Now that you have finished back to school shopping and gotten your kids the latest trends, checked off all the required and suggested school supplies, and lunches are packed and ready, I would like you to ponder the following question:
What is your relationship to alcohol and what does that look like to your children?
Scrolling through Facebook with all the "back-to-school" pictures of the kids, I can't help wondering how many of these kids are in the "what it was like" phase of their recovery story.
You see, in recovery, your story is comprised of what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now. Many of you, if you are lucky, will have the opportunity to hear your child's story one day. I know my parents would give anything to be able to hear my brother's recovery story, but unfortunately his story ended with an overdose from prescription drugs on April 22, 2012, at the age of 29 years old.
I was the lucky one. I got sober about six weeks after Will died. My mom has been to hear my recovery story several times but my Dad stopped coming to hear me speak after the first time. He doesn't say why, but I think I know why. What he hears is that he failed as a parent. He's wrong, but as parents, I think that is natural to think you must have gone wrong somewhere along the way.
For many parents, there is probably some or a lot of truth to that, but for a lot, they did the best they could or the best they knew how. So, in case you don't know better (because I like to think a lot is just a lack of knowing better) let me lay it out for you.
By all accounts, my parents did everything right. They loved us and loved each other. They provided us with the best of everything. We grew up going to church on Sundays and eating dinner as a family. My parents were fun and they definitely weren't uptight, they just didn't drink. But most of their friends did and so I viewed drinking as something adults did socially and never saw it misused or abused.
I know you probably think that if you love your children enough, teach them right from wrong, provide them with a good education, and keep them active in extracurricular activities, then that exempts them from becoming an alcoholic or addict.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you're wrong. My parents did all of those things for me and my three siblings. Unfortunately, two of us are allergic to alcohol and have brains that respond differently to alcohol. I have five nephews and I pray that none of them have the brain of an alcoholic/addict.
What I do know is that none of their parents place an importance on alcohol. They know they have an aunt who is a recovering alcoholic and they know what that means and the topic is always on the table to talk about. They know they have an uncle who was an alcoholic/addict and died from an overdose, which is also discussed honestly and openly. They don't think alcohol is bad, but they also don't see their parents using it as an escape or a solution. Their parents have what Dr. Joseph Nowinski would describe as a "casual friendship" with alcohol.
Like many people, Will and I both started drinking in college at parties. It was innocent. I didn't have any knowledge at that time that people used alcohol to escape reality or used it as a solution to being stressed or having a bad day. That all came later through firsthand experience for both of us.
But what I see in society today is that drinking is the norm -- a solution to a bad or stressful day. Putting your bottle of wine in a glass labeled "mommy's little helper" and calling it "mommy juice" sends a really skewed message to your children. Justifying your drinking because you've had a bad day or are really stressed out and need it to take the edge off is only going to make your kids think it's a solution to a problem.
It probably won't be long until your kids start having bad days and experiencing stress at school. I hardly think you would want your kid's first thought to be alcohol as a solution to the problem.
On average, boys first try alcohol at age 11, girls at 13. Teens who start drinking before the age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after the legal age of 21.
As parents, you have the biggest influence on your kids and their attitude towards alcohol. So, what is that? What does that look like? Do you place an importance or need on alcohol? Do you drink excessively or binge drink around your kids? Do you use alcohol as a solution to a rough day or as an escape? Do you justify your drinking?
We all know the "do as I say, not as I do" way of parenting isn't exactly the most effective. We need to lead by example. Whether it's texting while driving, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, using foul language, or putting your elbows on the table, kids are going to do as we do, not as we say.
I am simply asking you to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Maybe you are setting a great example to your kids. Maybe you can be an example to your kid's friends who don't have that at home. And maybe you can be an example to other parents.
You may not see the big deal if you don't have the brain of an alcoholic, but one of your kids could very well share the same type of brain that my brother and I have. Knowing that, would it change the relationship you have with alcohol?
Something to think about.