1 in 4 Parents Not Prepared for ‘Parenting Hangovers’ From Holiday Parties

December 17, 2018 7:00 AM

Most parents plan for transportation and child care before a special event, but fewer consider how excess drinking may affect parenting the next day, a new poll finds.

A quarter of parents who drink alcohol on special occasions don’t consider limiting how much they drink or whether they’ll be able to provide suitable care for their young children the next day because of a “parenting hangover.”

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Such consumption can present other risks: A new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health also found that 3 in 10 parents (29 percent) said they know of an adult who may have caused an unsafe situation for their child because of drinking alcohol at a special celebration.

These parents were most concerned that the other adult was too impaired or hungover to supervise the child (61 percent) or to handle a possible emergency (48 percent).

Less commonly, respondents were concerned that the adult drove with a child while impaired (37 percent), got violent or out of control in front of the child (28 percent) or injured the child (7 percent).

An additional 1 in 12 parents (8 percent) admitted to a situation when they may have been too impaired from alcohol to take care of their parenting responsibilities. About the same proportion of mothers and fathers acknowledged a prior lapse in judgment related to alcohol.

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“Most parents planning to drink alcoholic beverages on a night out arrange for a designated driver and child care for the event itself,” says Sarah Clark, MPH, the poll’s co-director.

“Fewer parents may consider how their alcohol consumption could impact parenting responsibilities to their young children the next day.”

"If alcohol use may potentially impact their ability to take care of their children the following day, parents may also consider child care arrangements."
Sarah Clark, MPH

Planning efforts vary

Most parents reported drinking alcoholic beverages during special events, either often (27 percent), sometimes (36 percent) or rarely (17 percent).

Among those, 73 percent said they were very likely to make plans in advance for someone to watch their child during the event, and 68 percent were very likely to plan for safe transportation.

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However, just 47 percent were very likely to think in advance about how much they will drink, and 64 percent said they are very likely to make plans for someone to take care of their child the day after the event.

“The amount of alcohol consumed can affect parenting the next day,” Clark says. “A parent passed out on the couch will not be effective in recognizing and reacting to the everyday safety risks that occur with children.”

Moderation, caution are key

One notable finding: Parents who said they drink rarely were less likely to plan in advance for child care and transportation on the night of the special event and child care responsibilities the next day compared with parents who drink sometimes or often.

However, even rare instances of celebrating with alcohol can have serious consequences for children, Clark says.

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Parents may prevent overindulging by alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic ones, Clark notes. But if they aren’t sure whether their alcohol consumption may impair parenting abilities, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Parents who plan to drink alcoholic beverages during an outing should plan ahead for transportation to ensure they arrive home safely,” Clark says. “If alcohol use may potentially impact their ability to take care of their children the following day, parents may also consider child care arrangements.

"Having children stay the night at a relative’s home or asking a grandparent to stay overnight are options to ensure young children are in a safe and supervised environment.”   

The nationally representative report is based on responses from 1,170 parents with at least one child ages 9 or younger.