Mixing alcohol and motherhood: 'I never want my children to feel unsafe, as I did frequently'

Actress Anne Hathaway ditched alcohol while her son was small because she couldn't handle the hangovers. While abstaining for the sake of the kids isn’t for everyone, the dynamic between mixing alcohol and children is an increasing talking point among parents


The idea of harbouring a hangover while getting up at 6am to care for someone who needs so much from you is enough to give any of us a headache.

And while many cherish the release that comes during the hazy baby years from getting a little giddy with your friends, for some, it can make things a lot more complicated.

Irish-born blogger, Eimear Varian Barry, who is based in London, brought up the topic recently in an Instagram post shared by thousands: “Does any other mom get severe guilt every time they have a few drinks? In saying that even before I became a parent I would have the serious fear every time I was hungover. Like the WORST. Honestly, I just can’t get over it.”

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"I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as I’m careful and consider my kids in my decisions"

It opened up a topic increasingly discussed among parents — specifically mothers, in this case. And far from another mummy-guilt trip, it opened up a deeper conversation around why we drink, and what message we are passing onto our children.

Healthy relationship

Broadcaster and journalist Louise McSharry has always been very open about how her childhood was affected by alcohol. She responded to the social media post agreeing that the topic is something she thinks about, a lot.

“I enjoy a few drinks, but I know my limits (a fact for which I’m very grateful). I never want my children to feel unsafe, as I did frequently, so I’m careful to make sure that when I drink I either keep it civil and get home at a reasonable hour or if I want to go wild they stay with grandparents. I like a drink and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as I’m careful and consider my kids in my decisions.”

McSharry points out that she wants her children to have a healthy and normal relationship with alcohol. “Having said that, these days when I do get a bad hangover, it’s all about the emotion and not about the physical. I feel absolutely terrible about myself and basically every decision I’ve ever made, but that is just a chemical response to consuming a depressant.

"As with all parenting, I think we are all doing our best, and if we’re considering our kids' needs in the context of our decisions then we’re probably doing well.”

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"I wasn’t driving but I was hungover and that was enough for me"

Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway was a little more extreme with her choices. She famously announced to the Ellen show last year that she was giving up alcohol until her son was at least 18.

She said her decision was made because of the hangovers. “I quit drinking back in October for 18 years,” she explained. "I’m going to stop drinking while my son is in my house just because I don’t totally love the way I do it and he’s getting to an age where he really does need me all the time in the morning."

She went on to explain that she once did the school run on the morning after the night before, saying: "I wasn’t driving but I was hungover and that was enough for me. I didn’t love that one."

Emotional versus physical fallout

But the Les Miserable star reiterated in the Boston Magazine that her decision was not a moralistic one. She says it was simply based on how drinking alcohol makes her feel the next day. "I didn’t put a drink down because my drinking was a problem," she explained. "I put it down because the way I drink leads me to have hangovers and those were the problem. My last hangover lasted for five days.

"When I’m at a stage in my life where there is enough space for me to have a hangover, I’ll start drinking again, but that won’t be until my kid is out of the house."

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It sounds pretty clear-cut. But we, as a nation, have a slightly more complicated relationship with alcohol. Its overindulgence is weaved into the fabric of every aspect of our lives – celebrations, commiserations, to de-stress, to counteract a shock, even to get better (somebody give her a hot toddy!).

Many of us know that feeling Hathaway describes. The blink-and-you-are-up feeling, but with the added sluggishness of having our head feel it's been glued on backwards. Eyes that barely open, the urge to do nothing but drink tea and be fed Hula Hoops all day on the couch. Instead, Little Miss or Mister Shouts-A-Lot wants to smear banana in your face and cram your tampons into the toilet.

Insecure

"The upside is that my kids say they are never drinking"

Of course, keeping them safe is the priority, but a child's oblivion to your hangover changes as they get older.

A friend of mine recently explained how, at a family christening, she had too much wine and her 7-year-old noted her unsteadiness and got upset. Now, if they are out together or on holidays, the little girl tisks her mother if she orders a second glass. “I feel like I made her feel unsafe. I don’t know how to undo that without just giving it up entirely." She decided to stop drinking, ever, around her daughter – especially as it made her feel so uncomfortable.

Many of the responses to Eimear Varian Barry’s Instagram post had similar stories to share. “I ditched it 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my first son and I was so shocked by how much easier life/relationships were without alcohol," admitted one of her followers. "I was basically a mess stuck in a negative loop with it. I don’t miss it at all.”

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Another had a different take on things: “I can actually say I don’t get anxious or feel guilty if I’m honest. Our jobs (as mums) are full-time 24/7, plus our other paid jobs and plus housework. I even go to full-time college as well. So if and when I get intoxicated (on friend’s birthdays) I feel I’ve earned it. But I still feel shit for about three days after," she confides. "The upside is that my kids say they are never drinking.”

It's complicated

UK Mummy Blogger Clemmie Telford brought up the topic on social media in the context of Dry January. "Anyone else opting for a slab of chocolate over Sauvignon Blanc?" she asked her 113k followers.

The post got a lot of very honest traction. "I’m 30 this year and nearly two years sober. My journey is similar, I could party forever when I was younger and childless, but since the kids, my anxiety has increased tenfold and the effect it had on my mental health really affected my parenting," explained Stevieleec. "Best decision I ever made and the cravings and urges get less and less as time goes on.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I myself have complicated feelings about drinking and my children, especially now that they are old enough to observe and inquire.

We don’t drink at home. Ever. The only time they see me enjoy a gin and tonic or jug of sangria is on holidays or a glass of wine in a restaurant. I never want them to feel the way I did, so the consequence is that I choose not to mix alcohol with my kids.

Its overuse may be normalised by many of us but it is an issue that should be given thought as you move into life with children. Do we want to continue to place such emphasis on alcohol being the epicentre of our downtime?

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But, like most things when it comes to parenthood, finding the balance is a different juggle for everyone.

Image via Unsplash.com 

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