for Sunday lunch and a couple of alcoholic beverages by becoming more child-friendly and providing indoor and outdoor play areas. But should we drink alcohol in front of our children?
‘Alcohol can impair judgement,’ Joanna Simons, CEO of Alcohol Concern, says. ‘So if you do decide to drink, it’s best to stay within the limits, especially around children.’
Newspapers regularly report stories of parents jeopardising their children’s safety by drinking too much alcohol. Last year police in Benidorm arrested a 40-year-old British holidaymaker accused of abandoning her nine-year-old twins while out drinking. One of the boys was discovered wandering the streets alone, while the other was found lying in the doorway of their holiday apartment. This is an extreme case. But could even moderate drinking when you are in charge of children be dangerous?
Research shows that from a young age children learn about acceptable behaviour by observing and copying their parents. So Joanna stresses the importance of leading by example. She says: ‘It’s important to bear in mind that children’s attitudes to drinking will be shaped by your own and will be formed early on. So it really is crucial to try to set a good example yourself. We believe this means keeping an eye on the number of units you’re drinking, as well as having a few alcohol-free days each week.’
A study of the effects of alcohol ‘behind closed doors’ found the more a parent drank, the less likely they were to employ what is known as a ‘tough love’ parenting style. This approach combines a high level of emotional warmth with a high level of behavioural discipline. The report found that children not brought up with the ‘tough love’ approach were more likely to drink hazardously themselves.
When it comes to teenagers, Joanna believes that while some parents feel introducing alcohol to older children within the safe environment of the family home is a good thing, often it can simply encourage drinking. Joanna says: ‘Research indicates that the younger someone starts drinking, the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol later in life. The home is often the main source of alcohol for underage drinkers, so as a parent you need to be aware of your children’s access to alcohol, and make conscious decisions about the extent to which you want to police it.’
The charity Drinkaware recommends that the most responsible way for parents to drink is to not consume more than 14 units per week — that’s about four large glasses of wine — and to spread that over three days or more. This shows children that alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation. The charity also emphasises the importance of speaking to your child about alcohol. Rather than hiding a hangover, explain that you have a headache or feel sick so they learn about the effects of alcohol.
Edited by Julie Cook
‘Drinking in moderation is fine’
As a single mum to three-year-old Lilly I find that the occasional glass or two of wine helps me to unwind. I don’t get drunk around Lilly, but I will have a couple of drinks when we go out for a meal with family. Sometimes I’ll meet up with other mums and we will have a few glasses of wine, while the kids play in the child-friendly pub. We never drink to excess and are always watching our kids.
Once an angry woman came up to me and said she found it disgusting that I had brought my child to the pub and that I should be ashamed of myself. It really upset me, as I felt I was acting responsibly.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking in front of children. Alcohol is a socially acceptable part of life and most people drink. It would be worse if I made drinking alcohol a big secret or taboo. This would make it more exciting to her when she’s older, and make her more likely to drink secretly when she’s a teenager. I prefer to be open and honest about it.
From Beth Herrington, 20, of Maidstone, Kent
‘I never drink in front of my children’
My children are 13 and eight and I can safely say they have never seen me have so much as a glass of wine, let alone seen me drunk or tipsy. I choose not to drink in front of them because I think it’s completely avoidable.
I’m a single mum, so when my kids stay with their dad, I let myself have the odd alcoholic drink. But I never drink when the children are around because I believe kids are influenced by what they see rather than by what we say to them. I can hardly tell them off for drinking later in life if they’ve seen me under the influence of alcohol.
Also, I think parents who drink when looking after children are at risk of not taking care of them properly because alcohol affects your behaviour. Being a parent is such a huge responsibility and I think many mums and dads forget this.
I’m more than happy to wait and enjoy a drink in front of them when they’re older. Being a responsible parent is my first priority.
From Vinita Ramtri, 38, of Greenwich, London