When you’re a dad, parenting questions often come up that you struggle to find an answer to. Since other parents are the worst and Google will send you down a rabbit hole of paralyzing, paranoid terror, we’re here to help by putting those questions to the experts. This is “Basic Dad,” an advice column for dads who feel stupid about asking for basic advice.
The Very Basic Concern
It was cute the first time my adorable three-year-old daughter got a beer from the fridge and said, “Here you go, daddy,” handing me a can of whatever craft beer I had stocked up on that week. And since this got a laugh from me, my wife and her aunt and uncle who were in attendance, she of course has done it several more times, expecting the same thunderous guffaws that she got the first time. But after about three or four times, I started to ask myself, “Is this a bad thing?”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drink that much in front of my kid. I might have a beer twice a week during the week, and never really more than one. On the weekends, I might have two or three, but that’s about it. I’ve certainly never been anywhere near drunk in front of her; I’m just not crazy about the idea that my kid now associates me with alcohol. One part of me thinks it’s probably no big deal to have a little to drink in front of your kid, while the other side of me wonders if I should forgo it entirely.
Basically, how much should I drink in front of my kid?
The Expert Advice
Terrence Connor, credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor: Drinking in front of your kids is one thing, but it’s their perception of alcohol that you want to be conscious of. If you tell your kids that you’ve worked hard all week, hence you deserve a drink for working hard, it sends the wrong message. That makes alcohol a reward, and your children may interpret that as, “In order to relax, you have to drink.” Or, “In order to have fun, you have to drink.” Or even, “In order to be a grown-up, you have to learn how to drink.”
I’ve seen so many adults — at one time, myself included — where everything they did surrounded drinking. They can’t go camping without lots of beer or go to the beach without drinking or fishing or a ball game or whatever. If you’re having a family barbecue and there’s more beer than there are drinks for the kids, that’s a problem.
The whole point is that, yes, you can drink in front of your kids, but don’t make a big deal out of it and be careful of the messages you’re sending.
Dan, father of two, ages 5 and 7: I’ve been thinking about this one more since my kids started calling me out on it, like when I’d tuck my daughter in and she’d say, “Dad, you smell like beer.” So I’ve slowed it down so that it isn’t the norm for them. I don’t want them thinking drinking is normal.
Now, I’ll have a beer at a restaurant if we’re out, but I wouldn’t ever get drunk in front of them. Outside of that, since I don’t drink during the week at all, I reserve my drinking until after they’re in bed on weekends, which is why they have an early bedtime. I don’t drink enough to get hungover or anything. I know I’d get in trouble with my wife if I was hungover, so I never have that much, but on the weekend, once they’re asleep, it’s game on. After all, I have a keg in my basement, darn it.
Robert Frisbie, recovering alcoholic: I can only speak from my perspective, being a recovering alcoholic and growing up in an alcoholic home. When your dad drinks, it has an affect on the child and your entire family,.
My dad was an alcoholic, and he died from complications from alcoholism when he was 56 years old. He was a great guy and we had a great relationship, but it wasn’t always the best of times.
I was drinking when I reunited with my highschool sweetheart, who I’m now married to. Her kids picked up on it right way: I wasn’t mean or belligerent or anything, but it was noticeable. I remember when I was approached by my stepdaughter when she was 11, before I was married to her mom, and she said to me that she thought I drank too much and asked me to stop. That hit me pretty hard. I made a commitment to her to quit drinking on October 25, 2012, and I haven’t had a drink since.
Kids watch, they pay attention, and when she said that, everything from my childhood came back to me at once and I just didn’t want to put my stepkids through some of the things I went through.
How much you can drink in front of your kids is an individual decision. My wife will have a glass of wine in front of them once in a blue moon, and that’s fine because she’s not an alcoholic. For an alcoholic, though, it’s none at all. None. I say that from a lifetime of experience, being the guy who drank in front of the kids and being the kid who looked up to a guy who was drinking.
Justin Taylor, Owner and Production Manager of Sloop Brewing Co. in Elizaville, NY: Owning a brewery, I feel like I have a unique perspective about this. I have a four-year-old son, and he’ll come to work with me — I’ll give him various tasks, in part to keep him busy, but also to get him involved in the family business and see what daddy does at work. There’s an art to brewing that I learned from my father, and I’m now passing it onto him.
When I have a beer myself, he knows I’m having a beer, so there’s no being shy about it or being sneaky. I don’t really drink in front of him in any substantive way, but if we are over at a friend’s house, I may have a drink as more of a casual thing. I don’t get particularly inebriated in front of him. If you want to drink more, there’s a time and place for that, but it’s not in front of your kids.
He knows that alcohol is something that mommies and daddies do. He knows not to drink it, but he’s curious enough about it to allow us to have a conversation. He knows the boundaries of it. My wife and I feel that communication is the best way to ease any misconceptions or any fuzzy ideas of what alcohol is.
It ultimately comes down to how you communicate with your kids. If you’re open about things and talk about things, there’s less of a chance that they’ll be curious about alcohol and approach it at an age that they shouldn’t. It’s human nature to be curious, and the more unfamiliar you are about something, the more misinformation you acquire. Beer isn’t bad. Alcohol isn’t bad. It’s just that too much alcohol is bad, just like too much of anything is bad.