The Impact Drinking Parents Can Have on Kids

Scott Pinyard and I recorded a podcast together where we discussed the following common questions around parenting and alcohol:

  1. How do I explain alcohol and drinking in a way that my children will understand?
  2. What’s the best way to talk about alcohol without making it “forbidden”?
  3. Is it counterproductive to apologise to children for drinking?

    Here are the highlights:

    The first question we received was:

    "Hi, I have multiple kids who have been seeing me drank for as long as they can remember. It really wasn't a problem until about two years ago when their dad and I divorced, then things escalated for me. And I've had multiple difficult conversations with them. They've asked me why I do it as much as I do, and why won't I stop? I'm actively working to change this. I'm in the LIVE Alcohol Experiment, and I'm planning on continuing on in the path. Here's my question, I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it. How do I explain this to my kids in a way that they'll understand? I don't want them to think that I drank, or when I have data points now, I do it because I don't care about them?"


    In terms of the kids and the person not caring about them, I think they're very much going to know that you're caring about them because you keep trying. And I think that's the amazing piece of resilience that, Scott, you were talking about there, that ability to be able to pick ourselves back up, get back on with what we're trying to do and demonstrate that for our kids. I think what becomes more and more apparent that things like is so huge in our happiness, and being able to model that for your kids would be just tremendous.

    Scott Pinyard:

    Yeah, I love that. And the other thing that this makes me think of is this idea of explaining to your kids, I find personally that talking to someone who hasn't necessarily dealt with this before, while they might be really supportive, it's a real experiential thing. And by that, I mean, you kind of have to go through it to really understand it. To me, the biggest message here is that you heard your kids and you are working on it. And depending on how old they are... And I don't think it says that in the question... but depending on how old they are, you can talk to them about it. You can tell them some experiences. I mean, my daughter is 11 and she knows what I do for a living and she remembers when I used to drink, and she asks me questions all the time. Not all the questions am I answering all the way with full transparency. I mean she's just 11. But being able to talk about...

    I remember one time she asked me, why did you drink so much? And it was a great opportunity for me to talk about how alcohol is an addictive substance to everybody, right? That's the science that you were referencing before, Emma. And it also gave me a good opportunity to talk about there were some emotions going on for me that I wasn't taking care of really well. So there's always going to be an angle. And again, depending on how old they are, where you can have that conversation.

    And I will also add to that... And I'm sure you have something else to add on to this... but I'll also add to that, that you don't necessarily have to talk to them about every step. They see it, right? In the same way I was talking about having that scotch when I came home every night, they notice it. They notice the changes. And I've heard that from so many people who've gone through this.


    Absolutely, absolutely. I think just being able to offer that to them is so powerful. I know for me, when I stopped drinking, the difference that my kids basically said to me, that they felt like they felt so much safer. They felt so much safer with somebody in the house who was actually in control, who could drive places, and do the things that were needed, and wasn't likely to fall over and stumble, or pass out in the taxi, or those kinds of things.

    Scott Pinyard:

    Yes. Yeah, and that issue of safety, I think, is really interesting, and that presence that we're able to bring to a regular Thursday night instead of that sort of absence, even though we're there physically, they notice that. They get that. So, yeah. So I hope that helps. So the person who wrote in that question, I hope that helps. But there are a lot of opportunities to talk, but there's also a lot of opportunities just to be an example.

    The second questions we discussed was:

    "I went alcohol-free two years ago and never looked back. Thank you, intensive. Now, I'm dealing with my son, he's 15 and some of his friends are starting to experiment with alcohol. I don't want to make it a forbidden taboo, that's where the allure was for me as a teenager. But instead, I want him to know where this could potentially lead. What's the best way to have this conversation?"


    That is so interesting because I'm going through something really similar at the moment, different level, but with my 12 and a half year old who has suddenly gone from being a primary school or elementary school kid to going to high school and being a teenager. She's grown, she's gone through puberty. Yeah, she's like a full grown adult and it's very shocking. It's happened in a very short period. But in her group of friends, one of the things that is a very attractive and seems to be very trendy is drinking energy drinks.

