DEAR KELLY: I’m a teenager (15) and my sister is getting married in two months. It’s going to be a big wedding. My sister has made me promise to make sure my parents don’t drink too much that night. They like their wine every night and none of us trusts them not to be sauced and do something embarrassing at the wedding. When my dad gets around his two brothers, they all get drunk together and my dad does not realize how stupid he acts. Both my uncles are coming to the wedding, so I know my dad won’t be able to not drink.
I can’t sleep right now because I’m so afraid of ruining my sister’s wedding by letting them drink. I also know that if I tell them not to drink, they are going to tell me to be quiet and not be rude. I honestly don’t think I can win no matter what. My sister keeps texting me and telling me that I have the most important job of the whole night, and that’s to keep my parents sober. Every time she does that I get more and more nervous. What if I fail and ruin everything?
What should I do? I don’t want to tell my sister no because I know she’s counting on me. I know how important this day is to her. If I say no, she might hate me forever if my parents get drunk and say or do something that embarrasses her. There is no one else she trusts more than me and I don’t think she wants to include non-family in this. She’s afraid they will get mad if anyone else knows and they think we are telling people they drink too much (which they kind of do, but only at home and with friends or family).
DEAR NOT GOOD: That sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a teenager about a pretty important day. Making you responsible for keeping your parents sober isn’t very fair, nor is it very wise. You are being set up to have a miserable time at your sister’s wedding if you are expected to play drink police to your parents as well as accept their anger for limiting their drinks. You need to speak up before the wedding so the stress of ruining her wedding doesn’t ruin your next few months.
We’re all embarrassed about our families for one quirk or another. Wedding planning certainly brings these insecurities and issues to the forefront. If alcohol is an issue, asking a 15-year-old to be responsible for stopping any chance of embarrassment is not only unreasonable, it is extremely unfair. Your sister’s concerns around your parents drinking should be dealt with by her and her groom, not by you. They can develop a plan to try and limit their drinking, but ultimately it is up to your parents to make the decision to either not drink or to drink responsibly.
One of the first lessons you learn when you live with an alcoholic is that you can’t control them, only yourself. Your sister can only ask your parents to respect her wishes, but there are no guarantees. Often people start with good intentions (“I’ll only drink one glass” or “I’ll stop after two”) but once they begin, it’s hard to control, especially in festive situations like a wedding or a celebration. When everyone around them is raising their glasses, it’s hard to be the one being told not to join.
Start by talking to your sister. Tell her that as much as you love her and want to share in her special day, you also don’t want to be in charge of babysitting mom and dad all day. Tell her your concern about them getting angry with you for cutting them off or being a drink counter, and how you are trying to avoid any big blowups at the wedding. Together you can brainstorm for ideas on how to handle the situation with the least amount of stress.
Your sister and her fiancé then need to talk to your parents about their concerns. After that they should lay out a game plan on controlling the things they can. Would they consider not having alcohol at the wedding, or just for the toast? What about if your sister talked to your uncles and told them how important the day is to her and how she needs them to help limit your dad’s alcohol consumption. Would they support her out of love and respect and help with keeping dad reined in that day? They could also talk to the bartenders and ask them to limit your parents if they continue coming up for more drinks or only pour half glasses.
Neither you nor your sister are responsible for protecting your parents from their own behavior. Ultimately it is their choice to decide how to handle themselves at your sister’s wedding. They need to hear from your sister before, not from you at the wedding, how important the day is and how important it is to her that they are not intoxicated during the celebration.
Consider going to an Ala-teen meeting, even if you don’t think your parents are alcoholics. Also, do some research on “functioning alcoholics,” which may sound similar to your parents. The more educated you are, the better understanding you will have on all the issues. Meeting other teenagers in similar situations can also help you hear how others cope and what skills they use to handle different situations.
Enjoy your sister’s wedding and let go of the idea that you are in charge of making it a great day or causing it to be a disaster. That’s completely on your parents. If they know how important it is your sister, then it’s up to them to step up and handle the day with maturity and respect for the couple who is getting married. Have a plan on how you are going to get home if both of them are drinking. Control what you can and let go of the rest. Take care of yourself by setting good boundaries, having a plan and empowering yourself.