kids

"A series of small moments made me realise I had to change my drinking habits around my kids."

Alcohol and Drug Foundation
Thanks to our brand partner, Alcohol and Drug Foundation

As told to Naomi Foxall (names have been changed). The feature image used is a stock photo.

When Sophie* asked her children, then five and three years old, what her favourite drinks were as part of a game they were playing, she wasn’t expecting their answers to surprise her as much as they did.

“We would play this game where we asked each other questions about our favourite things,” she recalls. “I asked the kids what mummy’s favourite drinks were and they both, straight away, said WINE, CIDER. It was the very first thing that came to their mind.”

While she laughed it off at the time, Sophie recalls thinking that it wasn’t the way she wanted her kids to think about her.

“It wasn’t a huge deal,” she says, “but I did feel a bit of shame.”

Like many parents, Sophie had found herself reaching for a drink as part of her ‘parenting survival kit’. “I’d often pour myself a wine around 5pm to manage the end-of-day meltdowns and witching hour,” recalls Sophie. “I never thought much of it and never considered that my kids would actually notice what I was doing, but they did.”

In households all around Australia, opening a bottle of something in the evening is a common occurrence. During the COVID-19 lockdown, many parents found themselves having a drink at night to take the edge off #isolife.

While alcohol as a coping mechanism is nothing new, what has changed in COVID-19 times is that after-work drinks that once took place in the pub may now be on Zoom with the kids playing in the background. Instead of the wine bar you’d usually visit, your monthly catch-up with friends will take place on the couch over FaceTime while the kids watch a movie sitting next to you. It’s captured so cleverly in the video below:

WATCH: You Haven’t Been Drinking Alone. (Post continues after video)

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To dig deeper into iso-drinking behaviours, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation commissioned a survey, revealing that 29 per cent of Aussie parents increased their alcohol consumption during COVID lockdown, with almost one in six (14 per cent) reaching for a drink every day. Almost two-fifths (38 per cent) cite heightened stress and anxiety levels as a key reason for the increase.

As we ease back into a more normal life, things may change. For some parents, though, their iso-drinking behaviours may continue.

Sophie, who gave up drinking altogether on Mother’s Day in May 2017, says there wasn’t one significant event that stopped her in her tracks.

It was rather a series of smaller ones that added up and left her thinking that she no longer wanted alcohol as part of her life.

“I think sometimes people think that something bad has to happen to convince people to stop,” Sophie says when she recalls that time. “But it’s not about that, it’s about the bigger picture.”

giving up alcohol
As we go back to normal patterns, it's a good time to review coping mechanisms, like drinking. Image: Getty.

That bigger picture included the way she approached the ups and downs of parenting and the example she wanted to set for her kids.

“My children, now eight and six, were younger when I stopped drinking but they were still old enough to notice that I would reach for a drink when I was stressed or anxious,” Sophie says. “Just like reaching for a coffee in the morning, reaching for a wine after a long day was becoming automatic. It occurred to me that taking the edge off with a drink was a way of escaping and I didn’t want my kids to start thinking that I needed or wanted to escape from them constantly.”

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After cutting back, then completely nixing alcohol from her life, Sophie noticed changes to both her stress and anxiety levels and those of her children.

“When I stopped drinking and had a cup of tea or a glass of fizzy water at 5pm, the witching hour scenario was almost gone, for the most part,” says Sophie, something she attributes to a change in the energy of the house and her attitude to the evening.

Parents and adult caregivers play a massive role in shaping their children’s attitudes and beliefs about, well, everything, including alcohol. Sophie noticed very quickly that her children had picked up on her new routine and behaviours and the impact it had on their family, even if they couldn’t clearly articulate what was different at the time.

Now that they’re older however, they’ve got lots of opinions on and questions about alcohol, ones which Sophie says she is keen to answer honestly to encourage an open dialogue that will hopefully be a positive in the years to come.

“My son, who is eight and a half, says he doesn’t like alcohol and will never drink, which I guess he gets from me but I know that might change as he gets older,” Sophie says. “I kind of expect that they might experiment with it and I’ve tried to share the message that drinking or not drinking is a completely personal choice.”

Sophie also hopes that she is a living example of the fact that you can have a good time wherever you are, without the need to drink. “Whether we’re at the pub or a party, I love that I can share whatever I’m drinking with the kids, have a great time then drive us home completely safely at the end,” she adds.

Recently, Sophie asked her kids the same question she did back when they were five and three; what are my favourite things to drink? This time, the answers were a little different.

"Coffee! Fizzy water! Ginger beer!" her kids answered.

It’s a concrete example of how our habits, both healthy and unhealthy, can impact and influence our kids, and just how quickly we can turn things around when we alter or change those behaviours for something better.

If you're looking for more information or help and support services, visit the Alcohol & Drug Foundation's website or call 1300 858 584.

Image: Getty.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation supports all Australians with quality information to help them prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms. For free and confidential information or support, visit adf.org.au or call the Alcohol and Drug Foundation's DrugInfo line on 1300 85 85 84. The non-judgmental service provides the facts about alcohol and other drugs, advice on how to support loved ones, and connects people with relevant health and support services in their state and territory.

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