Oops! I made alcohol seem cool to my kid

Cocktail expert Lisa Kadane likes nothing more than mixing drinks at the end of a long day. Trouble is, her daughter started to like it, too.

Photo: Erin McPhee

Illustration: Erin McPhee

“Mommy, will you make me a kid cocktail?”

My daughter, Avery, started asking me this question a couple of years ago. I write about cocktails for magazines, newspapers and blogs, and I had taken to getting creative with spirits and liqueurs at my “home bar” (which is really just the kitchen, plus a jigger, shaker and citrus press). The by-products of my mad science—flavoured syrups, freshly squeezed juices and leftover club soda—became ingredients I could combine into child-friendly alcohol-free cocktails for Avery, then eight.

She grew to expect a virgin take on whatever libation I was sampling, and she looked forward to slurping the dregs or chewing the ice from real margaritas, gin and tonics or whisky sours. (Her little brother, Bennett, eschews cocktails in favour of sneaking slurps of beer backwash from Daddy’s unattended bottles.)

It seemed harmless at the time. Like trying on my heels or painting her toenails, sipping kid coolers was a way for Avery to “try on” adulthood. But at some point, I realized that unlike pumps and pedis—harmless markers of femininity that she would grow into—virgin highballs could become a gateway to a dangerous hobby.

My parents never served me mocktails, but they let me sample whatever was in their glasses. I can still picture the curlicued gold band etched onto their vintage lowballs, into which they poured their vodka tonics and Scotch. Those gorgeous vessels elevated the allure of their contents, and though I grimaced every time I sipped my dad’s Chivas Regal, I was always game to hold that glass and try again.

Mother dressed up holding a baby and a glass of champagne Why mommy drinks: The scary truth about #WineMom But I don’t want Avery to covet the booze in my simpler, much lower-brow rocks glasses. I don’t want her to know the difference between gin and vodka, bourbon and Scotch, and when to shake or stir. And with Christmas around the corner, there will be even more bottles of wine uncorked, Irish cream bestowed as gifts, and requests for cranberry margaritas from friends and family. My curious daughter will want me to make her a kid cocktail with candied ginger and eggnog, and sip it while she watches the adults make merry. What’s a cocktail writer and hostess to do?

Perhaps it’s a double standard, but I want Avery to remain innocent about alcohol until, oh, maybe university. I’d rather she’s the kid sampling Jell-O shooters for the first time, not the coed mixing the drinks.

It all got me thinking I needed to become a smarter alcohol role model. Just as I’m careful not to swear or berate bad drivers in front of my kids, so too should I practise cocktail constraint. It doesn’t set a good example for them to see me with a happy-hour drink more often than not. Yes, some say exposing kids to alcohol removes its taboo. But it also normalizes consumption.

So I’ve shut down the kid bar and last-sip-of-beer dispensary. No more lime and ginger ale spritzes or cocktail backwash for Avery, and no more last trickle of Fat Tire Amber Ale for Bennett. There’s a reason alcohol is for adults, I’ve told them. It’s fun to indulge from time to time, but there are health risks if you drink too much.

And me? I’ve morphed from a regular shaker into a less-frequent libations maker, something my husband is on board with, too. We often skip the post-work drink or save that glass of wine for after the kids are in bed. The funny thing is, without cocktail ingredients and paraphernalia as visual reminders on the countertop, Avery has all but forgotten about kid cocktails—kind of like how she only wants nail polish or lip gloss when she sees me putting some on. (Bennett still eyes our beer bottles, but we’re careful to keep them well out of reach.)

Heading into this holiday season, I might relax the rules a little. Between work parties and mixers with friends and relatives, I may make a non-alcoholic sparkling cranberry cooler for Avery as a special treat or let Bennett enjoy the last sip of a dark winter ale. But it’s no longer a regular thing. And there’s one thing I vow never to do: drink so much I end up kissing Santa Claus.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2015 issue with the headline “Cheers, Mommy!” p. 40.

Read more:
Kids who try alcohol more likely to drink sooner: Study
How bad is it to give your toddler a sip of beer?

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