Many years ago, approximately 20, my grandparents were killed in an accident. It was one of the worst moments of my life when I got the news. It was late at night. I was visiting home during my last year of University. I was in a room in the back of the house I grew up in when I heard the scream. The scream that would ring in my memory for many years after. It was my mother’s scream. My mother, the love of my life, lost both of her beloved parents in a split second. My uncle had been driving the car but had done nothing wrong. He was pulling on the highway when a drunk driver smashed into the side of his car, the side they were both sitting on. My grandmother died instantly. My grandfather died several hours later. I remember sitting on the plane with my mother flying to Philadelphia to get to him. She was livid. It didn’t seem real.
But it was. It was very real. When we got to the hospital, he was gone. One minute, they were alive, the next, they were no longer in our lives.
So me and alcohol? We get along. I drink, but I have strong feelings about what can happen when you overdo it. So, when I was invited to a lunch hosted by an organization called Ask Listen Learn to talk about alcohol and our children, I was intrigued. I haven’t explained what happened to my grandparents to them yet as they are very young. The pain has never gone away, but I want them to grow up knowing about the dangerous effects it can have.
I was also excited to hear from Debbie Phelps, mother of Olympic athlete Michael Phelps, who just wrote a book A MOTHER OF ALL SEASONS. Naturally, my relationship with my mother is a priority in my life but so is being a mother. I remember first learning about her when her son first rose to fame, and hearing that she was a single mother raising three children, an educator and a role model. Who can forget the tears she shed when Michael won his first Olympic metal? I wanted to hear her story, too.
What a treat to spend quality time with her, particularly at one of my favorite restaurants in all of NYC, Eleven Madison Avenue (the BEST New York City restaurant). She’s the quintessential Olympic mother: Her support for her 14-time medalist son, swimmer Michael Phelps, is loud and clear. And so is her love her other two daughters, one of who was there was us in person (Hilary). Debbie has always encouraged them to reach for the stars and I admire her bravery and courage for bringing them up alone.
I have a vivid image of her rooting for her son during his first Olympic game. She was so proud. This summer she is preparing to watch her son compete in another Olympics — most likely for the last time. She is clearly proud once more. Open and honest, she shared several pearls of wisdom that I will remember when raising my own kids:
“Be brave – have bold conversations with your kids when you make mistakes.”
“If you get upset your kids get upset – talk to them.
“All good values start with us – the parents.”
“Back and forth dialogue a must in talking to kids about drinking.”
That’s what it’s all about, our involvement. Debbie Phelps is a role model for all of us. She’s a busy working mom who has nonetheless been engaged and as involved in her children’s lives as you can get. She’s the first to admit that there have been bumps in the road along the way, but you work through them, with your kids….not against your kids.
According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, nearly one third of 8th graders report they have tried alcohol once in their lifetime and 15% report they have been drunk.
According to Ask Listen Learn literature, tweens know what’s going on, and they’re more than just a little curious about alcohol. “They see it as something exciting,” explains Dr. Anthony Wolf, a clinical psychologist and author of I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens. “They’re at an age where they’re prepared to take more risks. They do not to see themselves as little kids.”
Not all kids take such risks, of course. But fitting in with their peers is becoming paramount. As your budding children get older, the chances that they’ll be exposed to alcohol increase. What to do?
• Give them the information and the support they need to avoid it. Right now they’re developing their self-image and long-term habits, so you want them to feel positive about themselves and make healthy choices.
• Let them know they can talk to you about anything. When they do; try to Ask, Listen, and Learn, remember to have an open dialogue!
• Give them lots of love and praise.
• Plan family activities and make sure that they are not left unattended or bored.
I left this event with the feeling that teaching my kids to make better choices lies in my husband and myself’s court. Seems obvious, but it’s always nice to be reminded. Clearly my kids are not too young to start the process of Ask Listen Learn. If I start now, there will be less for me to worry about when they are older and I will be preserving the memory of my beloved grandparents.
Disclosure: I have been engaged by The Motherhood to be a part of this campaign but all opinions expressed are my own.