• Wed, Jan 1 - 12:00 pm ET

My Biggest Life Mistake Makes Me Want To Talk To My Kids About Alcohol Even Younger

DUII was raised in a religious home where abstinence was the best policy—from anything fun, like sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. At church, I remember signing an abstinence pledge in middle school. We also listened to “Christ-ified” versions of pop songs at youth group, with Jesus lyrics in place of evil, secular lyrics in songs.

I bought into the whole goody-two-shoes image hook, line, and sinker for a while. If you want to know the truth, I just wanted to be accepted, and that seemed like the best way because it was almost a guarantee that God would accept me, if I always acted perfect.

In my early 20s, I was ultra-Christian and even went to Bible College. But just a few short years later, I wanted to be myself and would rather have gone out partying with friends than sing Jesus pop songs at church. I’m not bashing a belief in God whatsoever because it is still very important to me, but I am saying that abstinence-only Christianity led me astray.

Despite my perfection, I was arrested with a DUI at the age of 24. This was well-deserved because I had stupidly driven drunk many times before under the guise that I had “just had a few drinks.” The truth was that because of my religious denial, I was pretty naïve about alcohol. As a young parent looking back on all of this ridiculousness, I’m going to treat the inevitable conversation about alcohol with my kids much, much differently.

Instead of making alcohol a hush-hush taboo, I plan to drink responsibly in front of my kids often, as I already do in my daily life. I also plan to have an open dialogue about alcohol with them as early as necessary—far, far before they get a driver’s license.

It blows my freaking mind how little people know about drinking and driving, and how little I knew about it because it was never discussed with me. Even to this day, I have another adult family member in my extended family that was raised religiously and acts like a total asshat about booze.

It makes my blood boil to even think about this person acting so irresponsibly, but I have witnessed them drinking and driving many, many times. Granted, I have made the same mistake, but I wish someone could have somehow slapped some sense into me before I got arrested.

I have told this family member point-blank that they are going to get a DUI. They looked right back at me and jokingly said, “I’m invincible.” Rage, rage, and so much rage. I’ve joked about my DUI because it’s a pretty embarrassing situation. But I’ve also told people in my social circle how traumatizing it was for me to get arrested. Sometimes, I still have nightmares about it, where I accidentally drink and drive and get arrested again. It’s terrifying.

My response to this family member was this: Okay, just plan to spend three days in jail, and save up $10,000 while you’re at it because you will get a DUI. Very few people realize that the minimum jail time for a DUI in our state is three days for a first offense. Most people think they are exempt and above the law, even if they drink and drive on very rare occasions. I’ve seen it time and again among friends.

I may be biased, but I do have compassion for someone that gets a DUI once. It happened to me because I was being irresponsible and also thought I was invincible. But don’t even get me started on multiple DUIs.

I can’t necessarily take responsibility for other people, other than telling them about my personal experience. I know because of drinking and driving PSAs that you’re supposed to confiscate someone’s keys, but I can’t monitor someone who thinks drinking and driving is perfectly acceptable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I truly hope that this person wakes up soon before they cause a serious accident.

But what I can do is open up the dialogue about responsible drinking (and driving) with my kids from an early age, even if I hope that they are saints and never touch a drop of alcohol. Scratch that—I really don’t hope that my kids grow up in sainthood because that perfectionist mentality didn’t do me any good.

I hope my kids grow up to understand how to handle adult things in moderation. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most kids will try alcohol well before the age of 21, I know I did. If I never talk to my kids about alcohol, especially related to driving, then I might as well continue drinking and driving myself—it’s that irresponsible.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • Emil

    Thank you for this. Everyone makes mistakes but it takes a brave person to talk about it and help others from making the same choices.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you :)

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      I agree totally. Bethany is rather awesome :)

