Do you know your adult children’s indulgences?

Father and son

It is important to create time to talk with your children.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • Sometimes the decisions we make are contrary to parental expectations.
  • A life lived while at home that is a stark contrast to one’s normal routine.

Most parents will have conversations with their children and offer them guidance on what they view as the right path and choices in life.

However, when these children become adults, they are responsible for their lives and their decisions. Sometimes the decisions we make are contrary to parental expectations, and for the fear of castigation, disappointment, or any other reason, one might end up living what might be viewed as a “double life.”

A life lived while at home that is a stark contrast to one’s normal routine.

Thus an important question arises; how well do you know your child? Could it be you perceive your offspring as church-going adults who have never tasted alcohol or any psychotropic substance, but that is a far cry from reality? Why would your child, being an adult and all, choose to hide their drinking or other indulgences from you?

We talked to four young adults who requested anonymity, and here’s what they had to say.

Paul stole a little church wine

I was 11 years old when I had my first taste of alcohol. My cousins and I conspired to steal some altar wine from our church’s store room. We had access because our grandfather was the bishop and the founder of the church.

We figured if we fetched a glass from the supply meant for the sacrament, nobody would notice, and suffice it to say we succeeded. At the time we were too young to take the sacrament, and we were curious about this drink that the adults took, that we were not allowed to.

This of course happened a few times in our childhood years, but we were never caught as what we used to take was not enough to make us drunk.

The aim was more childish play than getting drunk. As I grew older I came to understand, of course, why people drink, but I never attempted to buy any alcohol till I was 18.

I remember a few weeks just after I celebrated my eighteenth birthday, my dad called me and took me to a ‘nyama choma joint’ where he would hang out with his friends. They ordered beer and when it was my time to order, fearing his reaction, I ordered a soda.

However, he ordered a cider for me instead. That was my official introduction and the first conversation I had with my dad regarding drinking and alcoholism.

For him, it was better being the one to introduce me to it and guide me on how to keep myself in check, rather than getting this from my peers when I joined campus in a few months.

Interestingly, the approach worked. Not to say that parents should introduce their children to drinking, I’m just sharing what happened with me.

Growing up I saw people drink, some in my family as well, and of course I would be advised to keep off the bottle and off cigarettes (the latter was a cardinal seen punishable by severe thrashing). However, I together with a few of my cousins whom we were close in age indulged our curiosities.

This coupled with that conversation I had with my father took away the hype of finally being free to drink in college. I would of course drink occasionally, but I had control.

Sometimes I would be ridiculed by my friends for ordering soda while they chugged a bottle. One time they bought me a loaf of bread to take with my soda right there in the club.

Despite this, however, there was still a side to me that my parents knew nothing of. When I was in my third year, I attended a friend’s birthday party, where I unknowingly consumed cake with marijuana in it.

This was a feeling I had never experienced before; I would not even have dared purchase the substance for myself. But that was before. I had gotten a taste of something different, and what seemed exciting to me at the time.

At that moment I forgot all the scary stories I had been told about using bhang, like how it would make me demented. I had even seen a few of my classmates using it, and nothing happened to them.

This emboldened me, and one time I overindulged. I ended up missing classes for two weeks, and it took even longer for me to fully recover and gain my normal mental capacities.

I remember having a conversation with my parents after I finished school, and it just came up so casually. The question was whether I had ever used marijuana; this after my dad shared how they would smoke the substance when they were still teenagers.

I said I had had an encounter where I took a laced cake at a birthday party unknowingly. What I left out was the tens of other times after that. Of course, I knew they would not be too happy hearing about that.

It did not take long after that for me to quit, as I realised it was quickly turning into a habit. I am glad I never got to a point of addiction, and even with alcohol, I found my drinking to be occasional and I did not binge drink. I have seen a few friends fall off the wagon using these substances as a coping mechanism, which is sad when it gets to such levels.

There are still some things I have done that my parents probably will never get to learn about, such is life, but at least I know they know enough not to worry or speculate.

If I become a parent one day, I plan on being very upfront with my children and having these conversations early. I would rather know the things they were doing. That way, should they require help I can be there for them. And part of that is taking out the fear and stigma of them being honest with me because of repercussions.

Valerie - My parents don’t know I use bhang

In the Rastafari religion, we do not see ganja (marijuana) as an illegal substance. Instead, we see it as a means to gain wisdom and insight and bring us closer to Jah (God). Through its use, we can reflect and understand life better, that is why I use it almost daily. Of course, this puts me at odds with the law, but I am not worried about that. My spiritual and cultural beliefs are stronger.

