Cocktails and Playdates: A Worrisome Combination

It used to be that a child’s playdate was just that: kids would get together and run around a park, swim in a pool, maybe just play in the backyard. Today, many playdates offer a new component; one that isn’t entirely centered on the children, but geared more toward the mothers. This added component is alcohol.

Mothers meet up, often at someone’s home, and as the children play, the mothers enjoy each other’s company, as they sip on a glass of wine, a cocktail, or sometimes several cocktails.

For those of us in the treatment field, children and alcohol in the same sentence and the same physical environment has certain implications. “Cocktail playdates” are growing in popularity throughout the country. Is it surprising?

Consuming alcohol is so socially accepted, integrating it into every event can seem reasonable. Even if one mom felt a minor hesitation, seeing everyone else engage in alcohol consumption in the context of a playdate could alleviate any apprehension. However, it’s important for us to remember – alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows brain function, which can impair an individual on many levels. The children playing on the swing set or engaging in a game of tag in the back yard deserve responsible monitoring; this means, an adult will tell them when they are swinging too high, or will step in if one child is getting too rough. The more any mother drinks, the more her awareness of what is taking place around her is dampened.

Intrinsic, and even more worrisome, to the concept of a date is that there is a beginning and an end. Unless all involved live in the same neighborhood, driving home is required. Getting behind the wheel in any state of intoxication is dangerous, with higher stakes due to the presence of a child in the car.

Above and beyond the moment, what impact does a mother’s drinking have on a child? Although many mothers who consume alcohol – those who drink recreationally all the way down the continuum to those with severe substance use disorders – often don’t realize the effect on kids, especially if the kids are preverbal or too young for explicit memory.

Children know intuitively, on a body and soul level, when their mother starts dissolving away in alcohol. This is particularly true with extra sensitive kids, even when it is just a few drinks. They are hyperaware of the subtle changes that their mothers experience with even just one drink. This becomes problematic if they have no language for what they are perceiving; or if they do give voice to what they feel and the mother invalidates it.

We are as sick as our secrets, whether they are secrets we live alone with, secrets we are engaging in “socially,” or whether we are aware of them or not, the secrets we keep from ourselves. When we are mothers, this gets passed onto those dependent on us. The good news is so does our recovery, our wellness, and our abundant living.