Natural Parenting And Alcoholism


Written by The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital

Q: My husband seems overwhelmed by our newborn, and says taking care of her “comes naturally” to me. How do I get him to step up to the plate and help me?

A: It is amazing to see what happens between a mother and infant in the early weeks after birth. The mother’s feelings of attachment to the baby begin to take hold and she begins to recognize the subtleties in her infant’s behaviors. This is partly because of the change in maternal hormones, but mostly because of the almost constant physical demands of a newborn. It is important for dad (and mom) to understand this early mother-infant attachment and not be threatened by it. Instead, embrace it and enjoy watching this wonderful new relationship unfold.

Many dads are uncomfortable with “hands on” care of tiny babies because they don’t see them as strong little creatures, but as fragile and breakable. Moms learn quickly that babies don’t break that easily and find what works vs. what doesn’t. In this way mom picks up the baby’s cues of sooner.

The role of a father in the early weeks is to provide support for mom in ways like ensuring nutrition, keeping her environment comfortable and being willing to help with baby care. Father-infant attachments are not greater or less than moms, just different. It is on this difference that babies thrive.

To get dad more involved, gradually give over the baby for short periods of time. Ask him to take the baby for a walk while you take a bath or go for a short outing to get your hair cut, manicure or lunch with a friend. Dad may also work on his own bag of tricks for playing with, entertaining, or soothing a cranky baby. Once you know the baby is fed and dry and warm, have dad walk the baby, gently bounce, “shush” or sing softly. Dad can also take over particular parts of baby’s routine such as bathing or diapering.

As the baby grows and becomes more social with coos and smiles, dads will usually respond as well and gain confidence in caregiving.

Q: Alcoholism runs in my family. How soon should I start talking to my kids about the risks of the disease (they’re 8 and 10)? And how should I approach it?

A: It is not too early to start talking to your kids now. Experts in the field of substance abuse say that children are ready to start some sort of open dialogue about alcohol by the age of four or five. A survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that, on average, a child takes his or her first drink of alcohol at age 11. This statistic drives home the point that prevention starts early.

You might start by asking your children what they know about the word “drunk.” They’ll probably have some ideas about what this word means, and they might have some emotions that the word conjures for them. Talk about the way that the words, or experiences of being exposed to someone who is drunk, make them feel. Let your children know that you are interested in answering their questions about drugs and alcohol, and that you would like this to be an ongoing and safe topic of discussion.

Since you have stated that you have direct experience with alcoholism in your family, you can talk to your children about your experiences and your feelings. Be clear about your wish for your children to abstain from drinking. Make it a rule in your household. Just like, “We don’t use bad words in our house” is a rule, “we care about health and do not put bad things in our bodies” should be a rule too. At least one study (by Grant & Dawson) states that if drinking is delayed until age 21, a child’s risk of serious alcohol problems decreases by 70 percent.

Finally, as you prepare to talk to your kids, you will want to convey that you are comfortable with the topic. You might want to look up some current information and statistics for yourself before you start talking to your kids. For more information about drugs and alcohol, you can look up: SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information; the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; and the Children of Alcoholics Foundation.


Newsletter Signup

Your Weekly guide to New Orleans family fun. NOLA Family has a newsletter for every parent. Sign Up