  • keelhaulrose

    My Dad, when I was 15 and asked about having a drink with Christmas dinner, Sat me down and said “there’s two kinds of stupid drunk. The stupid drunk where you only hurt yourself, and the stupid drunk where you hurt others. I expect you to do a lot of the first, but I pray the first time you do the second it won’t be permanent and it embarrasses you enough to never do it again. And if I ever hear about you driving drunk I’ll kick your ass, even if I’m 90 and you’re 60.”
    I did do the second. I swung a pool cue into a friend’s hand, breaking two of her fingers. My parents made me pay her medical deductible. I was embarrassed enough that I never drank to the point where I wasn’t aware of what I was doing again.
    My dad was the kind that let me and a few friends split a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve after taking everyone’s keys. He made Jello shots for my high school graduation party. But he knew what was going on in his house, and it was never more than a few friends and never enough to get us sick, and always when everyone was staying. I think his attitude made alcohol not as big a deal when I got out on my own. Yes, there were times I got trashed in college, but never to the point where blacked out or did something truly idiotic (save for the time I drove three miles away from the nearest bus stop for a party the night before I had to drive home, caught a sober ride home, and had to make the hike the next morning when no one was up or around to drive me back to pick up my van).
    I have two friends who came from families where alcohol was considered “evil”. Both have been in trouble with the law because of alcohol. Purely anecdotal.

  • Jordana

    Brilliant! I think removing the taboo is such a crucial part of talking to our kids about risky behaviors. Studies have shown that kids that receive the most extensive sex education are likely to wait the longest to have sex. So ignorance does not equal abstinence. I really like the honesty in this article, and it is absolutely true that you unfortunately can’t save everyone from DUIs, but you sure do have a lot of influence on your own children. Fantastic article!

    • Bethany Ramos

      “ignorance does not equal abstinence.”

      YES. And thank you! Sex is another topic that we’ll definitely tackle with the same attitude, although I don’t really look forward to that one…

    • Lackadaisical

      I found that talk easier and less embarrassing than I expected. I tackled it early, at about the same time that I chatted to my eldest two about puberty and the changes they can expect with it. I went into it deciding that it wasn’t an embarrassing or naughty subject and so neither of my sons were embarrassed or giggly to talk about it. With my eldest son (on the brink of puberty) we discussed consent and age of consent, and I will do the same with his brother. I was as open as I could be and because I tackled it early he hadn’t learned to find parents and sex discussions strange or embarrassing in combination.

      As he is far too young to put it into practice I did warn him that it wasn’t something he could do yet because if he or the other person weren’t ready because they were too young, even if they thought they were, that they might find itit very upsetting but if he waited until his (and the other participant’s) body was fully grown and everyone was legally adult (16 in the UK) that it would be more enjoyable.

    • anon

      We tried to keep the conversation about sex open as well. One discussion I remember particularly well came about when my son was about 15 with a steady girlfriend and other girls pursuing him. We were driving around one day and somehow the topic of sex came up. I told him – “If you are having sex, I don’t need to know about it But always, always wear a raincoat (use protection).” It raised an embarassed “Moommmm!” but led to a discussion about STDs, the fact that some girls will tell you they are on the pill but are not (because there seems to be little to no taboo on babies having babies, or the girls think it is the only way for unconditional love) and then expect you to pay child support. Something an aspiring baseball player did not want to have to do as a junior in high school.

      With my daughter, it was a bit different, but different child – she has a strong set of personal morals that will probably keep her safe. I know she is appalled at mothers without partners.

      Bottom line: best advice I got was keep it age appropriate. I did and I think both of my kids (now 18 and 20) are doing okay.

    • DatNanny

      Haha – are you my mommy? This sounds very similar to my parents with my older brother and I – I know he had an extensive sex talk. They never did with me, because they knew I read enough to educate myself soundly, and just had… a level-headed and responsible personality, wasn’t interested in doing anything to get myself in trouble at a young age.

      It’s so important to know your children and be able to tailor these discussions toward them! I commend you for it.

    • Aussiemum

      My Mr 16 has had the sex talk rammed down his throat umpteen times! Poor bugger!
      I was just 16 when my son popped into the world with massive eyes and we spent the first 4 weeks of his life looking at each other with amazement and wonder. I told him he had changed my life for the better and I’m sure in his giant baby head, he was thinking I hope she doesn’t fuck this up.
      The whole booze and sex talk should go hand in hand. I’ve told mr 16 (and his dad has too) that he was the result of 2 silly kids who where tipsy on NYE 96 and made the wonderful creation of him. And so unless he wanted to be just like his mum and dad, don’t bloody drink and have sex… Without a condom! He swears he hasn’t had sex yet and I believe him, but he also promises that if and when the time comes, he will definitely be prepared.
      And yes he has had 1 drink related problem. He drank at his friends house and came home the next day with a killer hangover and didn’t think we would notice. WRONG!!!! Lucky for him, we have a giant dog and that giant dog does giant shits, and mr 16 was made to pick up each and ever piece.
      He hasn’t drunk again since.

