I was afraid to drink in front of my stepkid, but I shouldn't have been
I was never much of a drinker. Even as a teen, when it seemed so fun and exciting, I just didn’t see the benefit of getting drunk. Sure, there were a few times in college when I succumbed to peer pressure, but I never saw the big deal.
As I got older, however, I learned to see drinking as more of a social activity. Dinner with friends at a Mexican restaurant was a little better with a margarita. A cocktail party was slightly more fun with a glass of wine in my hand. I finally settled into a place where I had the alcohol thing down.
And then I became a step-parent.
All of the social norms go out the window when that Mexican dinner is shared with an 8-year-old girl. Other parents might have time to grow into their drinking choices, but I was tossed into the world of parenthood at 38. My stepdaughter had already been through all of those toddler/early elementary school things. She was now a full-blown third grader.
For years, I avoided drinking anything alcoholic around her. As the stepmom, I wasn’t a primary parent. I wasn’t sure how her mother felt about her drinking, so I followed my husband’s lead. He’s not much of a drinker at all, and since he was usually the one driving, he always abstained when she was around. I assumed he felt it was wrong to drink in front of her.
Then one night when she was 13, I noticed all of the other parents were ordering beer and cocktails with their teen daughters at the table. I then thought back to my childhood.
I can’t tell you if my mother drank when we dined out in restaurants, but I do remember her having a glass of wine with Christmas dinner. Every Fourth of July celebration involved some extended family member drinking at least one beer, probably more. As a child, I didn’t even think about it.
As a teen, when all of my other friends were sneaking wine coolers, family drinking habits had nothing to do with my indifference. However, I was never exposed to a drunk relative or a parent with a drinking problem. Witnessing a glass of wine or a can of beer during a family celebration simply told me alcohol could be a social thing.
I still have issues with drinking in front of children, but those are my own hang-ups. They mostly come from complete uncertainty as to whether it can cause issues. Studies have shown that kids whose parents drink could be at an increased risk for alcoholism later in life. However, many of these studies fail to distinguish between a beer while watching football and binge drinking followed by passing out and a massive hangover.
I’ve tried asking parents what they think. I can’t count the number of moms I know who have a box of wine in the fridge and drink from it regularly. Some have a glass of wine with dinner every evening. Some drink liberally for hours. I don’t dare ask if they feel the slightest bit of trepidation about drinking in front of their children. I have a feeling that if I did, they’d tell me to mind my own business.
Today, I occasionally have a drink in front of my stepdaughter, but she’s in high school.
When I’ve discussed it with her, I’ve observed a complete disinterest in drinking, although it’s impossible to know with teenagers, since they often keep this information to themselves. I do know that she’s grown into a mature, responsible young woman and I’d like to believe my example was at least a small part of that.
Maybe I was paranoid when she was younger. Maybe she learned from my example. Either way, abstaining couldn’t possibly have caused damage, so I’m glad I played it safe while she was younger.
But a stepparent has the luxury of having an occasional drink during the many times her stepchild isn’t visiting. For a full-time mom, parenting never stops.