Teaching My Children To Drink

 

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Growing up, 18 was the Age At Which It All Happened. At 18, I could vote. At 18, I could drive. And at 18, I could legally purchase alcohol.

When we moved to the USA some ten years later, more than a few of my new American friends expressed surprise that our mother country could be so unwise as to allow teenagers to “drink and drive” at the same time. My honest response was that I didn’t see that it was a problem: it was (of course) illegal to drink and drive simultaneously, but that 18 was the age at which we could choose whether we would drink or drive seemed reasonable to me.

At the same time, I was grappling with a very different “drinking culture” in the college town we were in, where most of the student population were clearly too young to drink legally, but were doing so anyway. I heard more than one story of a college student nearly poisoned to death by alcohol on their 21st birthday. The drinking excesses seemed extreme to me.

And yet, the tee-totalling culture in our little Christian community seemed extreme to me too. As a volunteer in the college ministry, I was advised that if I chose to keep alcohol in my house, I should keep it out of sight in case any students saw it when they dropped in.

My husband and I tried hard to comply, but I cannot guarantee that there weren’t any occasional Merlot sightings.

Another 10 years has passed, and I find myself in a different world once again. In this world I have small children, and two of those children are now of an age where they can read my Facebook newsfeed and see things like this:

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Last week Kristen Howerton wrote about whether parents should tone down the drinking jokes on social media, and I took her advice to heart. The thing is: my children are learning about drinking, whether I say something about it or not.

I’m thinking, then, that it might be best for me to say something. Yes, I’m going to teach my children how to drink, because I don’t want them taught by my silence and my jokes. In particular, I want to teach them:

The WHO of drinking:

We drink with people we trust, people with whom we feel safe. If we are in a public place, we need a “buddy”.  We don’t drink alone. My kids need to see this modeled at home, in real life as well as on my facebook page. It strikes me that much of our cultural joking about drinking makes it seem like a glass of wine is all about relaxing-me and rewarding-me. But as with all things: life is not about me.

The WHEN of drinking:

We need to consider the timing and context of drinking: if you’re underage, it’s not time. If you’re in the company of someone who struggles with it, it’s not time.

The WHY of drinking:

We drink to celebrate, to remember, to honor. I loved this quote from Tony Kriz:

Alcohol can be used to medicate and to numb the soul. Too many hope for a pause, to forget their many pains: heart pains, soul pains, relational pains, hopelessness, and loss. Yet the Bible doesn’t support these uses.

In the divisive church climate around alcohol, I don’t know if you choose to drink or not. But either way, the best theology of wine is that it is a metaphor of joy and heaven. It was not created to be a tool of personal and interpersonal destruction. (Teetotalers and imbibers can certainly agree on that.)

Alcohol was created to help commemorate the significant moments of life. My theology is simple: God gave us wine to remember, not to forget.

The WHAMMY of drinking:

I want to tell my kids what alcohol does: it affects the way your body processes information, and it affects our decisions. This is part of what is nice about drinking – it makes us feel light-hearted (at first). But I also want to tell them that this is what I don’t like about drinking – the feeling that I am not in control of my own body. We talk a lot about self-control in our house. I want my kids to know that self-control is not just a word which we use to talk about whether we drink. Self-control is also the thing we increasingly forfeit if we have too much, and as a Christian that is concerning.

I haven’t yet decided whether teaching my kids about drinking will mean we let them sip from our glasses as teens in the safety of home, as my parents did. But for sure, it means we’re going to talk about it rather than smirk about it. When it comes to my kids’ “script” on the topic of alcohol, I want to be the primary author.

Their education about alcohol will not begin when they are 18, or 21, or whatever the legal age might be. Their drinking education begins now: theory first, and prac in the years to come.

Photo credit: wine monkey love by sfgirlbybay (Flickr Creative Commons)

16 thoughts on “Teaching My Children To Drink

  1. Yup. Alcohol was no big deal growing up and often offered to allow us to experience it (my experience included spotting it back out ;)). I won’t hesitate to also offer my daughter sips when she is older because hopefully by then I have taught her the importance of making wise decisions through lots and lots of significant learning opportunities. 🙂 of course, my friends will have to do the offering. I, for one, think most alcohol is disgusting. 😉 and my husband is allergic so he doesn’t drink either. 🙂 poor Ava is doomed in that regard. 🙂

  2. Great post! As soon as I saw the title I thought back to my 1/5 glasses of wine I had with my parents at a very young age – must of been under 9! Then the two occasions their friends mixed up the kids and adult drinks – yip I felt awful both times I was 11 and 13 – fixed by afternoon naps! The more pressing issue is kids disco’s and all that goes with it. Luckily we have boys so not that bothered yet.

