Mom–you might want to put down that glass of chardonnay! In case you didn’t already feel guilty enough about the damages you’re unwittingly inflicting on your kids–helicopter mom? Tiger mom? Cocktail mom? Slacker mom? Nature versus nurture?–along comes a new study from Demos, a think tank in England, which concludes that when it comes to their adult drinking lives, your kids can blame (or thank) their mom.
No, you might not think that your chardonnay is harming your child (after all, you’re the one drinking it), but as Jonathan Birdwell, head of Demos’ Citizens Programme, said to The Telegraph: “What we found really interesting was this delayed effect; the impact of what teenagers perceived about their mothers’ drinking habits doesn’t show an impact at the time, but decades later.”
And in case you didn’t already think women’s drinking was loaded–according to this study, if you think your mom drank a lot, then you’ll eventually drink a lot (note the use of the word “think”). So what about dad? According to this research, he could have been a falling down drunk and it wouldn’t effect your adult drinking.
For the study, 18,000 people born in 1970 were asked about their drinking habits at the age of 16, and then again at 34. They were also asked if their parents drank never, sometimes, often or always.
It should come as no surprise that the drinking habits of 16-year-olds were largely influenced by their peers. But the 34-year-olds were a different story. The more they thought their mothers drank on the never, sometimes, often or always scale, the more they themselves drank as adults. In other words, according to The Telegraph, “with each step that mothers rose on the four-point scale, the chance that their adult children were drinking above the Government recommended limits rose 1.3 times.”
So why don’t dads’ drinking habits matter?
The researchers speculated that fathers are more likely to drink outside the home (in pubs–remember, the study was in England), while moms drink at home, in front of their ever-vigilant kids.
Also, the guys at the Demos think tank said that since men’s drinking is more culturally “acceptable,” it doesn’t imprint itself on their kids the way mom’s drinking does.
But here’s the problem I have with studies. The nuances are left behind. Let’s take a case study of a real person: me. If a researcher had asked me at 16, how often do you drink, I would have answered (truthfully): Never. To the question, how often does your mother drink, I would have answered: Never. At that point, she was a recovered alcoholic, so she abstained from drinking. Would my answer tell the whole story? No.
At age 34, the researcher would ask me again. How often do you drink? My answer would have been: Sometimes. You see, at that age, I was in the throes of child-rearing, and often too sleep-deprived to even want to indulge in a glass of wine. How often did your mother drink, the researchers would have asked me, and I would have said–it depends. When I was zero to 9, she drank always (as I said, she was an alcoholic). Starting when I was 9, she drank never. If they asked me, at 16, how much my mother drank, I would have answered (correctly): Never.
The researchers would never have gotten the nuanced answers from me by asking these cut-and-dry questions.
At 16, I was an adamant non-drinker, in large part as a reaction to my wild-child older sister and my alcoholic mother. My peers had no influence on me, as this study suggests they do at age 16. They drank–I didn’t. I was immune to peer pressure, at that point, precisely because of the negative associations I had as a result of my mother’s drinking.
If they asked me at 34 how much I drank (sometimes), which I could apparently attribute to my mother’s drinking when I was 16 (Never), the researchers would miss out on all those years that came before and after. During college and into my twenties, I often binge drank (A result of my mother’s alcoholic influence?) But what about now, when I drink in moderation, and responsibly? Can they really discount the influence of my moderate-drinking father? I think not.
Next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up over the latest findings–Drinking is good! Drinking is bad! Mothers are God! Fathers don’t matter!–look to your own story instead, to the actual details of a real person’s life, which can’t be reduced to numbers and statistics.