“What does it taste like?” Gomer, my ten-year-old, asked me.
“What does what taste like?” I asked.
We were having dinner and though I don't normally have a beer with my dinner, that night it just sounded like a refreshing beverage. I looked at the bottle in my hand and shrugged my shoulders. “I don't know,” I said. Because I really didn't. How do you describe the taste of alcohol to your child? They only flavors he knows and understand are water, milk, juice, and soda. Beer doesn't taste anything like any of those beverages. How could I explain to him what beer tasted like?
“It tastes gross,” the Hubs said. The Hubs is not a drinker and does not mince words when it comes to his disdain for beer.
I disagreed. “It doesn't taste gross.”
“So it tastes good?” Gomer asked.
I thought about his question. Does it taste good? Again, how do you explain to a child if beer tastes good? Should I tell him it tastes good? Will that make him want to try it for himself? Should I tell him it tastes bad? Would that keep him from experimenting with underage drinking or will it make it sound taboo and then drive him right to it? Man! Parenting is hard!
“I think it tastes good now. When I first started drinking, I didn't like beer. It took me a long time to like beer and I had to taste a lot of different beers before I found one I liked,” I explained.
“Why did it take so long?”
“Because it was sort of an acquired taste,” I told him. “It's something that grown ups like, but kids probably wouldn't.”
“Can I have a sip?” Gomer asked.
“Maybe you should let him try it, Jen,” the Hubs said.
“Are you crazy?” I asked.
“Yeah, let him try it and he'll hate it and then he'll never try it before he's legal. Like those kids whose parents would make them smoke a whole pack of cigarettes and get sick and never smoke again. What do you think?”
“No way. I'm not doing that,” I said.
The Hubs shrugged and continued eating. “It was just an idea.”
“Why can't I try it?” Gomer asked.
“Because you're not old enough,” I said.
“You have to be twenty-one.”
“So, it's against the law.”
“Isn't speeding against the law?” That was my eight-year-old smarty pants, Adolpha chiming in.
“Yes,” I said, slowly, seeing exactly where she was going with her line of questioning.
“You speed all the time. You're breaking the law when you speed. Why's this different?” she inquired.
I sighed heavily. “Yes, I speed, but I don't consider that a big deal. I do think underage drinking is a big deal, though.”
“What's underage drinking?” Gomer asked.
“It's when people who are less than 21 drink alcohol.”
“Do you think it's as bad as stealing?” asked Adolpha.
“Ummm,” I stalled. Did I? Where did I rank underage drinking in the whole scheme of things? Sure, I think it's O.K. to speed occasionally or gamble on my neighborhood Bunko game, but stealing was a big no-no as far as I was concerned. Did I feel as strongly about underage drinking? I remember going to parties in high school where parents bought alcohol for everyone and they'd say stuff like “I'd rather have you experiment here in my house and staying here than driving somewhere intoxicated and killing someone.” When I was 16 that made perfect sense to me. Now that I'm a parent, I'm totally not cool with that. I don't want my kids drinking in a barn somewhere and driving drunk, but I'm also not going to tap a keg in my basement and tell them to go for it.
I know my kids are curious about things adults do and I want them to always be curious individuals. However, I want them to always feel like then can talk to me and the Hubs about the things they're curious about. We never want to keep the dialog open and to make sure our kids know what our boundaries and limits are.
“Stealing is bad," I said.
"But speeding isn't?" Adolpha asked.
"Underage drinking and speeding are not the same as far as I'm concerned,” I said. “When I speed, I'm only going a few miles over the limit, not 100 miles per hour. However, underage drinking is really dangerous. You need to be a responsible adult when you drink. When someone drinks too much they make bad choices. You're kids. Kids already make bad choices. Drunk kids make terrible choices and many times someone gets hurt.”
“You mean drunk driving,” Gomer said.
“Drunk driving, getting assaulted at parties, overdosing. All sorts of things. Bottom line, there's an age limit for a reason and Dad and I will abide by that law. When you're 21, you probably won't want to hang out with us on your birthday, but if you do, I'll be happy to have a beer with you then. All right?”
"All right," the kids agreed.
"Who wants juice?" the Hubs asked.
What about you? What's your rule? Have you let your kids sip? Why or why not? Keep your judgment to yourself, please. Let's have a conversation and respect everyone's choices on this important topic.
As a member of the #TalkEarly blogger team, I wrote this post as part of a campaign sponsored by Responsibility.org. All opinions are always my own.