  • pixie

    This is amazing and great that you are able and willing to talk about this. And I think it’s great that it’s inspired you to take a different approach in talking about alcohol with your children than how you grew up.
    I grew up in a household where drinking was not taboo, but I’ve never seen either of my parents drunk. They would let me have small glasses of wine with them on special occasions if I wanted beginning when I was fairly young, though most of the time I would take a sip and think it was gross. They taught me through words and their actions on how to drink responsibly. When I started drinking and partying at 16, it was mostly from hanging around my boyfriend and his friends. They were the partiers, so I just went along for the ride, but I can honestly recall everything that I’ve ever done while drunk because I know when to stop drinking (plus I start to fall asleep before coming close to blacking out, my body knows its limits I guess). Alcohol was never this big deal to me because it wasn’t taboo in my family. My boyfriend’s parents, on the other hand, made alcohol a huge deal for him. He was occasionally allowed champagne on new years or Christmas, but his parents drank (and still do sometimes) nearly to excess in front of him while mostly not allowing him to drink it. He was the one to take a 26 of Peach Schnapps from their liquor cabinet at 15 and drink it with his friend after his parents went to sleep. Thankfully he’s an intelligent guy and knows to not get behind the wheel if he’s been drinking (and knew then, too).

  • SusannahJoy

    A few days ago there was an accident near my house. It’s hard to get the exact details, but basically a little car veered into oncoming traffic, and killed two adults, including an 18 year old mother, critically injured another, and killed a toddler. All the news will say is that “Speed and alcohol may have been a factor.” It’s sooo frustrating for me to hear about stories like this, because here, those types of accidents are often described as “shocking” and always include lots of shots of grieving family members. NEVER do they mention how dangerous it was to be driving drunk. NEVER do they talk about how those deaths could have been prevented. NEVER do they use those as an opportunity to talk about how bad drunk driving is. Instead, they say “Oh, how sad” and leave empty liquor bottles at the roadside memorials to honor those who died. One accident a couple years ago involved a drunk teenager driving over twice the speed limit during his lunch break from high school who killed a bunch of people. The news interviewed a family member who said “we just can’t believe it! You can’t stop kids from drinking, so we always let them drink at home so they wouldn’t want to drink outside of home! It’s just how we do!” UGH!!!

    Sorry, that got all ranty. Basically, I’m glad you learned from your mistakes and are trying to help other people avoid them.

    • Bethany Ramos

      No, these stories make me CRAZY too – one, I shudder thinking how blessed I am that no one was hurt in my DUI. Two, I still see so many people drive over the limit with a smile on their face, and I just want to punch them.

  • Kay_Sue

    This discussion is important in our home too, but for a different reason. I had a really amazing, sweet, and wonderful great-aunt that died as a result of injuries she sustained when a drunk driver hit her (parked) car as she climbed into it after church one evening. It wasn’t instantaneous–she battled her way through the initial hospitalization, but the trauma her body had sustained gradually caused the failure of various organs–and excruciating pain–for the next decade. It made an impression on me–I don’t drive if I drink, ever, not after one, not after half of one. I don’t think I would have had the same stubbornness about the matter–or rabidness, rather–if I hadn’t seen what she and her family went through.

    I too was from an ultra-conservative Christian background. My parents drank when I was younger, but were “born again” when I was about five or six. So when I started drinking, there weren’t any responsible role models for me to draw on. So I made my errors. I hope that I’ll be able to impress upon my sons that, yes, drinking is fun, but it’s also dangerous if you aren’t careful. I hope that they will see responsible drinking around them on occasion and be able to model on that. I hope. I have no idea if it will actually work, of course, but alas, thus is parenting, right?

    Great piece. Thank you for sharing!

    • Bethany Ramos

      God, I am so sorry to hear about your aunt, and thank YOU for sharing. I also hope the responsible drinking model is the right one for our family. :)

    • Kay_Sue

      He was a perfect example of how the system fails. He had multiple arrests for DUI and was always let off with no more than a slap on the wrist until this accident. So not the same as someone making a one time mistake and learning from it, just to be clear. The only reason I mention it is that I get the struggle to impart this lesson to the younger generation when one has a strong external motivator to do so and parents that didn’t really model it.

