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How About We Stop Drinking So Much In Front of the Kids?

Photograph by Twenty20

Mommy needs her wine? I hear you. (I need my coffee, too. And, sometimes, a shot of really, really cold Patrón takes me back to the days of freedom before kids.) But I'm starting to check myself. In fact, we all might be "needing wine" too much in front of our kids. (Gasp!)

Before you start throwing empty bottles of Chardonnay at me, hear me out:

I enjoy booze (responsibly). I've got my own scattered tales about drunk shopping. I once poured an unfinished margarita into a spare baby bottle to smuggle it out of a restaurant for the sole purpose of making my husband laugh in our brand new parent haze. I’ve even blasted wine glasses with my nickname to add extra pop to Pinot. We’re all adults here. Enjoying wine, a cocktail or a straight-up shooter is fine and welcome—as long as we're doing it in moderation, maintaining appropriate behavior in public and not getting behind the wheel if we're loopy.

Here's the thing, though. My young daughters are taking notice and commenting on these grown-up choices in a way that makes me question what kinds of messages I'm putting out there when it comes to needs, wants and what's appropriate for small kids to even know about. "Daddy needs his wine! Mommy needs her coffee! Can I try wine? Should we get more wine [when shopping in the grocery store]?"

Is this what other 5- and 6-year-olds are talking about these days? Wine? Booze? Stocking the liquor cabinet? Not OK.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just wrote what is probably my new favorite perspective piece in The Hollywood Reporter about today's obsession with women and binge-drinking to relinquish stress. "It's not that we can't depict women drinking; it's that we shouldn't always associate their drinking with emergency stress relief or the sole gateway to being fun."

Not that anyone here is binge drinking, but Holy Mother, he's right!

I don't care if we want a glass of somethin'-somethin' to take the edge off from work stress, kid chaos, home duties or whatever—think about the message we send when we say, "I 'NEED' my wine." Our kids are listening and learning whether we think we're being responsible and educating or not. Sure, we know the difference between a real "need" and a "want," but small ones might not understand that one is not the other. Research shows kids learn behavior by observing and copying their parents, no matter how we might parent them.

Let that sink in.

I think back to my own parents when I was growing up. As a small kid, I rarely saw them drink. I know they did (hello, we’d have beer and vodka at my graduation parties and family weddings). But having wine after work or a consistent nightcap never really happened at our house. I remember my mom ordering pink daiquiris poolside on vacations, and that was about it. The first time I saw my dad drink a beer? I literally think I was a senior in high school. Drinking was not a casual, daily thing in our home. And my mom most certainly never lamented about "needing" her white wine spritzer.

I realize now that rarely seeing my parents drink as a child sent me a clear message about alcohol early on—that it is a serious thing, not to be taken casually (and comically) as how it's portrayed in movies, ads and in our daily passing comments of "Mommy needs her wine."

I didn't drink in high school (went to most all parties, but never drank on account of rarely seeing my parents do it). I want my daughters to do the same (here's hoping against all odds). We don’t have a history of alcoholism in our family, but lately I've wondered: Might my girls start drinking early simply because Mom and Dad do it frequently at home? Maybe yes, maybe no. I'd rather be safe than sorry, so I'm getting more conscious of my habits.

I'm the adult, I'm the parent. It's up to me to set the example.

We can only raise our kids in ways we know worked for us. I figure, the more they see me drink or hear "I need a glass of wine" as they grow up, the less of a big deal and more "safe" it might appear to them during their most formative years. The last thought I want them to have at the age of 15, when they're at a friend's house and have the unexpected option of splashing some rum in their Cokes is, "Mom can handle it, so why can't we?"

(You ready to throw that empty bottle of Pinot at me yet?)

Just like my parents did, I will keep talking openly about how certain things are for grown-ups, are unhealthy for growing bodies, are against the law for underaged kids, can ruin everything you've worked for and can be flat-out dangerous and sometimes lethal and on and on. I don't need to drink in front of my kids to teach them about responsible drinking. I want them to be a bit scared of booze -- I need them to be wary of booze. (There. I said it. Too dictatorial?)

I'm the adult, I'm the parent. It's up to me to set the example. And if/when I do want something, I don't advertise it to my kids. Because what's in my glass is none of their business (right now, at least). Cheers...

Jill Simonian is Author of The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby (a confidence-building guide for first time pregnant moms... because bouncing back is not about the body).