The Family Project: In-laws’ drinking
Q. My in-laws have an active social life that often includes heavy drinking. My children, ages 11 and 13, have overheard them talk about their escapades, as well as their hangovers. One Sunday, my mother-in-law blatantly said that she was not getting out of bed because she had had too much to drink the night before. My kids have begun asking questions. My husband thinks it is funny, but I am worried about the effects this could have on our kids as they come of age. Am I overreacting?
The consensus of the panel is that the mother was not overreacting.
“The children are at an age when they might feel if it is OK for grandma to drink, why not me?” panelist Wada Mercado-Arroyo said.
Panelist Chad Stefanyak added, “The grandparents are modeling how adults consume alcohol. This is not social drinking. It is drink until you can’t drink anymore.”
There also is a risk to the children’s safety if they are in the care of the grandparents at any time, according to panelist Pam Wallace: “If the grandparents are caring for the kids while they are drinking, there are safety issues, including the potential that if there is alcohol lying around the children might start drinking without the grandparents knowing it.”
The panel agreed that the situation was an opportunity for a discussion with the children and the grandparents, and suggested a couple of approaches to take.
First, however, panelist Erin Stalsitz said, “Mom needs to have a conversation with dad. He may think the drinking is funny because he’s used to it, but both parents need to be on the same page.”
“It seems like a natural lead-in to ask the children their opinions about their grandparents’ drinking,” Stefantak said.
The progression then would be a conversation with the grandparents about their feelings about giving alcohol to those under-aged, and keeping alcohol in a safe place, Stefanyak suggested. The parents should make clear their own rules in regard to their children and alcohol.
“The conversation is going to be a little uncomfortable now,” Stefanyak said, adding, “But if something happens to the grandkids under their watch, the conversation is going to be much, much worse.”
Another approach to the conversation would be to explain that the children are asking questions, and the parents are concerned about the effect the drinking is having on them. Or, the parents can express concern about the long-term health effects of the drinking on the grandparents.
There are resources available for families concerning alcohol addiction at the Betty Ford Foundation website: hazeldenbettyford.org
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, Valley Youth House; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator, former school administrator; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child. The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.