  • Blueathena623

    I don’t have compassion for people who get a DUI. I’m not going to stone anyone, and I don’t hate you or anything, but you are biased. You stated that you drove drunk many times but only got caught once. So how is that better or worse than the person who also drives drunk many times but is also caught many times?
    Again, not saying you are evil, but drunk driving is just . . . I just hate it so much, because there is no reason to do it, so many people can get hurt, and even if parents do a crappy job teaching their kids about alcohol, I’ve never met a person who honestly, 100% had never gotten the message that driving after drinking is bad.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I’m not really blaming my parents per se, but I’m just seeing how I can help my kids understand it better. It was 100% my fault I did that, and there is no excuse.

    • Blueathena623

      I don’t think you are blaming your parents at all, and I think you have a good game plan for your kids. And seriously, I don’t hate you or think bad of you, just pointing out the single vs. multiple DUI angle.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you – and your points are right on. I’m just glad I got caught without any real damage to anyone!

    • Angela

      I believe that there are no excuses for driving drunk and believe that anyone who does it should be held fully accountable, regardless of age or circumstances. I was raised in a conservative Mormon family where alcohol was a huge no-no. It was so ingrained into me that even though I left the church in my twenties I waited until my thirties to try my first drink. And I have never driven drunk. If I have even half a glass of wine I won’t get behind the wheel.

      That said, I do have some compassion for drunk drivers, especially if they have to live with the fact that someone was hurt or killed by their actions. As I said before I do feel they need to be held accountable and of course I feel even worse for the innocent people who are harmed but I also feel bad for the 16 year old kid who has to live with a lifetime of guilt because of a stupid decision.

    • Blueathena623

      I feel bad for the person who they hurt or the family of the person that was killed; I don’t feel bad for the drunk driver. But again, I’m not going out of my way to find these people and lecturing them, but if we are having a conversation about drunk driving like we are now, I will say that I have no sympathy.

  • Heather

    I worry about this all the time when I think how to handle this with my small kids when they are old enough to make the mistakes I made. I too came from a very strict family and didn’t start drinking until I went away to university. I was incredibly naive and inexperienced sexually and socially. Needless to say, I made a lot of mistakes, including driving drunk. Thankfully, I never had an accident or got caught. I couldn’t call my mom for a ride if I had been drinking because alcohol was absolutely forbidden. Yet, one reason it was so forbidden was because my mom had been badly injured as a teenager when she was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver – her stepbrother. Looking back now, I am so ashamed of the risks I took. It wasn’t often, and I was never plastered, but I have no doubt I was over the legal limit. I will make sure I have an open dialogue with my kids about all the risks associated with drinking too much. But when they think they are invincible, as all kids do at some point, they are going to make mistakes. And that terrifies me.

  • https://www.facebook.com/NoKidsNoProblems ChildFree

    Bethany, GREAT post! We do learn a lot from our parents especially as they teach us from their mistakes in the past. For example, my father is and always has been a heavy smoker. He was also a very unfaithful man (cheated on many women including my mother when she was pregnant with me). Despite all he’s done to others, I’m the one he loved unconditionally (his daughter). His fear was me to be a smoker and cheat when in relationships. While growing up and observing/learning about what he did, I have never smoked nor cheated on one man in my life and plan to keep it that way. He’s very proud of me. My mother is the same way, except she made different mistakes. When she was young, she drank. She was not a drug addict but she often did not limit herself too well (as in drinking wine and/or beer almost each day). She also had unprotected sex in her teen years with guys she was not even in serious relationships with. Luckily for her, she was diagnosed as infertile and did not get pregnant by them. I’m her only child and only time she ever got pregnant despite being infertile, so I’m basically her “Miracle Child”. However, I did not want to repeat her mistakes and that’s why to this day I have not and do not drink. Along with that, I didn’t have sex as a teen, nor unprotected or in a meaningless relationship. Instead, I waited until I was 20 years old, lost it to a virgin as well (we both were), and we both used protection. We were both in a long-term serious relationship, too. Unfortunately, we are no longer together but it happens. Since then, I’ve been much more cautious and my current (and hopefully last) boyfriend is a virgin. We are currently abstinent. I would never pressure him. I’m 22 now and happy that I have learned so much from my parents’ mistakes. They are proud of me as well. My father even taught me more about safe sex and more dangers of smoke (after 20). I love my parents so much and I know they love me back. If they did not, I wouldn’t be where and who I am now.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you!! And thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Angela

    Honestly I think that you should report your relative to the police, especially if you know in advance when he/she will be out partying. You can tip them off so that they can catch him/her red-handed. I know it sounds mean but it could save lives and it might be enough to make your relative wake up.