    And so all of a sudden, all this stuff that I've bought into my family in terms of healthy eating, looking after yourself, not putting damaging things into your body, even though I wasn't demonstrating that for a long time when I was drinking is, is kind of counter to what's happening with her, and so it's very similar. It's very cool in her group to be drinking these drinks. And if I turn around and go, that's so bad, don't do that, and become very sort of tell-y and judgy, and whatever, that automatically gets her back up. And I have exactly the same concerns that she'll go underground and start drinking energy drinks in a secretive way, and I don't want that to happen.

    So it's a very, very fine line. And I think the way that we've dealt with it... And she's still occasionally... I mean, she only gets a really limited amount of pocket money still, which she moans about all the time, so she can't actually... I would never buy them for her myself, and she can't actually really afford. But that aside, we have had a conversation about it. And I've said to her, "Look, this is what these energy drinks can do, and this is what the..." And just in terms of very factually, this is what can happen to you if you've got this hugely elevated caffeine in your body, and it brings on risk-taking behaviours. And there's all these other kinds of factual pieces of information about energy drinks. And I also make it very clear, as I said, I won't buy them for her.

    But as she is going to be out in society, she will have to make those decisions. I cannot control her. And as a teenager, I'm much more of a coach than a manager in this situation. We're working together and all I can hope is that the behaviour that I model in terms of what I put into my body and the conversation that we can have without emotion... Again, one of the great things about stopping drinking is being able to have that less reactive conversation and that much more responsive conversation, considered conversation, that she has all the facts, she knows all the information, and I can only hope that she will make the right decisions.

    Scott Pinyard:

    I love that, and it's totally true. I mean, I know... I don't know, I'm 40 years old, so the things have changed. But when I was a kid, I noticed that a lot of parents tried to control, tried to exert control on what their kids do, and by the way, take personal ownership of their child's choices. And so the stakes end up being really high for them because they almost feel like, "Oh, well, if junior goes out and drinks, then that's somehow a reflection on me." And I've always found that to be kind of false, wrong, because the whole point of this is that junior is becoming their own person. And so I love what you said about giving the information, and I think it's really important.

    The one thing I would add to that, and this is something that I wish I had thought about more when I was... I didn't actually start drinking until I was in college, believe it or not. I had very unusual in that way, I avoided it like crazy during high school, because I was afraid of it. But when I started working with This Naked Mind and reading the book while I was still drinking, there was several sort of myths about alcohol that once I spent some ;me thinking about it, I was like, "Oh, yeah, that really isn't true." And one of those myths is that it feels good. And depending on how open this person is with their son, really having that conversation about, "I can't stop you from doing it, I know that. But let me give you some things to think about..." And putting that idea in your head of like, "If you do do it, see how you feel an hour after you start. Just stop and check in with yourself."

    It was such a huge mind shifting moment for me when I read this in This Naked Mind. Well, not when I read it, but then later that night when I started drinking, and then I actually... like I set an alarm on my phone to go off and just say how are you feeling? And when I realised, I'm like, oh, I feel gross, like I feel kind of sick. So that's another way to go about it too, that there's a lot of perceived benefits and friends are always very happy to egg each other on, and all of that. But the reality is, is it worth it if you feel like garbage? I think that's something that could be very interesting to talk about as well.


    I think that everything I've learned around emotionally intelligent parenting really just reiterate what you were saying that, Scott, is very much about the goal should be connection. The goal should always be connection. So if we can talk about things in an un-emotive way where we're not making any judgments, fantastic. But the most important thing is keeping the connection going with our kids so that we're not the person that they won't come to if they find themselves in a scary situation, we're not the person they won't call if they're feeling vulnerable, because they're more worried that we will get angry with them than that we'll be there to help them, to save them, and they might look for somebody else in that situation who may not have their best interests in heart.

    Scott Pinyard:

    That's such a good point. And that brings to mind this idea that, in order for us to do that... Well, I don't know about you, Emma, but for me, I think of putting myself in that situation in order to really create that environment where, say, my daughter would call me, maybe let's say she had been drinking and then realised, remembered, dad told me to ask me how I feel. And now I feel terrible. Like in order to be in that situation, I have to put my own emotions in check, right? Like I need to work on how I think about and feel about my kids because they are becoming their own people. And so taking some of that fear, which I'm going to guess is what it is for most of us, especially with 15 year old son, talking about this and actually working on that for ourselves and digging into that a little bit, just makes us even more available for them.

