Thursday, 8 October 2015

Alcohol and Parenting

I'm not a great parent.

I was astounded when they allowed me to walk out of the hospital with a helpless, newborn baby twelve years ago.

"Where's the instruction manual?" I wanted to shout. "I have no idea what I'm doing here! I'm an amateur!"

They say it takes a village to raise a child. And in the old days you would be surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings who would all help teach you, and your offspring, how to do the growing up thing.

These day we are much more geographically spread out. We don't have the same support network of older, wiser women.

We muddle along, confused by the conflicting advice of the 'experts,' like Gina Ford and Supernanny. We rely on our girlfriends (who are also making it up as they go along), and smug, self righteous strangers on the internet.

Just as we start to feel like we're getting good at the whole baby thing, we suddenly have school aged kids, and a whole new set of challenges. Start feeling a bit more able to cope with those, then BAM - they grow a foot, a crop of pimples and become smelly, hormonally challenged teenagers!

It's no wonder we need a good glass (gallon) of vino at the end of the day.

It's only now that I see what a useless parenting prop alcohol is....

I was putting the children to bed last night, when I realised that my house is now peaceful. Nobody shouts. This is a major change from few months ago.

When the children were small, I would get them into bed by 7pm. The bedtime routine was pretty exhausting - tea, bath, milk, nappies, stories, cuddles etcetera, times three. But then I could sink back into an armchair, with hours of 'grown up time' stretching ahead of me.

As the children grew up, however, bedtime got later and later, and wine o'clock crept earlier and earlier.

My evenings would go something like this:

5.30pm - children all home from various schools and after school activities. Pour glass of vino while making kids supper.

6.30pm - Pour second glass of vino while trying, in vain, to get them to focus on their homework.

7.30pm - Pour third glass of wine while getting them in and out of bath and ready for bed.

By this time it would be around 8pm, and I'd be trying to do bedtime stories and get supper ready for husband while getting more exhausted, frazzled and - let's face it - drunk.

The combination of tired, stressed and drunk would lead, inexorably, to SHOUTING!

By the time Mr SM was back from work (at around 8.30pm) I'd be yelling at the three children in rotation, desperate to get them into bed as quickly as possible so I could sit down with the husband and share a(nother) civilized bottle of vino with dinner.

But one thing I've now learned about bringing up children is that the only real way to teach them is by example.

You can't tell a child not to swear, then swear like a trooper around them. You can't teach them manners and kindness if you don't display them yourself. If you show them that alcohol is necessary to have fun and to relax they'll believe it. And if you yell all the time then so do they....

So we did not have a peaceful house. I would yell, and the kids would all yell. At each other. At me. At their father.

The mornings involved just as much shouting as the evenings, as I'd be tired and grumpy, and the getting ready for school routine was all just a bit much.

But now I don't mind that the children aren't going to bed until 9pm. I enjoy having the extra time with them. We spend ages over stories. I teach them how to cook while getting supper ready for Mr SM. We chat about our days. I'm not constantly trying to get rid of them.

And mornings? I love them! I wake the children up by saying "Wakey wakey! It's another glorious day!" I am punch-ably chirpy.

I hardly ever shout any more. And if the children ever do, I say, very quietly, "Please don't shout. We don't shout in this house." And I am not being hypocritical.

I am still very much a work in progress as far as parenting goes, but I have, at last, created a home that feels happy, relaxed and peaceful. It's still sometimes very noisy, but that's because we're laughing and dancing to bad disco music.

If anyone was ever foolish enough to ask me to write a parenting manual, the very first page would say: Put down the vino. It is not your friend. Alcohol and children mix like oil and water. The wine witch is not Mary Poppins....

Love SM x

Related post: Cravings and Tantrums


  1. One of my children is poorly at the moment, and I find this a huge trigger. Something about being trapped in the house all day, and the anxiety. I am battling not to drink, and to try to be the best mother for him. Annie x

    1. I know, I know! It gets harder to start with, but then it gets much, much easier... You can do it, Annie! We're all rooting for you. xxx

  2. Annie it's the boredom and the being cooped up that have done for me before. Tea is now my friend. Last time small one was off school we made scones, some little sandwiches, got out "the posh" china and had a little tea party just we two.

