Growing up in New Orleans, I was exposed to many things atypical of the suburban upbringing: world class food, a unique culture, fascinating history and the constant, but completely normal, presence of alcohol.
I’m not describing the debauchery of Bourbon Street per say, but rather a culture that closely involves alcohol in almost every way. New Orleans has an open container policy on its streets encouraged by “go cups”, a strong live music and bar scene, drive-through daiquiri shops, and a year-round supply of festivals, concerts, and parties.
Yet despite (or perhaps because of) alcohol’s presence nearly everywhere and always, people are decidedly relaxed about it. Local music clubs and concerts are each filled with a wide mix of people (the attorney, the college student the elderly person) all enjoying alcohol as part of the social fabric. To me, New Orleans culture and people have a laissez faire attitude towards drinking as a way to relax, be social, and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler (… to let the good times roll).
Growing up in a family with French heritage, my parents took a similarly relaxed approach to alcohol. I was given watered-down red wine with a holiday dinner at the age of 4 to fully participate in the family meal. I had my first beer at 10, courtesy of my grandmother during Mardi Gras, and served champagne at my 16th birthday brunch.
This might shock many people, but it never seemed like a big deal to me.
My parent’s liquor cabinets was never locked. If I or my older brothers wanted to have a drink we could, with the understood expectation to be respectful and smart and never take it too far. And believe me, I took it too far with a green concoction called “crème de mint” that I’ll never drink again!
I never had to sneak out at night to go to a party. I never had to worry about getting in a car with someone who was drinking because I knew I could call my parents and have an honest conversation with them and that they would pick me up.
We were allowed to make little mistakes in an open and honest environment that taught us to be responsible and learn a few lessons, while still staying safe. In college, I didn’t behave like a freed caged animal. I did my work while also having fun, understanding that alcohol isn’t that big of a deal.
I am thankful for the way I was raised because I think it taught me to make smart decisions when it came to alcohol.
It never ran my life and it never felt like this bad thing that I had to abuse or do secretly. The best thing about it is that I am able to have fun with or without a drink in hand. It doesn’t define my personality, my comfort level or mask any insecurity for me.
While I don’t have to raise my two boys surrounded by the alcohol of New Orleans, I’m happy to take a similar approach to alcohol. Now this certainly does not mean that the High School keg party will be at our house or that I’m trying to be the “cool” parent. But rather, if alcohol is something our boys want to try with us, it won’t be a big deal. They will learn to appreciate it and respect it, but not covet it.
At a recent dinner when my husband and I were enjoying some wine, our four-year-old asked to have some. We hesitated for a second, but quickly gave him a very watered down pinot, which he enjoyed with a celebratory cheers before every sip. He hasn’t asked for it since, I think in part because it wasn’t a big deal.
Having an open dialogue about alcohol is also something I feel is important. I want my children to trust and respect me and I think the way to get respect and trust is to give it. I trust that my children will make good decisions in their adolescence and adulthood when it comes to alcohol if I pave the groundwork for it now.