I grew up in a dry household. Like, neither of my parents drank—not even wine or beer—while I was growing up, at least not ever in front of me. I do remember there being a few liquor bottles in the cabinet beneath the stove, but they were dusty from years of just sitting there, untouched—their contents not even offered to company. Come the holidays, the strongest drink offered at our house was ginger ale laced with rainbow sherbert and frozen punch mix.

Now, I haven’t a clue how my mother got through the holidays without a sip or two. For years, that woman did everything to make our holidays sing. She decorated the tree. She shopped for all the presents. She wrapped all the presents. She cooked all the food—made all the holiday party runs. Entertained countless guests and loved up on every child who was in her life. All of this after orchestrating the Super Bowl of home chef meals: Thanksgiving. If that didn’t warrant a glass of wine—or a sifter or two of bourbon—I don’t know what did.

Because please believe, as the person in my household charged with creating and upholding our own super-intense, super-involved, super-detailed holiday traditions—the cooking, the cleaning, the entertaining, the shopping, the traveling from house to house, the volunteering, the run, run, running of it all—please believe, I can totally understand how one could spend the whole of December staring at the bottom of a cocktail glass to destress.

Staring at the bottom of a cocktail glass isn't the best way to de-stress for the holidays—or the best example for the kids. Here, healthy ways to survive the holidays. In partnership with @goFAAR. Click To Tweet

Thing is, I know this isn’t the best way to cope with the cray of the holidays. I do have a cocktail every now and again to celebrate with friends, but for de-stressing, I’ve turned to a few other more healthy ways of coping; top of the list is learning how to say “no” to some things and make everyone within the sound of my voice understand that “no” is a complete sentence and I am not obligated to use every ounce of my time during the holidays to do everything for everybody, at the expense of myself. That means that I’ve cut back on my gift-giving; I’ve decided to host only Thanksgiving and be quiet on Christmas; I stick to one volunteer gig; and when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I hit the tub, or go to bed early, or make a point of taking a few hours to read or get a manicure of otherwise do what I need to do to get back to center.

It’s a meaningful way for me to destress, for sure, but also a sound way to show my daughters that they don’t have to kill themselves to make the holidays merry. It’s also a sound way to show them that they don’t have to turn to liquor to cope.

Of course, liquor is ever present during the holidays, and so this is a message that can seem counterproductive when, at every party, at every turn, there’s a cocktail waiting. It’s easy for children to think that drinking is just par for the course and getting drunk is what we adults just, like, do, to get in the “spirit” of the festivities. Some parents may even offer their kids a sip or two for cultural reasons, or simply because their parents did for them. Not going to lie: I’ve let my daughters have a sip of my signature cocktails every now and again, and now that my college-age daughter is off at Yale, no doubt enjoying a drink or two, I’m not as strict about her having a cocktail with us grown-ups every once in a while.

Seems like I’m not alone in that thinking. According to responsibility.org, 37% of kids by the age of eight have had a sip and that number rises to 66% by the age of 12. But here’s where allowing those sips gets tricky: data from SAMSHA indicates most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is only for adults, but somewhere between ages nine and 13, children start to view alcohol more positively, thinking that underage drinking is okay. Some even start to experiment—setting themselves up for irresponsible relationships with alcohol.

What’s a parent to do? Well, in my household, there’s constant conversations about cocktails being for grown-ups, and even then, responsible drinking is a must. And we talk a lot about just what that is: drinking only in the safe company of others; pouring your own drinks so no one can slip anything in them; having a drink to enjoy it, but not to get drunk; certainly never getting behind the wheel after having so much as one sip; making a point of not making drinking a habit—or the only way to have “fun” with others.

And this is a constant conversation—one I encourage all parents to have with their children.

Need tools to have these conversations with your kids? Log onto the #TalkEarly page for more information on building a lifetime of conversations with kids around alcohol responsibility. I also encourage parents to sit down with their tweens and check out responsibility.org’s Ask, Listen, Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix, an incredible resource guide that shows how alcohol affects the developing brain. It’s an eye-opener not just for us parents, but our kids, too, and serves as a useful way to open up honest conversations about the dangers of not drinking responsibly.

This post marks the end of my year-long #TalkEarly partnership with Responsibility.org, and it was my heart’s joy to share with my MyBrownBaby tribe how I’ve poured into my girls to help them make smart decisions around friendship, sticking up for themselves, being leaders and so many other things that go into being responsible human beings—decisions that will certainly come into play when they’re faced with drinking. I do hope that you’ve found my work useful, and that you’ve taken the time to visit the web site for more information on how to create a lifetime of conversations with your kids around alcohol and responsibility.


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I’m a proud #TalkEarly blogging ambassador and I’ve been compensated for this post, but trust and believe, these opinions are my own. You know I’d have it no other way.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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