  3. My parents let me drink to. I turned into an alcoholic, and by the time I was 15 I had legally died and needed to be brought back to life due to alcohol. Be careful.

    • What a scary experience for all of you that must have been! I appreciate your words. I would be curious to hear how you are handling conversations about alcohol with your boys?

      • I tell them Its bad, I will not ecourage or be okay with any drinking, because alcoholism runs in my family as well as my husband’s. But as they get older I know they will do it. So I will tell them how to do it responsibly, I also have been very honest with my children about my addiction, and I will never stop telling them about it, hopefully it will sink in with them and they will be cautious.

      • Thank you for that reply. I would think that having two parents with a scary history would be a big factor for your boys as they make their decisions. Your own life story cannot fail to have made an impact!

  4. Though I am a teetotaler, not because I’m opposed to drinking in general, but because I’ve never tasted anything – in an admittedly limited experience – that I like, I agree with you 100% At the same time, I recognize the danger posed by the lady who “legally died” at 15.

    I grew up in a more or less fundamentalist environment, at least, when I was exposed to religion, and went to a fundamental Bible College. There were very few topics which could raise the temperature faster that “demon alcohol.” It was funny in a way, because all the words translated “wine” in the NT are used at least once in the context of drunkenness.

    Ah, those were the days! 🙂

  5. I totally agree that parents need to teach their children about alcohol and drinking. And I agree with your thoughts on self-control etc. Our principles are pretty much the same as yours (not total abstinence, but very moderate use). Except that I usually don’t drink, because I don’t like the taste that much, and good wine, unfortunately, tends to trigger a migraine… Incidentally, I come from a teetotalling home, though not because of religious reasons. We never discussed why my parents don’t drink – they just don’t. A bit of a cultural oddity here in Finland…

    In my experience, the parents’ attitudes and actions are more influential than anything they say. When you model how to use alcohol wisely i.e. in moderation, being in control of your drinking rather than the drink controlling you, you can have a good hope that when your children are adults, that’s how they’ll do, too.

    I have the impression that for some people, it’s easier to become addicted – having a genetic propensity – which is why caution is necessary when it comes to letting children try alcoholic drinks for themselves. I’m not sure if I’ll teach my son TO drink, but we definitely teach him ABOUT it. 🙂

    • Tuija – you are from Finland! Thank you so much for your comment. The Europeans have a reputation here in the States for handling alcohol very differently to how American families do – and having been here for 10 years I think I lean more towards European drinking trends. I appreciate your distinction of teaching our children ABOUT drinking rather than teaching them to drink.

  6. Good article! I liked your section on “why” we drink. Yes it’s for celebration and just because a good wine goes so nicely with a lovely meal. I remember reading once that we need to be so careful with our comments about alcohol. Like coming in from a tough day and saying: “Wow, I need a drink”. Kid’s learn quickly from this that alcohol is a fixer of problems and what you turn to when things are tough. Definitely not what we want to teach them!

  7. Update: so, two readers contacted me to draw my attention to Proverbs 31:6-7, which says:

    Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
    7 let them drink and forget their poverty,
    and remember their misery no more.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I’d be curious to hear them!

  8. I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church and the doctrine there is that Christians should never drink, as a matter of holiness. I always had a problem with this, since that effectively makes us “holier” than Jesus who made wine, and drank wine. When the issue came up in Sunday school it was always awkward since I pointed out that this doctrine can’t be supported from scripture, but everyone assumed that I was trying to defend an obviously sinful act to justify my own drinking (even though I didn’t at the time 🙂 ) It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the church’s attitudes on drinking came from the Temperance Movement.

    Later, while taking Italian, I questioned my professoressa about when they introduce wine to their kids since it is so much a part of their culture and life. She had to think because it isn’t thought of as taboo as it is in America; she said they introduce it in the high chair! They dip a finger into wine and touch it to the child’s lips. She also noted that they didn’t have the teenage drinking problem we have in America.

    Interestingly, wine is a sacred element in Judaism and very much a part of blessing God at the opening and closing of Shabbat (Friday evening and Saturday night) and especially for Passover, with 4 cups of wine.

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