I have been using Marijuana since I was 17 years old when I was in form four. At first, I took it for entertainment and out of curiosity. Then my friend who was supplying me introduced me to the Rastafarian way of life. She taught me discipline and to use ganja not just for ‘the fun of it’ but as a holy substance, in the same way Christians view sacrament.

One time my older brother caught me smoking while at home alone, but after we talked, he promised not to tell our parents about it. Of course, they would not understand, and either way, my brother was no stranger to the substance either. Our parents are dedicated Christians and hold positions in the church.

They once caught my brother smoking a cigarette after his initiation stage upon finishing primary school, and he received a thorough beating from our father. So I imagine learning that her daughter is Rastafarian would not go so well.

I’m employed and I do not depend on them financially. This has helped me to keep my beliefs from them. I can live my life without worry.

For me, taking marijuana does not in any way affect my life negatively. Besides my spiritual reasons, I much rather prefer it to alcohol which gives someone hangovers and therefore might affect one's productivity. On the contrary, ganja helps me relax and meditate, which not only improves my well-being but also my productivity.

If my plans come to fruition, my fiancé and I plan on starting a family soon. We want to raise our children with an open mind. I do not want alcohol or marijuana to be taboo topics in our home. I want to be there to guide them should they choose to indulge upon reaching legal age, and not having to fear castigation.

Evelyn - They said I would go mad if I touched alcohol

In my family, the mere mention of drugs or alcohol was unheard of. It would only be when my parents were warning my brother and I not to use them, lest we go mad like the local madman at the local centre. I guess they succeeded in instilling fear in me, well, at least until I joined college when I was 19 years.

Up until this point, I had lived a fairly caged and quiet life, where I was not supposed to be home no later than 6pm. But here I was now, hundreds of kilometres from home, without the ever-looming watchful eye of my mother.

I remember the first time I tasted alcohol, during a party organised in the school called “fresher’s night” meant to ‘welcome’ first years to college life. At first, I thought I was taking soda, only to realise it was mixed with something else.

This was the start of what would be two years of serious indulgence. When I went home I would be the good girl my parents raised me to be, but back in school, I was the one to consult on where the next party was going to be.

One time when I was in my second year, I drank a little too much, and I had also taken some muguka earlier. I ended up being taken to the school hospital in an ambulance some minutes past midnight.

Even though my parents never got to find out to this day, it was a wake-up call for me. I never chewed muguka again. I also cut down on my drinking.

I still enjoy a glass of gin now and then. I think my parents know I drink but I am not entirely sure. It is not a conversation we have ever had. However, I speculate they might know because my friends and I will meet upcountry during Christmas and share a bottle.

Of course, I am careful to watch my limit. I respect and love my parents, I would hate to offend them by drinking myself into a stupor while in their home.

I do not think it should be much of a shock for parents to find out their adult children drink. And looking at my life, I know there are things my children will never tell me should I be blessed to have a family, but I would like to be able to have a relationship with them where I know as much as possible.

Wambugu Wakahora is a registered counselling psychologist and addiction counsellor. As someone who lost 30 years of his life to alcoholism, which cost him his career as a police officer and almost cost him his life and his family, he knows first-hand the complexities of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Most times, parents realise very late what their children are involved in. Even for a parent who for instance smokes cigarettes or drinks, the expectation is usually that their children won’t follow in their footsteps. This pre-conception is why most parents find it a shocker should they come to find out what their children are involved in.

Sometimes it also happens that their parents know, but their approach is wrong and they end up pushing their children further into their indulgence.

Most times, you find, especially for addicts, that there is an underlying problem or psychological trauma, sometimes from childhood, and their drug and alcohol abuse is a coping mechanism.

If the parents approach this person, especially young adults, they feel threatened and ambushed. This is a grown-up who is likely drinking on their bill, so they will wonder, what business have you telling me what to do with my money and my life?

This is something I have experienced both personally and in my practice as an addiction counsellor. So if a parent finds out their children are struggling with addiction (and this is not only limited to drugs and alcohol, it could even be sex or pornography, or a myriad of other things), it is best to take some time to calm down and approach it in a non-combative manner. This is why seeking professional help is recommended, as being a counsellor to your own children or family is difficult.

It is also important to create time to talk with your children. This is especially critical today, at a time when many parents rarely get alone time with their children as they are too engaged in fending for their families.

For instance, a father having a man-to-man talk with his son, where he does not talk to him as a parent but more like a big brother or friend, will create a bond.

The child might not even open up at that particular time, but once they feel like it is easy to talk to their parents, they will peel back the layers on their own.

As a parent, I know it is not possible to know every little detail that happens in my children’s lives, but opening up the platform for honest non-judgemental conversations goes a long way in protecting them as they know they can ask for help any time they need it.