Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jumping to Drunklusions?

Today one of Abby's writers had an important, but not uncommon problem: what to do when you leave your kids with a relative (usually a grandparent) and you learn the guardian has been drinking/smoking pot/going at the furniture with a chainsaw while in charge of the kids.

Rightfully, the advice columnists typically point out that parents' FIRST responsibility is to their children's safety, not to keeping the peace among extended family, and that they must speak up and set boundaries, or not leave the children unattended in a place where they aren't being, well, properly attended to. Today's writer, though, didn't give much evidence for her parents' apparent indiscretion. Frankly, I'm surprised she didn't do a little more investigating herself before writing to a major newspaper columnist. Here's her letter:

DEAR ABBY: My parents recently took my kids for a "day with Grandma and Grandpa." My children are 5 and 3. When they returned home, they were driven by one of my siblings with Grandma in tow. My sibling stated that he was the "designated driver."

My husband and I are extremely upset that my parents chose to drink when they had our children in their care, and so extensively that they needed someone else to get the children home safely. We'd like to discuss this with them and ask them not to consume alcohol when our children are with them. However, we are hesitant because of the conflict this may cause, and are concerned that they will feel that we're attacking them.

How should we approach this -- or is it best not to express our concern? -- VACILLATING IN ARIZONA

So...the only evidence that her parents were drinking was the brother's statement that he was the "designated driver." The term carries implications, sure. But the mom witnessed her mother at the scene. Did she seem intoxicated? What else did the brother have to say? Was he with them all day? Or called in at the last minute to do chauffeur duty? Do her parents have a history of making poor choices regarding drinking, or caring for small children?

To be honest, my first instinct was that the brother was trying to indicate that the grandparents are not comfortable driving at night, or at all, and that they asked him to step in and take the wheel. If the grandparents were with it enough to realize they were both too drunk to drive and call for help, it doesn't jive that they would have also gotten that drunk while watching the kids--it would have made more sense (though been much more frightening) if they'd driven the kids back themselves, in no condition to do so.

Of course there's no way to know for sure from this letter, and that's precisely the point. I think the writer is too quick to assume that her parents were making inappropriate and dangerous choices. Unless she has other reasons to believe this that she doesn't state, I think she should try to find out more from her brother, or even from her mother ("I was surprised to see Joe with you on Friday night...does he drive you and dad often?") before accusing them of sitting sloshed.

What do you think? Am I closing my eyes to obvious alcoholism and potential child endangerment, or does the writer need to take a crash course in Hints and Figurative Language 101?

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