Alcohol and ‘real man’

Two weeks ago I went to Tesco and saw early bird Christmas shoppers. One man pushing his trolley alongside mine had it literally filled with bottles of wine.
This picture was for me a prelude to the alcohol related issues presented by Irish media.

It unsurprisingly made me think of children and the impact our social role modelling has on them regarding alcohol consumption.

Last week I listened to heartbreaking story of Natasha Eddery – the daughter of Pat Eddery – national legendary jockey, who died at the age of 63. She spoke about her father’s drinking problem and how it impacted on her and her family.
Few days after this account, RTE1 invited an expert to the Morning programme and discussed alcohol consumption during Christmas and how difficult it becomes for families who have a man in the family drinking far too much.
I then looked at the statistics and reports published by national charity Alcohol Action Ireland and realised how scary they are. From alcohol related crimes, health issues, problems caused within families, to mental health and suicide. To quote only two of the issues reported: ‘One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol’. ‘Seven in ten men in Ireland who drink are drinking in a way which is already causing damage to their health’.

Men are much more exposed to alcoholism and it starts very early in their lives.* In fact it starts in our heads where we create socially accepted images of what real man should and shouldn’t be doing. There is much going on in our society to tackle damaging images we produce about woman, LGBT communities, ethnic groups. I believe we are moving in a right direction of developing equal and inclusive society. But at the same time I can’t see much going on about changing traditional, well established expectations towards men and their way of expressing themselves and their emotions.
Since my son, who is nearly 12 months old, was born I heard comments, like: ‘proper boy’ and ‘that’s what boys do’, referring to his busyness or adventurous behaviour. And from the same people I also heard (talking about some common friend) that he drank beer like a proper man. These words are worrying me, because they are expressing socially accepted expectation towards man, and boys who will be pressurised to grow into ‘proper man’: you should drink and you should know how to drink. That’s what man do here.

It starts with small signals sent to small boys: naughty, busy, less patient and less attentive than girls – that’s only few examples of how boys are perceived and unconsciously encouraged to behave. Then it moves towards being strong, brave and ‘dealing with emotions like a man’. These boys have also a role models – their fathers, uncles, cousins – who in vast majority are frequent and intense alcohol consumers. It is so obvious, that people who don’t drink really stand out, often being perceived as strange.

These boys are then becoming teenagers who have alcohol easily available as the way of belonging to the social group, as an escape from difficulties, as a risk factor which becomes very attractive.

This is how our society prepares us to go through transition to adulthood.

We all know it, but at the same time we don’t do anything about it.

But there is a link between terrible statistics and the way we think about our boys.

It comes from generations and we can change it by challenging the unconscious images and expectations, which occupy our minds and slip out through simple and ‘innocent’ comments.
*Unfortunately I can’t say that woman are free from drinking problems. There is a growing number of woman catching up on alcoholism and binge drinking. Alcohol become unquestionable part of our lives, being marketed as the best partner for virtually every occasion. Nevertheless it is not traditionally a ‘woman’s thing’ and this post focuses on a tradition influencing men’s drinking habits. For more on women’s drinking visit:

http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/women-and-alcohol/

http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/womenSubstanceAlcohol.pdf

Photo:

http://www.lchs.com.au/gambling-alcohol-drugs

Is Christmas a challenge for you?

Christmas is a mirror in which families see themselves

  
In many homes Christmas is a non religious event these days. Nevertheless for most of us it still carries the important message linked to the Biblical story: it’s about family. An excluded (holy) family searching for home is a symbol of hope, despair, love and trust. Symbol of sadness and happiness, care and carelessness – all lying side by side. All residing in each of us and reflecting the reality of life. Life is diverse and complex, life is contradictory. Life is about good and bad things happening at the same time. Life is not all happy and all perfect, and it will at some point end (and only some of us believe that it won’t be the end of everything), which is itself a daunting thought. 
During Christmas period families get on well or just opposite, are present or absent, united or separated. We carry our families in our minds and we spend this time of the year in relation to our parents, siblings, grandparents, and importantly: in relation to the tradition that we know. We can contest it, go along with it or look for some middle ground. 
This reflection can be difficult to bare. Our culture indulges in just opposite association: Christmas equals festive, happy, great time for everyone. Christmas is about shiny lights, reindeers, presents, food and drink and spending a lot of money: all in excess.

