I maintain an ever-growing list of reasons to move to Paris. Items on the list include (in no particular order) baguettes, the fact that Stella the Pug would be welcome just about anywhere, and fabulous health care. The newest item on my list? Being able to drink wine without feeling guilty.
Around here, Friday night is wine night. When we first moved here and were in the throes of culture shock, we found solace in a little wine shop downtown. It's run by lovely people who stock really excellent wines at great prices. They do a tasting on Fridays at 5pm, so we'd usually go for that, and then either pick up a pizza at the pizza place across the street, or go home to roll out the pizza dough I'd left rising. We got to know the people who run the place and soon our wine runs included some friendly conversation as well. In a town where we knew practically no one, it was a welcome change of pace. It was a little outing that over time became a little ritual, and it gave shape to our week.
We love wine. Thinking about the meal you'll be eating, choosing a bottle that will complement it, and tasting how the flavor of the wine evolves as you drink it - these are all things that we find really enjoyable, and we've never questioned whether enjoying them in front of E was appropriate. He would come with us to the wine shop, sit on the counter while we tasted that week's selections, and we'd let him smell the wines on offer. We've always felt that it's important for children to see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol responsibly, and we feel that including E (to the extent possible) in our wine shop visits, wine tastings, and letting him see us drink our wine at dinner would ultimately help him develop an appreciation for the context in which wine, and other alcohol, should be enjoyed - with mindfulness, as part of a meal, and with family or friends.
Lately, however, I've started to second guess our approach. A couple of times now, E has asked to try our wine. This is just natural curiousity; he's also asked to try my coffee several times. We've explained that wine is a special drink that grown-ups have, and that he can try some when he's older. Still, there's this part of me that wonders if we shouldn't be drinking in front of him, and feels slightly guilty for doing so. I know that it's the norm in many European countries to include wine as a regular part of the meal, and to begin offering small amounts of wine to children at relatively young ages. The time we spent in Paris confirmed that wine is treated with far more respect than it is here in the U.S. It's a central part of the meal there, and it's hard to imagine families in that context second guessing whether they should have a glass of wine with dinner just because the kids are around, but in this country the Puritanical attitude towards alcohol consumption makes it hard not to second guess yourself.
Ultimately, I don't think hiding your alcohol consumption from your children is healthy - for you or your child. It suggests that alcohol can't be part of a balanced life, and it suggests that as adults, we should eliminate anything from our lives that isn't child-centered, fitting ourselves into our childrens' lives rather than fitting our children into ours. Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you're drinking so much that you think you need to hide it from your kids because it's setting a bad example, chances are good that you're just drinking too much, period. But if you feel the need to hide moderate and responsible alcohol consumption from your kids, then it's probably worth rethinking your approach. Moderate and responsible alcohol consumption in the presence of your kids allows you to introduce an element of balance in your life by no longer denying yourself something you enjoy simply because you are in the presence of your children. It also gives you the opportunity to model a healthy attitude towards alcohol consumption and to model balance in general to your kids.
I harbor no delusions that E won't someday be in a frat house somewhere doing kegstands before he's reached the age of majority (although preventing this is yet another incentive to move to Paris, along with the aforementioned baguettes and health care). I do hope, however, that he will develop respect for alcohol - not just for the damage it can do to his body if used excessively, but for the positive things it brings to life. Taking the time to choose a wine, enjoying the process of preparing a meal that will complement the wine and be complemented by it, and sharing that time with family and friends.
I'm interested to know what others' experiences are in this area - how do you feel about drinking in front of your kids, what is your kids' reaction? Did your parents drink in front of you growing up, and do you think it impacted how you view alcohol consumption? Please share your thoughts...