Monday 23 October 2017

Does Drinking Make You a Selfish Parent?

There have been several articles in the press recently about alcohol and parenting.

The headline of Liz Jones's column in the Mail on Sunday last weekend read Parents who drink are selfish. My boozy dad taught me that.

Liz wrote: Me, aged 11, in my narrow divan. It's 11pm and I can't sleep. Not until I hear the crunch of my dad's car on the gravel, which means he has made it home from the Wheatsheaf. I'd been praying, hands clasped, for him not to crash. Only when lights streak the ceiling can I unclasp; my palms are wet.

Liz goes on to talk about her sister's children coming home from school to find their mum unconscious, surrounded by bottles, children who are now motherless.

Then the Telegraph ran an article, inspired by the tragic death of Sean Hughes, from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 51, titled Are alcoholics born or made?

The article reads: The former Never Mind the Buzzcocks team captain may have joked of a childhood where he was left in the car outside pubs for hours - “We would while away the hours by nodding at the other kids parked up in other cars as we all looked to the warm glow of the pub” – but he also talked of disliking his father for his behaviour.  

It seems fairly obvious that those drinkers, like Liz and Seans' fathers, who have travelled pretty far down the slippery slope of alcohol addiction towards rock bottom, do not make good parents.

But what about the bottle-of-wine-a-day drinker, like I was? What about the mum who has just one or two large glasses of wine at the end of each day to reward herself for a job well done?

To be honest, I didn't think I was a selfish parent. I thought I deserved that wine come six o'clock. It was me time. Mummy's little helper. It made me feel adult. It helped me wind down.

Surely, I would argue to myself, a relaxed mum is a better mum? Happy mother, happy child.

And this general acceptance that boozing and motherhood go hand in hand has inspired endless Facebook memes and books like Why Mummy Drinks and (the hilarious) Hurrah for Gin.

But last week, the Guardian ran an article titled Even moderate drinking by parents can upset children, based on research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

The study found that even parents drinking 'moderately' can leave children feeling embarrassed, worried or lead to their bedtime being disrupted, and that children who see their parents tipsy or drunk are less likely to describe them as a positive role model.

15% of children in the study had asked their parents to drink less, and 11-12 year olds described alcohol as “like sugar for adults” and said parents drink to “solve their problems”.

Even so, I'm not sure that I would agree that drinking necessarily makes you a selfish parent. I know many, many wonderful parents who enjoy a glass of wine on a regular basis.

Also, I don't think it's right or fair to judge other parents. We mums are all just muddling along trying to do the best we can.

However, I would argue that being sober can make being a good parent a lot easier - at least I'm certain that's the case for me. Here are five reasons why...

1. I'm not constantly running away

In the drinking days, I was always looking for excuses for 'me time.'

On a Saturday or Sunday morning, if I woke up with a hangover (which I often did), the last thing I'd want to do is to push the swings in the park, play Monopoly or (god forbid) go to a soft play centre. I'd be much more likely to switch the TV onto CBeebies and crawl back under the duvet.

At countless children's bedtimes I would skip over pages of whichever picture book we were reading, so I could turn the lights out as fast as possible and retreat to an armchair with a goblet of vino. Because I'd earned it.

I'm pretty sure my children knew that I was often searching for an escape hatch. But they didn't blame the vino, they just thought I didn't like spending time with them very much.

2. I'm more consistent

Any parenting expert will tell you that children hate uncertainty and crave consistency.

One of the main reasons why children are uncomfortable with their parents drinking is that their behaviour changes - they become different people and that, for a child, is scary.

A few months after I quit drinking I asked my son whether I'd changed. "Yes," he replied, "You're more....mummyish."

What he meant is that I was behaving like his mummy all of the time. I was no longer swinging from being mummy, to being grumpy hungover person, to being wild child, then back to mummy again.

3. I have more time and more energy

Drinking, and recovering from drinking, takes up an awful amount of your day.

I get twice as much done at the weekends now as I used to. I bounce out of bed (well comparatively speaking, at least) and never fall asleep in the afternoon.

In the old days, I would often engineer separate 'child activities' and 'adult activities' at the weekends.

My favourite Sunday activity would involve a long, boozy lunch with a group grown ups, while the children watched a movie. I told myself this was more fun for everyone.

I certainly wouldn't plan anything that involved driving anywhere after lunch, or in the evening.

Now, I'm much more likely to plan something for all the family: a bike ride and picnic, swimming, bowling or a cinema trip. I am - I hope - making memories, ones that will have me actually joining in.

(I still arrange those long Sunday lunches with friends, but now, instead of sending all the children off as quickly as possible, I organise games for everyone, like Charades or Who am I?)

4. I'm more patient

Looking back now, I realise that I was a pretty grumpy mother when I was drinking. I was often short tempered and I did an awful lot of shouting.

This was partly because I didn't like myself very much, but to my children it looked like I didn't like them.

Being free of the constant merry-go-round of recovering from one drinking event and trying to hurry through to next one has made me, comparatively, zen. Liking myself again has helped me like the world a lot more.

5. I'm a better role model

One of the main reasons I quit the booze is that I didn't want my children to grow up thinking that it was normal for mothers to spend every evening with a glass of vino welded to their hand.

I didn't want them to believe that all grown-ups need alcohol to enable them to cope with the ups and downs of life.

I wanted to be able to show them that it's perfectly possible to live a fabulous life without a drug to take the edges off.

I'm still far from a brilliant mother. I'm a work in progress, and I expect I always will be. But, I'm very much better at it than I was.

I'm also certain that I wouldn't have got through my recent treatment for breast cancer, without all the wheels coming off in front of the children, had I still been drinking.

I don't begrudge those mums a large glass of vino at wine o'clock (there are still times I'd love one myself), but I've come to realise that, for me, and for my children, life is a lot happier, easier and more peaceful without it.