    I recently spent a fortnight's wine money on a beautiful teapot and go through the whole ritual of warming, measuring, steeping etc. Then drink from one of the beautiful matching cups and saucers It fills the gap of the rituals associated with wine drinking and makes me feel like an Edwardian gentlewoman at the same time.

    Big hugs to you and your wee one. xx

  3. I completely agree. I know I was erratic. I would really tempered and yell. I would be drunk and weepy. And I would be rational. Unfortunately no one ever knew who I was going to be.
    And I myself didn't either, which made me scared, and super defensive. And so very unhappy with my behaviour that I couldn't predict or control.

    My kids now call me the zen mom. I talk openly about my own depression and anxiety and both craig and I talk about drinking too much and editing it wasn't helping either of us. Not that that was a surprise. My daughter, who was 8 when I quit drinking, had been trying to get me to stop drinking wine for a while. She didn't like drunk mom. She like sober mom so much better.

    I sincerely hope that the openness and effort we put into our family now make up for the last couple years of my drinking. Because they were hard years. Kids do not need that. I was hurting more than myself.

    Not anymore.


  4. I read somewhere today that we should teach our children coping skills, for instance to go for a run when stressed or take a bubble bath with candles. We need to actually tell them that the way to deal with stress, painful situations etc. is not drinking but to do something good for yourself.

  5. This is a tricky one for me because it upsets me that wine time became such a necessity that I now can't drink 'normally'. It really did help me to cope through those early days of motherhood but only because I didn't have other coping strategies. My drinking didn't impact on my children or how I was as a mum but it was starting to take up too much thinking time. I agree that the older the kids get the more you are aware of how they perceive drinking. I was forced to take a good hard look at myself. I didn't want them to see me drunk but I can't stop after one or 2 drinks. I was getting overweight and not feeling particularly healthy. I started to worry I'd die young and leave them to grow up without a mum. I didn't drink to excess every night, mostly just at weekends, but I wanted to. I now want my children to know that there is an option to not drink.

  6. Reality check for you wonderful forward to my story. I picked up when my children were older and wiser. I picked up because I thought my kids are teens now. I thought at the time, my turn. It's my time to chill out now. They are off happy, with their friends on weekends, what about me? All my friends are turning to red wine for a thousand reasons. Those reasons or reasoning turned into an addiction where just one glass of sexy wine turned into bottles. There's this tiny label at the bottom of every wine bottle that warns drinkers of potential addiction. Who me? WTF really? Yah, really.
    The beautiful and loving mother became hooked. My teens were aghast and shocked to find their mother drunk, incoherent. These 2 incredible, intelligent, talented young adults were confronting a disease that was robbing them of their mother. Where did she go?
    You see it wasn't "me" anymore. The "me" was drowning. It was getting smothered out from the voices that yelled louder. I could no longer hear myself think. My thinking lead to destructive behavior. I'll spare you the gory details. Not pretty.
    Fast forward to today. A few years after there were no more options, no more ways of drinking "appropriately". They got their mother back. I got "me" back. The most important decision of my life was to put the glass down.
    Now 7.5 months later I am telling you that you can stop. Give yourself the gift! Yes, the gift that opens your world up to incredible opportunities. I'm worth it!
    Go ahead.....your'e turn, "I'm worth it."

    1. Thanks so much for sharing that Jen. I'm worth it ;-)!!!

    2. Thank you jealous. We all know it's the right thing to do but sometimes I still wonder ' was I that bad'. Reading your story helps me remember x

  7. I'm so glad you linked this and I picked it up today.
    I know the rule is that we have to want to stop drinking for ourselves but I can't do it for me even though I have spent the last 20 years trying.
    I really do think I can do it for my children though. They deserve to have Mummy who isn't constantly in hangover mode. And I know I deserve to be able to enjoy my children's childhood.
    Thank you for your posts SM. You are such an enormous help to me. I keep reading over 'The Obstacle Course' and relating to how incredibly true it is. WX