    The thirds and final question was:

    "Hello. I have a lot of regrets when it comes to my kids and my behaviour as a drinker. I have four kids under 13 and I don't think now is the right time to talk about it. But at some point I want to tell them that I'm sorry. Is that counterproductive for me?"


    That's a really interesting question. And I think really, again, if you're talking about going back to them and saying what you're sorry about, I think that's really an individual response. I think that would depend on the relationship that you have with your kids. What it sounds like is that you have a lot of regret around your behaviour, and what I would start focusing on is your relationship with yourself about that. Because I think how the relationship that you have with yourself and what you demonstrate for your kids will absolutely shine through that you have regret for those things because you've changed them. But I think the deeper thing, it sounds like to me, would be to start to make peace with what's happened in your past and to give yourself the credit and the love for what you're trying to do now. And understanding a little bit, like we said earlier, that you wouldn't be where you are now if you hadn't been where you were then, and how much you've grown and what's changed in your life based on the changes that you've made with alcohol.

    Yeah, this one gets me a little bit thinking about it. So I totally agree in working on the way that you're feeling about yourself. And I also see there's a reason... I don't remember what step number it is in AA, but there's a reason that there's that step about making amends, about talking to people that you have hurt. And it is not just so they feel be>er, it actually helps you feel be>er. And in a lot of ways, it puts some closure on things for you. And so I think that can be absolutely something that isn't counterproductive, but it's all about how you do it. Just like with everything else at This Naked Mind, the ideas that we have, the way we frame things for ourselves, the reasons we have for doing things are going to really impact how we experience them.

    And so for instance, we're a compassion-based method of quitting drinking. What does that mean? That means that we don't try to use willpower and just beat the crap out of ourselves if we "fail", right? Like we lead with grace, we lead with compassion. And I think if you take that same approach in talking to your kids, especially about past regrets, that can be really, really helpful so that you don't get yourself into a situation where that conversation is counterproductive. Because here's the thing, if you show up at the dinner table one night, 10 years from now, and it's ;me to have that conversation and you just start beating yourself up again, you're not going to feel good. And as a ma>er of fact, your kid might not actually hear what you're trying to say, because they're going to see, "Oh, look at that, dad's sad. I want to make dad feel be>er", when your intention is to communicate something to them.

    So there are a few concrete things that I think can be very helpful. So I did this with both of my kids when they were really young, I got them both email addresses and I send them emails from time to time. They don't know about these email addresses. And I have an email to both of them about this exact thing, but I didn't send it. I wrote it when I was about six months alcohol-free and things were starting to become clear like, oh, wow, look at all of this that has happened, when you start to come to terms with things. But I saved it. And I know a lot of people will write letters in the same sort of way, sort of expressing how you're feeling.

    And what I think can be really, really powerful about that is whenever the time is right to have the conversation with your kids, you can go back and look at that letter. Like I can go back and look at those emails and decide, is this how I really want to say it now? But I can also get a sense of the emotion that I was feeling then, and that I think is super duper valuable. So really, I don't think it's necessarily counterproductive as long as you're not hurting yourself, if that makes sense?


    Yeah. Totally, totally. I feel the same way. I've used writing letters to myself a lot in the work on my journey, my teenage self writing letters to my self in my 20s and 30s when I was working in corporate. I find it really, really useful to acknowledge and have compassion for where you were at that ;me in yourself. And also, the amazing things that you did do at that ;me as well, because there's always going to be things that you did that were terrific and decisions that you made that were good as well. And as Annie always says, "You were doing the best you could with the tools that you had at the time."

    Scott Pinyard:

    And when the time is right to have that conversation, look at how many and how much better your tools are.

    If you would like to watch the full video please find it at this link: Coaching Questions: Drinking Parents & Kids

    As well as being a certified counsellor, psychotherapist, This Naked Mind Alcohol Coach and Gray Area Drinking coach.  Emma is a Tuning into Teens™ registered facilitator helping parents tune into their teens with emotional intelligence and help develop the teens own emotional intelligence


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