Check out the SoberMummy Facebook page for lots more inspiration and information about quitting booze. If you 'like' the page, Facebook will keep you updated with new posts.

To read SoberMummy's book (described as 'Bridget Jones Dries Out') and find out what it's like to go sober in a world where everyone drinks click here: The Sober Diaries, or here if you're in the USA.

Love to you all,

SM x


  1. I too have been reading these articles, with a very heavy heart. I am not a parent (but by dint of the modern family I am a grandparent of 3) and am perhaps disqualified to comment on the "selfishness" question. I was a child of a father addicted to alcohol and his behaviour appeared selfish to me. With the benefit of hindsight and much learning in my sober life, I believe we need to separate the person from the substance to which they are addicted. Alcohol sure as hell takes a hold of a person and makes them behave in a way that can appear selfish to a child. Thanks SM, always thought provoking. It's all about the children and their quality of life. xxx

    1. Great distinction, Nana, between the parent and the substance! Totally agree. Well said x

  2. I usually cannot stand Liz Jones (I think she's a little like marmite), but I did read this article and it made me hang my head in shame. My dad is a heavy drinker and I always remembered, when I was younger, the 'Friday Night Fear' - that is, waiting for him to get in from the pub, my mam waiting up for him and the argument (and sometimes violence) that would follow. Yet, despite my childhood, I still managed to force a version of this fear onto my children.

    Was I a selfish parent? Yes, I bloody well was. Still, now that I have been sober for 108 days I can continue on working towards being a better parent for my children.

    I apologise if I offend any of your readers, but I think, being a (former) alcohol dependent, I've still got that mindset that drinking any alcohol is selfish - after all you are only drinking it for your own reasons.

    1. Huge congrats on 108 days, Mrs W. I bet you're a brilliant mum and that your children are super proud of you ❤️

  3. Reading this makes me feel very guilty. I know for a fact that drinking made me selfish, after a few glasses of wine all I could think about was more wine and that became my priority, not my children. Sadly.

    The guilt I used to feel was awful, and once my eldest became more aware of it she mentioned a couple of times how I changed after a couple of glasses of wine. Rushing bed times, shoving them in front of the TV if we had friends round, just wanting them to not interfere with wine time basically.

    But it was the comments from my eldest that were the main reason for me to stop, I am now 11 months sober and they tell me how proud they are, how much more fun I am, I have more energy, i don't embarrass them, and I remember what they tell me! And basically I'm 100 per cent present for them, the mummy they need, the mummy they want, and that is not going to change, ever. I want all the memories we make now to erase any bad memories they have, and I have hopefully done that whilst they are young enough to forget. They are proud of me now and that beats any glass of wine for me!!! Xxxxxx

    1. Don't feel guilty, Ang! Feel proud. You're awesome ❤️

    2. Awwwww thank you and you are too!!! I do feel guilty when I think back to how I was but like I said that's the old me ( and hopefully they won't remember too much of how Her!) fab news on the reply from your parents too! I didn't manage to comment yesterday, I was very impressed with the emoji!!! My mums phone is a flip phone so no emoji option and she's just started texting me one word texts, so your mum is doing amazing!!! Xxx they must be so proud of you xx

    3. I think guilt is a common factor with us ex-drinkers. I was exactly the same as you, Ang, with my children and I feel incredible guilt about that. But, I think we have to grab that guilt and put it to good use. Use it to keep us on the straight and narrow and to make us better mothers. Very well done BTW on 11 months!!

  4. Wonderful post. I was a very, very selfish parent when I was drinking. I thank God frequently that I found your blog when my daughter was still an infant. I find that I am now much more interactive, energetic, and the small missteps of my toddler do not irritate me as much as they would have back in my heavy drinking days. One of the things that keeps me going is thinking about later in life, when i'm on my death bed, I do not think I will look back and say, "I wish I had just drank more wine and spent less quality time with my kids!" I'm fairly certain it will be the other way around.

  5. Another brilliant post and I definitely know I was a selfish mother - just at around the 5/6 week mark and my gorgeous little daughter is turning 3 on Sunday. On her last birthday I was pretty tipsy but not this time! I will make sure it is all about her and can't wait. So glad that I finally had my wakeup call while she is still young and hope and pray that I don't relapse. I have thrown myself into yoga and healthy lifestyle and that is helping for the moment - along with your wonderful blog and encouragement of so many likeminded people. Thanks to everyone xo

  6. I 100% agree. I was not a bad Mom, I was a less patient, less thoughtful Mom. Now I am fully there and far superior role model.

  7. An addicted parent is a sick parent and is unable to be the best parent they can be. There are a lot of ways to be sick, it is not limited to addiction. Knowing you are sick and not getting/accepting help is selfish, whether you are a parent or not. Many people, who are not addicted or sick, have children for selfish reasons - to give themselves a purpose in life, to be loved, to fit into the "perfect life" scenario they believe in. I think the focus of this conversation is off. You cannot shame people into getting help. Most parents will fuck up no matter how hard they try.

  8. Perhaps you are not always in a position to seek help, Anon.

  9. Lovely written blog. Drinking does not make you a selfish parent per se, but may cause you to forgot to relish each moment with your child.

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  11. It's much more than being is utterly damaging to your children if not addressed. So its just fantastic ladies that you are going for it! Your kids will be so relieved because believe me they notice from a very young age and all they want is YOU . My parents never made it and did not acknowledge OUR suffering. It was all about them and their struggle.The daily fear and anxiety does take its toll and leaves you scarred but do you know ? If they had turned it around it would have been the best Healing go for it girls are doing it !

  12. Living with an alcoholic is very isolating and damaging for all concerned. I experienced it with my mother husband and still feel the lasting effects.

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