Setting the Conditions

Justin and I met at an alcohol-laden Christmas Party. I showed up with a handful of friends after celebrating the holidays barhopping at the infamous pubs in our hometown. It was already sort of late in the evening and the festivities were dying down when we got to the house; Justin was laying into the karaoke machine full tilt, and we locked eyes mid beatbox. We started chatting, set up a date to see each other again and truly the rest is history. Our courtship was short and full of life, music, and vodka sodas. We hiked, road-tripped, went to plenty of concerts and festivals and even took a trip to Hawaii two months after we met. By the time August rolled around we were married and our oldest son was on his way.

Parenthood, like it is for most people, was a very new and different path for our relationship. What once was nights with friends and bottles of wine turned into quiet movies and dinners out during my pregnancy. Our lives changed in so many ways, but having children, school to get though and jobs to succeed at, we never went back to drinking the way we did before we got married. We both had family history to consider when choosing whether or not to drink around our children, despite how few we had or the language we used about alcohol when we were with the kids. As much as we were and are social drinkers, having a glass of wine or beer at dinner hasn’t been a routine habit for either of us since we became parents.

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We are the Condition Setters

I don’t worry about our drinking habits, but it’s been a much bigger challenge for me to remove the hype and habit of consuming sugar and sweets and having our devices on us at all times. As much of a non-issue as I try to present surrounding the reward of dessert and screen time, I have to implement that very psychology into my own repertoire and it’s been quite a struggle for me personally. “We are the condition setters”, Meghan Leahy so smartly stated during a meeting with Despite the language used around the nutrition in sugary foods and the overuse of screens, our kids see us buying cookies and ice cream and tapping on our phones throughout the day. Dessert is a reward for eating their dinner, using the potty and as treats at ball games and at carnivals; we offer gaming time for chores and homework completed. As much as we’ve been diligent about telling them that sugar and games should only be consumed in small quantities and screens used on a half-hour basis, we are simultaneously creating a stigma around these things too. We don’t say mommy and daddy had a long, hard day at work and we earned these beers we’re drinking (or cookies we’re eating in our case). Alcohol, like sugar and gaming, can be used in a responsible way on a limited basis without it being a big deal one way or another but it’s on us as parents to model that behavior while teaching about it, too.

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I’ve made it a conscious point and effort to be mindful of the time I am spending with the kids and the behaviors and language I use around them. I am deliberate about being kind, thoughtful and respectful of every person we come across out in the world. I certainly am not perfect and am not trying to be, but I think it’s important to be as cognizant of my actions as possible as they are absorbing everything. Behaviors are learned, and as such I’m trying to exhibit healthy habits as much for myself as it is for my children. A few other important points that Meghan touched upon during our meeting that resonated with me:

  • When kids see you drinking out of stress, frustration, anger, or exhaustion, that relates to them it makes them insecure.
  • Kids who feel insecure don’t know how to express their insecurities.
  • When alcohol is mixed with relaxation and calm, they feel that. They feel the sense of control.
  • Secure children grow (like an acorn) into the natural, beautiful children they are born to be.

My marriage, like many marriages, has been through the ringer. We are humans, learning to adapt and mold around our surroundings and as parents be as responsible, loving and guiding as possible while also growing into our own skin at the same time. Raising children in this world today, for us throughout dental school in Manhattan and now in the middle of Silicon Valley, is stressful. There are so many times when a glass of wine would have been the answer to calm our nerves, but it just isn’t our style. We drink in social situations and make it as much of a non-issue as possible, just as I’m trying to do with sugary sweets and our devices. It’s all a work in progress but the more language we have surrounding these situations, the more armed I feel to parent successfully.

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  • That has been our struggle this last week- but more with caffeinated drinks and sugar. Our 2 year old has NEVER been a good eater- not picky just more has no excitement for food. So for a while we got extra calories in him with smoothies, poptarts, breakfast cookies, etc.
    Now that he is barely starting to eat a bit more we have a huge struggle in that he wants soda ALL THE TIME and also wants to be on our phones (we really don’t do our phones a lot but he sees his cousins on them all the time).
    So it’s hard to find balance. And hard to explain to a toddler. but now is the time to teach him! 🙂

  • I usually like your posts, but this one is insanely judgy

  • I love your writing style. You always give me such a sense of peace and calm and control and remind me to focus on what matters. Thank you!

    • I agree Amanda, I only just started to read her blog today. 🙂

  • Wow I am 52 years old with 3 grown daughters, and reading this it is insightful to see today’s mom trying so hard to be good examples in front of their kids. Thank you so much for blogging this is going to be a great experience for me to read your journey. 🙂

  • Great job discussing difficult important issues. Your choice as a family to model behavior that makes alcohol and sugary sweets a non-issue will become a roadmap for your kids to use to navigate thru their teen and adult years. I know this first hand having followed the same path. Not only are my kids (ages 22 & 25) making healthy choices, we have become a very tight knit family and they are able to professionally and personally to lead by example. The difficulty I’ve run across is having to limit my own socializing with some friends that parent differently and encourage their kids to join the party lifestyle, which is multigenerational pattern I continue to work hard to break.

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