Fall birthday season kicks off this week. I turn 45(!!!) today and Addie turns 21 (!!!) tomorrow. While I get a day to celebrate becoming Cologuard eligible, Addie gets to experience walking into a bar and ordering a drink. When little kids hit milestones, like walking, first day of school, etc. it’s exciting, but big kid milestones are different because you as the parent often still vividly remember the same milestone. And if you’re like me, you’re wondering how you can be old enough to have a child that’s driving, going to prom, or buying shots at the bar with their friends, when it seems like just yesterday you were doing those very same things for the first time.
Our family has talked about alcohol consumption many times through the years. In fact, it is maybe because I do still very clearly remember my own college years that very early on in parenting, I knew I needed to figure out how to educate my kids about alcohol so they could avoid many of the mistakes I made as a young adult.
I don’t claim to be an expert in parenting and I’m sure I don’t know everything that goes on in my children’s lives, but to me, my college-aged kids seem to have their acts together and are much more balanced than I was at their ages. I don’t think its all luck they’ve turned out so great.
We’ve never taught our kids that alcohol is bad. I know some readers may take that approach due to religious reasons, or due to a family history of alcoholism. If you choose to go that route, great! Just be sure to explain your ‘whys’ to your child in age appropriate ways. I grew up believing alcohol was evil. Joking about wanting a drink would get me in trouble. As a child, when I did see family members having a beer, I thought it was sinful. Of course, as I got older, I wanted answers. I can’t remember whether I couldn’t get them, or whether I just didn’t feel I could ask and have an honest conversation about the topic. By high school, I was also questioning my Christian upbringing and so any moral arguments against drinking alcohol wouldn’t have appealed to me anyway. I ran with a pretty good crowd of kids in high school, so drinking parties weren’t something we did. However, once off at college I did what many college kids do and I started drinking regularly. I did many stupid things; thank goodness social media wasn’t a thing. What kept me from going totally off the rails was my relationship with Tony. We dated throughout college and often went to parties, and later bars, together.
Tony grew up in a home where people regularly enjoyed alcohol. You didn’t drink alcohol to get drunk, you drank it to accompany a meal, or enjoy with friends or a cigar. He did not feel the need to go crazy once he left home. (He grew up as a cradle Catholic while I was a Methodist.) Tony was also always more conscientious of spending (still is) and would never drop the kind of money many young adults we knew did on going out or buying bottles of liquor.
Our college years were mostly fun. There were some regrets (usually when I went out without Tony), but I feel like together we avoided some of the problems we saw around us: friends failing classes and dropping out of college due to partying, addiction, hook ups gone bad, etc. We helped keep each other in check. As we moved on to careers, marriage and family life (very quickly) we stopped going to over-crowded house parties and rowdy bars but continued to drink beer and wine at home or when we went out to eat. In college, drinking was something you did to have fun on the weekends (and maybe at $3 pitcher karaoke nights on Tuesday). We left that behind and tried to move into having the sort of home Tony grew up in. As we added children to our home, at no point did I want to raise them to believe alcohol and drinking was intrinsically bad. I wanted to stress drinking alcohol to enhance a meal or an experience, or as part of a party or special occasion. It goes alongside joy, merriment, and camaraderie; it is not the focus. I didn’t want my kids to look forward to college as an opportunity to cut loose.
So beer and wine were always in our home. Whenever they asked, we would dip our fingers in our drinks and put a drop on their tonges and without fail, they would hate whatever alcohol we were drinking. We talked about drinking alcohol in moderation, overdoing it as a form of gluttony, and how people under the influence of alcohol could do things they’d regret, like hurt other people. As they got older, we got into more details.
Before dropping them off at college I talked to them about consent, rape, blacking out, alcohol poisoning, hazing, having drunken videos of yourself show up online and losing a job or athletic scholarship, and all the terrible things you know are happening at colleges, even “good Catholic colleges” but don’t want to think about. We talked about it. And its awkward yes, but having that ability to have awkward conversations is priceless.
I think there are people who would disagree with how much alcohol we have in our home, how much we drink, and how much I’ve joked about it. I’m definitely one of those mom’s who wants a drink at 4 p.m. while I’m making dinner and I’m unapologetic about it. But just as a strict absence of alcohol in my childhood home made me seek it out, the abundance of it in our own, means alcohol does not hold the same allure to my kids.
What I’ve also seen as my kids have gotten older is that they are less apt to give into peer pressure. (I like to credit homeschooling whether its responsible or not.) They’re usually fine saying no, or doing what they want, even if everyone else is doing something else. They don’t look for (or crave) validation from their peers because they are fine being themselves. When faced with alcohol, or drugs, they can, and have, said no without worrying about what someone thinks.
They will certainly try alcohol and make stupid decisions as we all do. They may choose to tell me about these things or not. But if they do choose to tell me, I feel grateful for our relationship, maybe a bit disappointed in their behavior, but not angry. Thankfully, overdoing it on drinking often provides its own painful and nauseated consequences.
I don’t know if there is a “one size fits all” policy for families to take towards alcohol consumption. I only know that in our family, Tony and I have always enjoyed consuming alcohol, alone, together or with friends and that, so far, Addie and Byron are not spending their weekends drinking from borgs. How did our family culture or homeschooling shape their attitudes towards drinking? How much is nurture vs their own nature? I guess I can’t be sure. I only want your take away to be this: be intentional, open, and honest with your kids. Think about what responsible drinking looks like and how you plan to model moderation and temperance and instill those values in your kids.
The values my college age kids have now were formed years ago. If they’re binge drinking, not attending Mass, failing classes, and generally being jerks, that’s due to what they’ve learned over the last 18 years, not the last 18 months. When you set your kids free, you can still pray for them and keep lines of communication open, but the groundwork must already be laid for them to succeed. That’s why I’m not super concerned about sending my kids to Catholic colleges. If I sent off Addie and Byron and they both stopped going to Mass, it wouldn’t be the college’s fault. It would be because I hadn’t prepared them to live out their faith in the world. If you don’t want your kids to give into the pressures of binge drinking, partying, hook up culture, etc. think about the virtues they need to grow in and work on them now. I’m not saying they’ll turn out perfect, but the more years you spend, and the earlier you start, the more likely the lessons will take root.
So that’s my two cents on that. I’m not sure if this is a highly controversial post or not, but I am curious to know how other parents prepare their kids for college drinking culture and whether or not it worked. Moms and dads of young adults, share your experiences below. I look forward to reading your comments!