Alcohol and Parenting – the one mixer you don’t need
A friend once said to me, “I can’t do parenting without wine and sometimes I need to get so out of it just to cope” I thought it was shocking at the time, but as I was still drinking myself, I kind of understood what she meant at the same time.
It’s no surprise really as we are constantly bombarded with the message that unless you’re half cut or have a steady supply of booze to cope with the kids, parenting is just not possible.
I used to think that all the jokes and memes were funny, the wine glasses with ‘mummy’s little helper’ or ‘Because Kids’ written on, or the one that says, “Daytime drinking is allowed – I’m a stay at home mum”
Now, it just makes me sad and angry because thinking that alcohol and parenting go hand and hand and that we need alcohol to cope with our own children, as if they were a source of stress and they make our daily lives so bad that we need wine to help us through it, has become so deeply ingrained in our modern day lives that we start to believe it and this is dangerous.
It is one thing, thinking that you need alcohol to enjoy a family dinner or a night out with friends but believing you need alcohol to handle your stress and deal with your own children puts you on that slippery slope and we all know which way that goes. Sadly this is true for so many mums, we use alcohol to numb doing the one thing we wanted most in the world.
I thought it was okay to sit during homework with a beer or escape the boredom of bath time by supping wine as my youngest played in the water. As long as they were clean, fed and neatly turned out then that was all I needed to worry about. How wrong I was. They didn’t just need or want me to maintain them, I am their mum, they want me to be there for them, to talk, to play, to be a role model, to love them wholly, completely and unconditionally as they love me, without alcohol blurring everything and turning me into a different person. It was upsetting, confusing and not fair. My children didn’t understand that it was the beer that made me mean, selfish or snappy, they obviously thought they had done something wrong or that I would rather sit with my wine than play with them.
The Guardian published an article last year titled ‘Even moderate drinking by parents can upset children’ It was based on research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and states that ‘even moderate drinking by parents can leave children feeling embarrassed or worried or lead to their bedtime being disrupted’
How often do you miss out on proper bedtime routines? How often do you plonk the kids in front of the telly so you can be alone with your wine or snap at them for wanting to be with you when all you want is to be with your beer? I know that this was true for me on far too many occasions that I would like to admit. I love my kids but at times it seemed, I loved my drinking more.
My most heartbreaking experience of excessively combining alcohol and parenting still shocks me when I remember it and believe me, I try to forget it but I can’t. What’s worse is that my kids still remember it and perhaps the most terrifying thing of all is that although this experience was deeply upsetting for everyone involved, it didn’t stop me drinking at the time – such is the hold alcohol had on me.
It was a normal Friday evening and we’d been on the wine since about 3pm, cheap, strong, boxed wine. I don’t like wine that much and I can’t drink it but this Friday it was all we had, so that’s what I drank.
The afternoon was going as it usually did: celebrating it was Friday, relaxing into the weekend, no chores or homework was done, the kids were doing their thing and we were doing ours, while drinking more and more.
Then the mood changed as it so often did, suddenly, without warning and the arguments started, things were said that were horrible to everyone kids included and I’d just had enough. I didn’t want to be there anymore So I got into the car and started the engine.
I had my son with me.
I was about to drive to God knows where in such a state that I could barely walk or see, let alone drive, with my baby, my reason for being, in the car with me. He started crying. Not because he was scared we would crash, or that we could die, or that I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing or why I was even doing it. He was crying because he didn’t have any clothes or pyjamas with him, or his teddy bear. You see he trusted me, he would go anywhere with me, do anything for me.
I am his superhero.
But that evening I turned into a monster. Thank God I turned off the car. I just sat there and cried, cried for myself, for my children, for my family. Later, in bed, the usual horrors I felt at 3am were nothing compared to what I felt that night. I was in physical pain because of my shame, fear and guilt. I got up and lay down on the cold bathroom floor, it was freezing but I needed to feel something, anything to take away the self hate that was so crippling. I wanted to crawl away from myself but I just couldn’t escape.
I wish I could say that I never drank again after that but sadly I did – the very next night actually as I couldn’t handle the pain of what I was feeling, what I had done and to make it worse my youngest kept asking if we were still going to leave Daddy. How could I have put them through that? What would have happened if I had started the car and driven? I still feel sick to the stomach when I think about it.
That was the beginning of my journey, when I realized that I had to do something about my relationship with alcohol.
I am a sensible person, I never take unnecessary risks, I evaluate every decision, I am calm, kind, considerate, thoughtful and a loving mum. Yet when I was taken over by red wine, I put myself and my family in a horrendous situation that could have ended up with unbearable consequences. And for what? Why?
Do you think it could never happen to you? Have you ever driven home from somewhere or got into the car after drinking, even just a tiny bit? Did you have your children in the car? What does alcohol and parenting look like for you?
Imagine the woman who is at risk of losing custody of her children unless she quits drinking or the husband whose wife and kids have left because he had one drink too many with terrible consequences or the mother who was given the ultimatum – the family or the booze yet she couldn’t stop.
Is this something that only happens to other people, something you read about in the news or hear about at the school gates?
Do you think about the effect your drinking has on your children?
Are you really at peace with your drinking patterns?
Do you feel that you need wine or gin to get your through the evening or weekend with your family?
Do you worry what would happen if your kids fell ill or had an accident but you were too drunk to do anything about it?
Are you really 100% there for your children all the time?
Do your kids miss out on experiences because of your drinking – I know mine did.
Do you miss out on special moments or even just the normal everyday ones with your children because of your drinking?
I did for sure and remembering this is so painful at times I almost can’t bear it. I’m not even sure if my past behaviour will have any long term effect on them.
One lady I worked with told me that she found a new found happiness at being present at bedtime and reading stories, before tucking her children in at night yet she would sometimes sob uncontrollably as she remembered all the nights when she rushed her children to bed, didn’t say goodnight properly and couldn’t wait to get back to her wine. What kind of mother does that? She asked. Tragically, a lot of us – me included. I have even had my son at 4 years old tuck me in bed because I have been too drunk for the bedtime routine.
If this is you or if you’re scared it could be you then please, reach out to me now.
This is the worst, the most tragic and heartbreaking situation that you could find yourself in. Thankfully though, you can get through it. You can break the cycle. You can rediscover yourself. You can be the parent you wowed to be when you brought this tiny life into the world, when you felt so happy you thought your heart would explode.
You don’t need to do this by yourself, all you need is a little help and with the right tools and support you can be your kids superhero again.
And do you know what, it’s so worth it, the hard work you put in, you’ll get back a zillion times over I promise. Having my kids 100% back in my life, and being 100% in theirs is the most rewarding, joyful and awesome part of being sober – even when things get tough.
I had only been alcohol free for a few weeks when my youngest son said there was something different about me and his Dad. He said:
“You’re much nicer now and Daddy doesn’t shout. I’m so happy at the moment”
And that, is all the motivation and encouragement I needed.
Make your children happy again and get in touch.