My mother and step-father met when I was in the second grade. When they decided to get married a year later, they were faced with the daunting task of blending a family. They each brought two daughters to the marriage. The early years were mostly smooth, but living together in harmony became increasingly difficult as we entered adolescence, not only because sharing a home with four teenage girls every day is a lot like walking amongst a group of rabid badgers sprayed with mace, but because my parents came from vastly different backgrounds. My mom was born and raised in a rural country town in the South and my step-dad spent most of his life in communist East Germany. To say that their cultural differences and parenting philosophies were different is an understatement.
It was hard to strike a balance between my dad’s lax approach to parenting and the watchful eye and tight grip my mother preferred to keep us under. The reality of our upbringing fell somewhere between the two in a place that, looking back, worked for our family as a whole.
One page from the European book on parenting my mom and dad chose to adhere to was the attitude toward alcohol and “minors.” I say “minors” and not minors because to my American mother that term was defined as anyone under the age of 21 and to my father it referred to anyone old enough to understand how to use a wine bottle opener.
While we weren’t allowed to throw keg parties for half the high school student body, we also were not constantly reminded that alcohol was a super special grown-up drink only to be consumed by mature adults. As a teenager I tasted beer from time to time. My parents drank it with dinner. I had a few glasses of wine at my oldest sister’s wedding. (I was nineteen at the time.)
By the time I entered college, drinking had lost what little novelty it ever held. I went out with friends, but I didn’t constantly skip class to sleep off my hangover and I began to notice a pattern in those that did this frequently. Some of the wildest people I met in college, the ones that lived to party, were raised up under their parents’ thumb. It was as if coming to college was their time to let loose and be irresponsible after a lifetime of walking the line.
I think about this now when my son asks if he can have a sip of my drink. I would prefer that he waits until he is old enough to understand what it means to drink responsibly and I truly believe the best way to make that happen is to refrain making alcohol a big deal. What you can’t have is always going to be more desirable.
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What are your thoughts on kids and alcohol? How do you address the issue in your family?