I happen to be an alcoholic and, thankfully, I got sober before my daughters were born. As of today, they’ve never seen me drink. I used to think that, because I didn’t drink, I hadn’t modeled for my kids an example of responsible alcohol use. I felt I hadn’t said enough to my daughters about alcohol; that maybe I should have a big “T” Talk on the subject.
I never had that Talk, but I never hid the fact that I have a drinking problem and that’s why I regularly spend evenings meeting with other alcoholics. We also didn’t hide the fact that some other relatives have similar addictions, nor did we ban alcohol from our home. When my wife or guests occasionally have some wine, it’s no big production.
Still, I was uneasy when the girls went off to college; would they go overboard now that they were away from home? Would they have any internal compass for moderation and safety? Turns out, the answer is yes. That’s something I didn’t quite grasp, especially when remembering how drunken my young college years were. I recently asked one of my daughters to explain.
Well, I know you’re an alcoholic; I saw you go to your meetings every week. I know other relatives have a problem with alcohol and drugs, and not all of them have gotten sober. And I know that there’s probably genetics involved. Maybe I’m being too controlling, but I figure I can’t become an alcoholic if I don’t drink. So I don’t.
While folks might want to argue the merits of her strategy, its effect is practical and positive. She’s content living without using a drug to alter her mood. What I learned from her answer is the influence of my everyday conversation and behavior; my words and actions were consistent and part of life from her earliest memory. I had communicated clearly enough, without resorting to a Big Talk.
Indeed, our Big Talks carry much less weight than our Big Behavior. I find the question of what you use alcohol or drugs for more illuminating than the question of how much alcohol or drugs you consume. For example, do you use alcohol as a self-prescribed medication in order to get through anxiety or anger? When you come home from work, does your daughter see that one of the first things you do is to fix yourself a drink, get out a cigarette or light a joint? Do you drink or smoke when you are feeling stressed or upset?
Does your daughter see you drink only on occasions when friends are present or during a special holiday? Does she see family members use alcohol as part of traditional rituals, but not in a way that the alcohol is the center of the ritual?
In other words, we have to look in the mirror before we can hope to reasonably and effectively deal with our daughters about alcohol, smoking and other drugs.
It is not easy to break an addiction or chemical dependency. But that temporary discomfort and long-term effort is worth increasing the quality and quantity of time we’ll have with our daughters (since we’ll probably live longer), and increasing the chances of our daughters being healthy now and in the future. Plus, it makes our lives more meaningful, useful and acceptable to ourselves.
It’s simple: in the case of chemicals, your daughter will respond a lot more to what you do than to what you say. If you have a problem with alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs, get help for yourself now.
Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.