Alcohol free family benefits

by Natalie Cooper

The 15th of May is observed as The International Day of Families.  It’s a day to promote the awareness of issues relating to families, and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families. Coming up to my one year ‘soberversary’, and being a mum and a wife, there’s really no better day to pause and reflect on how being alcohol free has benefited my family.

When I decided to take a break from alcohol in May last year, I had no idea what was ahead.  I didn't expect that my break would continue so long as I had only intended on doing three weeks!  I also didn’t expect that my husband would join me in my madness, also going alcohol free two weeks after me. 

I wasn't expecting any benefits from not drinking, other than to improve my general health and lower my risk of developing cancer.  However, I have experienced so many unexpected benefits since choosing to be alcohol free. It has been such an interesting and insightful journey, one which has particularly benefited my family in many ways. I’ll give you a few examples below.

Calmer evenings

Ever since having children I have dreaded ‘the night train’.  If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.  Putting kids to bed at the end of the day – to put it bluntly - sucks.  You’re tired and over it and just want some time out, then you’ve got bath times, story times, the up and down yo-yo’s of “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “my legs hurt” etc, etc… It can go on and on and most nights it would drive me crazy!  I would often end up so frustrated I would yell or swear, or both, which isn’t a proud-mum moment (and then I’d end up feeling guilty to make matters worse).    

My solution – or should I say society's solution – was to have a wine or two to take the edge off.  I thought alcohol made it easier to deal with the night train, so I had wine pretty much every night.  The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I took the wine away that I realised it’s actually much easier to deal with sober! 

It makes sense when you think about it though, as alcohol relaxes you and makes you a bit sleepy, neither of which is going to be particularly helpful during the dreaded night train…  It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise, that all the work you’ve got to do to get the kids to bed is going to be an effort. When it doesn’t go smoothly, and let’s be honest it rarely does, then it all erupts into another bedtime disaster, closely followed by guilt.  Not such a great scenario, right?  Yet that’s pretty much what was happening in our house most nights.

Fast forward a year and here’s how our evenings go now.  Bedtime starts with a few warnings – get something to eat and drink, finish what you’re doing (or watching), have a bath or shower, clean your teeth etc.  If we don’t stay on them and supervise the process they get distracted and the whole thing drags on, which gets annoying.  But that’s just it.  They’re kids, they get distracted, they need prompting and supervising or they go off track and it’s our job as parents to keep them on track.  Rather than have a drink, semi-detach from reality, expect them to magically sort themselves out for bed on time like perfect little angels, then get annoyed when it doesn’t happen, we are now more realistic about the situation. 

We pay more attention, we help them get organised, we give them prompts and bedtime is now (mostly) a far more relaxed and successful process.  It's a team effort and together we get the job done.  So as far as I’m concerned, that’s a complete turn around and a total win.  It’s a clear family benefit, and it’s one of the things that surprised me the most since going alcohol free. 

More present and involved

Following on from the theme above, one of the other distinct benefits for my family as a result of being alcohol free is that I am far more present and involved.  It’s not just during the bedtime routine, it’s with everything.  I am genuinely more interested in what my kids and husband are doing, what is making them happy or sad, what is going on in their worlds.  We talk more, I ask more questions, we hang out more, and we do more fun stuff together.  As a family, we’re a much tighter unit as a result.  So that’s another clear and unexpected alcohol-free benefit in the bag. 

Greater energy and more fun!

This flows into the next benefit which is that we’re doing some new and pretty cool things as a family.  I think this comes down to the fact that we have way more energy and motivation.  When you take alcohol away from your evenings it is amazing how much extra time and energy you have!  Instead of becoming semi-detached from the world at the end of the day, I now have time to explore opportunities, research stuff, Google stuff, read stuff, listen to podcasts etc. There is so much cool stuff to do sober!  Here’s a few examples of things we’ve done in the last year:

Family pets

In July, we extended our family and adopted two kittens who are now naughty young cats.  My youngest son in particular always wanted a pet but I couldn’t really be bothered with all the extra life-admin that comes with it.  However, within a couple of months of being alcohol free, I could see how much joy a pet could bring to our family.  I was no longer bothered about the extra effort that was involved as I had more energy and had the capacity to take on more.  So, we did it.  We surprised the kids with two rescue kittens in the July school holidays and we all love them so much!   

Family boat

We also bought a little boat for family adventures.  Living in Auckland means we have access to the beautiful Hauraki Gulf, an amazing harbour filled with islands to explore and fish to catch.  I get a little sea-sick and nervous on the water but I’m getting better each time we go out.  At least I never have to worry about being hungover on a boat!  It’s awesome to have added this into our lives, to teach the kids how to fish, go snorkelling and for all of us to appreciate the beauty our marine environment has to offer. 

Family snowboarding

Our latest adventure is taking us to the South Island to do a winter season this year.  We’ve decided to take a little working holiday and have enrolled the kids into new schools for term three.  This is something we have always wanted to do as a family but haven’t been able to make it happen.  This year is the year and I put that down to us being alcohol free.  There’s quite a lot to organise and to be honest, if I was still drinking wine every night, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy to pull this off!

    I’m not saying this all happened because we were sober, or that none of it would have happened if we were still drinking, but I’m pretty sure our clear heads helped.

     

    While all of this sounds really great, I thought I better sense-check my thoughts with my family to see how it lines up with their observations.  I asked my kids this question –

    “what benefits have you had by me not drinking alcohol?”  

    My youngest son who is nine, said the loveliest things.  He said “you don’t seem as tired, you're kinder and you do more things to help us have fun.  You also get way less grumpy with me at bedtime.” This is all very true! 

    My oldest son who is eleven, said (and I was waiting for it) “we don’t have to walk home after having dinner with friends anymore”. Also true!  But honestly, I only remember us having to that once, and my husband and I used the opportunity to highlight the importance of not drinking and driving, so I thought it was quite a successful educational experience of a sort. Regardless, he's pleased with the fact that I can now be relied upon to drive us home. 

    He also said “you buy more chocolate”.  Snapped!  But hey, it’s a well-known fact that when you stop drinking alcohol you develop a sweet tooth… I am only human after all 😜

    My husband said, “you’re happier, less cranky, and are keen to do more – probably as a result of getting better sleep and having more energy”.    He also said the evenings are way easier to deal with without alcohol, and I couldn’t agree more! 

    It’s not all about me though.  My husband has also not had any alcohol for nearly a year.  He is more of a ‘take it or leave it drinker’ and really only stopped drinking to support my endeavours, which I have greatly appreciated.  It has definitely contributed to the success of my sober-curious journey and enhanced the overall benefits our family has experienced as a result.  We simply work better together as a team, we’re a stronger couple and a tighter family unit.  We talk more, we do more, and we say yes to things more often.  

    Being alcohol free has, without any doubt, improved our family life. 

     

    So in the spirit of The International Day of Families, I’ll say cheers to that and pop open a bottle of alcohol-free bubbles!🥂


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