  • DatNanny

    The way you describe how you plan to parent was how I was raised – witnessing responsible drinking, honest dialogue about the effects and especially the consequences of drinking and driving. I grew up a very responsible drinker – barely touched a drop until I was past 21, before then always making sure no one drinking around me kept their keys, never got into a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel, etc. I’ve still never been drunk or have any interest in doing so – I’ll enjoy a a glass or two at events and enjoy it, but I’ve never seen the point of drinking/getting wasted as an activity in itself.

    I know your DUI is your biggest personal experience to draw from, but remember, the pain of getting pulled over and getting a DUI is *nothing* to the pain of killing a family of four, or your own friends, by getting behind the wheel of car while drinking, and I would stress that point as well when talking with teenagers.

    Also, please, please, I’ve mentioned this on Mommyish elsewhere, and I will say it to any parent I meet – let your children know they can ALWAYS call you for a ride, no matter the situation, no questions asked. I never realized all parents did not do this until I was an adult – my parents ingrained it into us as soon as we were old enough to go out without supervision. I feel this was the most important rule that shaped my brother and I being responsible drinkers, and I find it to be true with the most responsible drinkers I know. Make sure your children ALWAYS know you are there for them, and they have no reason to ever be pressured into a car, behind the wheel or otherwise, or in any situation where they feel unsafe. I can’t stress this enough to any parent. There is nothing worth more than their safety.

    • Bethany Ramos

      This is excellent – thank you! And your personal experience gives me hope. :)

    • Blueathena623

      Yes, I will be constantly stressing to my kids that while I do not want them to drink underage (and there will be lots of other talks about alcohol since alcoholism runs rampant in my husband’s family) the consequences of them trying to hide their drinking by driving drunk OR accepting a ride from someone who was drinking will be much much much more severe than calling me for a ride. They should always call for a ride if need be.

    • TashaB

      A lot of parent’s will tell their child that they should call at any time, but then not follow up with their actions that they really mean it.
      My parents always told me that I could call them to come get me, even if I was really drunk, but other conversations, and reactions to things I did made me resolve to *never*ever* do so.
      I could, and would, always call my best friend at the time’s mother. She rocked, and always thanked us for calling, and saved the ‘drink less next time’ talk until the next day, after we had sobered up.

    • pixie

      Yes times a bajillion about parents letting their kids know they can always call them for a ride. And actually following through with it. I feel similar to letting teenagers have house keys and not locking their kids out after curfew (my own parents gave me a house key when I was very small and I never lost it). It all comes down to being safe. Parents can lecture their child about respecting curfew in the morning, but I hate hearing about kids having to spend the night outside because they’re locked out of their house (and even worse on the news about that kid getting abducted/murdered).

  • Magrat

    My partner’s parents had a “We’ll come get you from a party, no questions asked” policy. They’d rather he wasn’t getting wasted, but they knew it would be more dangerous if he thought he needed to sneak around them. And they’d rather be woken up at 4 in the morning by a drunk son needing a ride than by a hospital or the cops.

    • pixie

      My parents were like that and are still like that when I’m at home visiting. Sure, I’m 23 and can pay for a cab home, but if I had no other option, they would much prefer me to call them for a ride.

  • Rachel Sea

    The best piece of advice my father ever gave me was when I was about 7 or 8. He said to, “drink to catch a buzz, and then maintaaaaiiin,” (why yes he was a stoner, why do you ask?). He got it into my head young enough that it stuck with me, and I’ve only ever drunk to excess once, on accident. Already, I knew enough people who were killed by drunk drivers, that conversation was unnecessary.

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  • Guestling

    In my (very) French family we were allowed to have occasional glasses of wine in high school and the like, and my parents would drink occasionally but always in moderation and safely around us. I also knew that if I was at a party where people were drinking and someone was in danger or I needed a ride, while my parents would not be thrilled with me and a punishment may ensue depending on the circumstances, that I could call them for help without fear. I firmly believe this is why I handled alcohol so much better than my peers in high school and college.