Author of The Sober Diaries, Clare Pooley shares her experience of parenting sober!
I should start by making it very clear that I am not a parenting expert. Far from it! I’m just muddling along, the same as everyone else. Just as I get to grips with one stage of parenting, bam – they’ve grown up a bit more and there’s a whole new set of issues.
I’ve done parenting from all sides of the fence. I’ve been a full time working mother, a stay at home mum and now I work part time from home. Although each of those models has its very different challenges, none of them are easy.
When I was working full time, I felt constantly guilty. I worried that I was doing everything badly. When I was at work I felt terrible about not being with my children, about all the developmental milestones I was missing, and when I was at home I was aware of all the balls I was dropping at work. I found switching from one role to the other really hard. Pouring a large glass of wine when I got home (and then a few more over the course of the evening), felt like a fast track to winding down and relaxing.
When I quit work to be at home, I discovered that spending all day looking after children was not a walk in the park. Drinking wine made me feel adult. It was my ‘me time’. And I really felt I deserved it. I used to think it helped me be a good mother – happy mummy, happy baby.
I also thought that everyone else was doing it too! I was more likely to be offered a glass of wine on a playdate than a cup of tea, and my social media was littered with jokes about ‘wine o’clock’ and ‘mummy’s little helper.’ Whereas our mother’s generation used Valium to cope, we were all using wine.
We are the generation who were bought up to believe that we could have it all – work and motherhood, but what we forgot is that the men were able to do both because they had a wife at home, keeping the ship afloat. We were expected to work AND do the lion’s share of the childcare and housework. It’s no wonder we all ended up self-medicating with booze – we were constantly trying to escape our lives.
The problem with drinking to cope with the stresses and strains of parenting, is that alcohol is a drug and, over time, your tolerance builds up and up. So, the one glass of wine I was drinking to relax at the end of the day became two, then three and – eventually – a whole bottle. EVERY SINGLE DAY. More at weekends.
This, obviously, took a toll on my health. I was 2 stone overweight, a terrible insomniac, anxious all the time and stuck in a rut.
But the worst thing, for me, was the effect it was having on my children. I was aware that I was bringing them up to believe that it was perfectly normal to have a glass of alcohol permanently welded to your hand and that adults needed booze to help them get through the day.
I thought that parenting without booze, without my reward, would be hard, but I quite quickly found out how much easier it is!
1.I’m not constantly needing to run away
Now I’m on the same wavelength as my kids and I’m happy to spend ages reading, or playing Monopoly, or driving them around town at all hours. Best of all, they KNOW I like spending time with them, and that I don’t need booze to make life with them fun.
2.I’m more consistent
I’m less grumpy, less likely to shout, more patient and even tempered. A few months after I quit drinking I asked Kit (then aged 9) whether I’d changed since I quit drinking. He thought about it for a bit and then said “Yes. You’re more MUMMYISH.” And I love being more Mummyish.
3.I have more time and more energy
Parenting is hard work, and doing it when you’re tired or hungover is even harder! Now my weekends seem to last twice as long, and instead of organising long boozy lunches all the time, I’m more likely to arrange a family picnic or a bike ride or a swim.
4. I’m a better role model
The best thing about being sober is that my children are really, really proud of me. I’m showing them that it is possible to live life without booze – and a much BETTER life. My husband still drinks (moderately – damn his eyes), so he’s also showing them how to be a responsible drinker. I hope they’ll be better at that than I was!
For me, though, the biggest reason to quit booze if you’re a parent is because one day, life will throw you lemons, because shit happens. One day, you’ll need to drive a sick child to hospital in the middle of the night, or you or your partner might have to deal with life-threatening illness. You might get divorced. You might have to deal with bereavement.
If you are dealing with something like that, then your children are dealing with it too. And it’s YOUR JOB as their parent to look after them and help them through it, and you can’t do that if you are drunk.
During my treatment for breast cancer, I saw a psychotherapist. She said one thing I’ve never forgotten. In a plane crash, when the oxygen masks come down parents are told to fit their own before helping their child, because unless you can breathe properly, you can’t make sure they do.
Going sober is fitting your oxygen mask, so that when life throws you lemons, you are there with the lemon grater, the Seedlip and the Fever Tree tonic.