Drinking and Parenting: A Bad Cocktail?

What Women Really Think
June 12 2012 3:49 PM

Should Drinking and Parenting Be Mixed?

Should parents teetotal or teach?

cappi thompson /Shutterstock.com

In response to the recent tabloid “scandal” in which British Prime Minister David Cameron briefly left his 8-year-old daughter at a pub, the Washington Post’s Janice D’Arcy has dusted off the old question of whether drinking while parenting is a good idea. Leaving aside that it’s unclear whether the mix-up (the family was traveling in two separate cars) had anything to do with a lunch-time beer, D’Arcy’s query is a timely one—‘tis the season for family picnics, block parties, and neighborhood barbeques that tend to pair well with a glass of rosé or a frosty martini for those of us who are of age. But when the kids are around, should parents and other adults modify their drinking behaviors?

In these matters, of course, safety comes first. As D’Arcy points out, drunk driving arrests are on the rise among women; it seems pretty clear that the sassy “mommy needs a cocktail” shtick can have a darker side. But what about responsible consumption? Though some research suggests that the “European model”—the idea that because European families are more likely to consume wine and other alcohol as part of their quotidian food culture, kids should have a healthier relationship with drinking—may not be as effective as was previously thought, I still tend to believe that gradual, age-appropriate instruction is better than outright prohibition.


But that belief comes with one important caveat: Tone matters. If parents are modeling an approach to alcohol that foregrounds the pleasures of inebriation—in other words, that drinking is merely a means to an altered state of mind (whether mildly buzzed or trashed) reserved especially for adults—they’re doing it wrong. Instead, the message should be focused on appreciation of the drink itself. Why this wine, and why with this meal? What are the qualities of various spirits, and why do they mix best with certain ingredients and not others? Even better, what are the histories of various distilling techniques and particular cocktails; the cultural contexts of aperitifs and other drinking rituals?

Teach the art of drinking (much like the art of cooking), and you can’t help but to teach respect for the substance. As a person not so far removed from collegiate drinking practices, I can attest that once one begins to care about the nuances of a good drink, he will be far less inclined to spend a night binging on swill. If parents present drinking as a privilege that requires appreciation, taste, and maybe even study, kids can only benefit from the exposure.  

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.