Kathleen Parker: Born-again parenting

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON — For a variety of reasons, I gave up alcohol Jan. 4.

I have your attention, don’t I?

This is because people who enjoy drinking are always curious about people who stop. I know I always am.

And this is so because most regular imbibers, especially us wine drinkers — and especially mothers — worry that perhaps we enjoy it too much.

Wine is an elegant gift on multiple levels, most importantly because it allows aficionados to say they don’t really drink, they “just drink wine.” Additionally, wine comes attractively packaged with clever names, bottled for two and corked with denial. Unlike whiskey or beer — the stuff of cowboy and fraternity brawls — wine carries the whiff of civilization. Jesus turned water into wine; therefore it’s a sacrament. The French do it; therefore it’s sophisticated.

Wine drinking comes with its own elaborate protocol, involving gleaming glassware, an elite language all its own, ceremonial dispersals and priest-like men who describe in luscious detail the attributes and character of the grape that sacrificed its flesh for our sundown redemption.

By any other name, wine drinking is a religion; the sommelier its high priest. We, the connoisseurs, are congregants who study the seasons and varietals with catechismic reverence. Our children become acolytes in the holy communion of drinking.

Which brings me to my reason for writing this column.

For some reason during this Holy Week, I’ve had similar conversations with several women who’ve also stopped drinking, at least at home. We shared funny but cautionary anecdotes about our children and parenting experiences.

One was about the boy who set the table with milk glasses for everyone except Mom, whose place was set with a wine glass. Another involved a child who pronounced to a roomful of adults that her mother loooooooves wine so much, she could never give it up for Lent.

We all laughed because it’s so true for so many. We looooooove our wine. I can almost hear the chorus drifting across the plains: (BEG ITAL)Don’t even talk to me about giving it up(END ITAL). After so many decades of committed wine drinking, how could I? Besides, as my inner oenophile can’t resist further elucidating the record, I may enjoy a glass of wine or two in the future.
But here’s a distinction with a difference: My children are grown. They are no longer watching my every move to learn how they should live. But for many years they did — and I wish I had been a better role model.

History tends to repeat itself in families. I learned to drink from my father, who was pouring me cocktails in my teens. My (someday) memoir of our remarkable relationship after my mother’s death at 31 will be titled: “He Needed the Company; I Needed the Smokes.”

My drinking never ceased for all the ensuing years except during pregnancy, illness or occasionally to prove to myself that I could stop. For the most part, my glass of choice had a stem and I passed many glorious evenings on dozens of porches and stoops, talking with friends and celebrating the wonders of . . . everything.

My son and stepsons bore witness to these rituals and developed rituals of their own.

I am prompted to this confession by Amy Joyce’s recent parenting column in The Washington Post. The topic was about when to start talking to your kids about underage drinking. A study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving [MADD] and Nationwide Insurance found that one-third of parents wait until their children are between ages 14 and 18, yet about 30 percent of eighth-graders have tried alcohol.

And children as young as second- and third-graders have begun to form impressions about alcohol.

This is when MADD recommends that parents begin talking about drinking. Yet, of eight “social harms” listed in the study, parents ranked drinking seventh behind other concerns that often involve alcohol, including sexual assault, car accidents or unplanned pregnancy.

As our Hallmark approach to relationships and virtue goes, MADD has designated April 21 as talk-to-your-kids-about-drinking day. One day a year is a start, I suppose, but it has the same feel as once-a-year worship — or of commercially sanctioned appreciation of mothers, fathers and valentines — absolving us of neglect the rest of the year.

Experience suggests a better course — a simple if sometimes daunting rule of nature that persists through time: Monkey see, monkey do.

Email: kathleenparker@washpost.com

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