The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson

In couples, Family, Parenting, Realtionship on December 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pearl Mattenson, PCC, ORSCC

He comes home from a long weekend at a friend’s house. He is a senior in high school. At 17, he is able to drive his dad’s car, which he had borrowed for the weekend. Walking in the door, he gives his mom a hug and helps her out with a project.  They catch up on the events of the past few days. His mom asks,

“So was there drinking going on?”


“Did you drink?”


Several hours later the mom happens upon her son’s Facebook page left open on her computer. She learns he had been drinking beer. She learns he threw up.


I am so tempted to end this story here and ask: How would you handle this?

But I will share with you what his parents did. Some of these things happened immediately. Other reactions happened in the days following the revelation as they considered their response and reached out to others for advice.

  • They calmly sat him down and asked for a full accounting of the truth, “The whole truth this time.” They asked him what he was thinking when he made the choice to drink. “These were my best friends. I had never drunk beer before. I thought they wouldn’t let me get into trouble or make a fool of myself.” They tell him that if he had to drink, that was actually good thinking.
  • They asked him why he lied. “Because I was so scared of how mad you would get.” They told him they were far more upset about his lying than about his drinking. They expect him to test the boundaries every once in awhile. And they know that there are likely to be many more occasions in the future when he might find himself in a difficult situation. “We need to know that you can tell us what is happening so we can be there for you.”
  • They asked him what he will do in the future when in the presence of drinking. “I think I won’t drink. It wasn’t a good experience. I feel comfortable saying I am the designated driver or the designated sober guy.”
  • They told him that for the next 30 days he can’t drive the car alone. They also banned the home of the friend who hosted the drinking. They asked their son if he felt this was a fair set of consequences. “Yeah, it is.”

Your turn: What did they get right? What troubles you? What should guide a parent’s response in circumstances like these?

To find our more about Pearl Mattenson and her work, visit her website:

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alfred DePew, Rachel Abrahams. Rachel Abrahams said: The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson: […]

  2. I think the parents are kidding themselves and setting themselves up for a son who tells them what they want to hear (and what he thinks is true in the moment he is in their sites) but who will choose again and again to do as his friends are doing, which he will have to conceal. This will alienate him from himself and his parents. In a year or two, there will be no-holds barred drinking in or out of college.

    Better to help him make decisions now that keep him safe while he chooses to drink. (Like making sure a 17 year old has access to condoms.) Stop giving him the consequences you’d give to a child and start talking with him as if he is already a young man in college if it’s not too late.

    My friends took this exact same course with their 17 year old daughter who was doing some drinking at parties. Same consequences, same conversations. That daughter is in a ton of difficulty now because she kept not keeping her promises to her parents and it contributed to destroying her sense of being able to talk to them or share her real life. She has given up all pretense now of going to college and is living with a local boyfriend. She ultimately had to “emancipate” herself from the impossible role she was trying to play with her parents.

  3. Parenting is not an exact science, and the “factors” involved in parenting are daunting and unpredictable. I am a mother of four boys, and can honestly say that I have not parented any of them exactly the same way. There are so many variables – the child’s personality, each parent’s personality, the parents’ relationship with the child and with each other, the communication pattern in the family…and the list goes on.

    The way these parents responded to their child’s drinking resonated with me. I felt that they were respectful, honest, explained their position rather than dictating it, and followed through with a consequence. In my own life, my 20-year-old chooses to tell me about decisions he’s making. At times, I’m sure he’s telling me to get a reaction. Becoming a relationship coach has helped me to pause before I react. This results in a calmer, more respectful, and more productive discussion for us. I also feel that my relationship with my child is more important than the issue at hand, so I work hard to preserve the relationship while still holding him accountable for his words, choices, and actions. I feel that this helps keep the doors of communication open. Working through situations like this with my older son is also a learning experience for me, and I believe will help me as I parent my other two children.

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