My wife, KayEm, and I had to have a talk about alcohol with our 8-year-old daughter, Nee. We realized that Nee was quite naïve about the topic after she attended a wedding reception. While waiting in line to get some hors d’oeuvres, Nee noticed another line and asked KayEm what the people were waiting for.
“They’re waiting for drinks,” KayEm said offhandedly.
“That sure is a long line for juice,” Nee replied. KayEm chuckled and told her that they weren’t waiting for juice. They were waiting for alcoholic beverages. Nee looked confused, but didn’t press the issue until a few days later.
“Mommy,” Nee asked. “What’s a Hinke?”
“You, know. A Hinke? The thing Amanda’s husband was drinking.”
“Oh, you mean a Heineken. It’s a type of beer.”
“Like root beer?
“No, not like root beer. It’s alcoholic.”
“Root beer is alcoholic? But N loves root beer.”
“Root beer is not alcoholic. Beer is alcoholic. Beer is a something adults drink.”
“Isn’t alcohol bad for you?”
“Yes, it’s bad for you if you drink large amounts.”
“Wine has alcohol in it, right?
“Daddy drinks wine every night?”
“He only drinks one glass.”
“But isn’t it bad for him?” KayEm was a bit stumped, but tried to explain that a little alcohol is good for your heart. Nee wasn’t buying it, though. I had some explaining to do.
“Daddy drinks wine at night because it helps me to stay healthy,” I said. “But drinking too much wine is bad.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it can make you drunk?”
“What is drunk?”
“Drunk is when you drink too much alcohol and you can’t control your actions,” I said. “I promise you that Daddy won’t get drunk.”
I realized that this was an excellent teaching moment because Nee is starting public school next year after three years at a private, Christian school.
“At your new school,” I said. “Some of the kids may tell you stories about their parents being drunk. Some of the kids may even tell you about they drink beer and other types of alcohol.”
“Kids can’t drink alcohol.”
“I know,” I said. “But some kids do and they might try to get you to drink also.”
“Yes, and I want you to tell them ‘no’ if they ask you to drink.”
“Because you can’t drink alcohol until you’re 21. That’s the law.”
“But people break the law all the time.”
“I know,” I said. “But I don’t want you to break the law. Okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” she said. My 5-year-old son, N, was also listening and had to interject.
“If they try to get me to drink some alcohol, I’ll just smash their glass and punch them in the nose,” he said.
“Saying ‘no’ will suffice,” I said.
I never thought that I would have to have this conversation with an 8-year-old, but I have a duty to prepare her to handle difficult situations. Her tenure at her private, Christian school may have helped to develop her character, but they have also sheltered her from many real-life situations. It’s up to K and me to fill in these gaps regardless of how uncomfortable the topics are to discuss.
But we can’t always control how our children interpret our words. Here is a conversation that Nee had with one of her classmates:
Nee: I went to this wedding and the grown-ups were doing something with alcohol so the children had to go to another room.
Classmate: (Pious silence).
Eighteen can’t get here fast enough.
Question: How have you handled difficult conversations with your children?