I understand this excess as a collective run away from a powerful impact, that Christmas can have on our emotional life. 

 Of course Christmas Markets can be enjoyable and well known songs on radio can bring us a warm glow giving us an impression that we are part of safe and familiar universe. There are many beautiful reasons to celebrate Christmas, share joy with our loved ones and be happy. But because it is such an intense period, it inevitably brings some challenging situations, memories and reflections to the table. And for some people the difficult part of Christmas will be more present than the other one – those who recently experienced bereavement, or who are separated from the family, or are having health problems – this season simply won’t be that festive for them.

So there is an important aspect of Christmas which should not be lost in the flashiness of decorations:

To be authentic and honest with ourselves and our families. We should try and embrace the complexity of our emotional experience. We should let ourselves to feel all range of emotions and learn how to deal with them. Not only homeless people need our charity and are vulnerable during this time of the year. We might feel fragile too and it is how it is – we need to see it and stay with it. To be authentic is also the best way to share these moments with our children and I think this is what they expect us to do. What I mean in practical sense – if we are experiencing difficult time, The ‘abundance’ of Christmas offers us an easy escape from our feelings – the excess which I mentioned above. Our task is to refrain from this route, step aside and think how can we take better care of ourselves and our families. Christmas is a time for giving; but presents are only symbolic of what giving really means. What we really need to ourselves, friends and families at Christmas are love, care, sensitivity and comfort. Happy Christmas to all of you.

Photo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Is Santa coming?

  

Last year my then 1,5 year daughter saw her first Santa and she was scared of him. I can’t blame her. All the children were waiting for a Santa, who was very late. Finally a man in training shoes came to the indoor activity centre, where we all gathered, went to the toilet to “change” and after a while through the toilet door came Santa, in that same previously seen training shoes covered with a piece of tape. He was a pathetic Santa. Presents provided by the parents were handed to the children in provisory grotto, placed in the darkest corner of the big hall. Santa’s helper was calling the name, child had to enter the grotto, get the present, get the photo and that was it. If you can sense lack of any engagement and imagination in this picture,you are right, there was nothing of this kind.

I came across some comments on social media from parents questioning the idea of Santa. Some are concerned about lying to children – why not telling the truth about who is bringing the presents – they ask. Why enter into the world of making up stories, which gets only complicated with time, when there are so many Santas in town and when child grows older and there is no elegant way to come clean.

Well, I was also asking myself these questions, especially seeing these all Santas walking around, who just can’t be believed and who should be ashamed to be putting up such a bad show!

And my husband helped me with an answer. If you don’t want to engage and enter the imaginative world, it’s not worth it. If Santa is going to be only about presents it’s not worth it either.  

Yet watching and helping your child enjoy the magic of Christmas is a delight for all, seeing their imagination unfold and entering their world of creativity is both fun and how children learn. Engaging with Santa is not one way traffic- it’s not about what Santa will bring for you, it’s how you engage with Santa. Writing letters, sending them up chimney’s, leaving out carrots for the reindeers, making up stories, reading books – this sparks the imagination and joy of Christmas. 

Children have amazing imagination. The world which they live differs a lot from the world most parents live. During the course of growing up, years of formal education, years of learning how to make mental shortcuts and think schematically, how to fit to mundane tasks and repetitive work, our imagination can become dormant. It then takes great effort to bring it to live and enter the world of pure imagination, where Santa brings presents, but also does many different fantastic things, and does them in style.

Santa is not all about a set up which parents invent and a child follows- it can easily become this way, when we are too focused on this presents-delivered aspect of “Santaism” which today is so driven by commercial advertising and puts unwanted pressures on parents and children.

To play it creatively we can reverse the roles and think of if differently: this is us who are joining the children in their world and we are the guests who need to become familiar with the rules and obey them.

When I get hesitant about the Santa, I just think about my daughter and realise that she’ll be happy to guide me in this play, if only I give her an initiative.

I intend to do so and I hope Santa will come also to me. I wish all of you the same.
first published on xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.rachelcharlton.org