Like many parents, I've tried hard to keep my sense of self since having children. For some this is expressed through sport or an evening class, for me this generally manifests itself as...I still want to go to the pub.
My little pocket of Brighton is blessed with dozens of friendly little pubs, most of which are not adverse to admitting the odd ankle-biter. While I'm not an old soak who rocks up to the boozer on a Friday night and stays 'til Sunday, I have been known to pop in to my local with a troop of thirsty mums for a teatime pint, furnish the kids with pop and crisps and well, have a little pub time.
The children get to hang out with their friends and in turn, so do I. It's social, fun and as we rarely stay past 8 o'clock, I believe, completely harmless. But when my children come home from school with their diaries filled with...'at the weekend we went to the Red Dragon' for the third week in a row, I wonder, do my kids spend too much time in the pub?
"I had to cancel meeting a friend in our local one Saturday afternoon as I was besieged with guilt for dragging the kids the pub again," says Dolores, mum to three girls. "We'd been there the previous weekend and the evening before and although they love it, I realised that this was becoming my social life, not theirs."
Before 1995 children under 14 weren't even allowed in pubs, but now, in the glorious new millennium, going to the pub as a family is de rigueur.
"I remember sitting outside a pub with a glass bottle of coke with a straw in and a bag of crisps on a Sunday lunchtime and being very happy about it," says Paula, a mum of three.
And that's the thing, most children do enjoy it. When my daughter was five she told her teacher that she was sad because her favourite pub had closed. She even drew a picture of said pub and her in the window with a sad face. I was mortified.
Thankfully, her teacher realised that I'm not a complete lush and my children do not spend every waking hour propping up the bar. But I did feel like a bad parent.
Since the smoking ban came into force in 2007, it's become more acceptable to bring children to pubs. "I think it depends on what type of pub it is," says Daniel, father to five-year-old twins. "If the kids are running around a small space with lots of drinks and dodgy language, it's not a good idea, but if it has a garden and climbing frames, for an hour on a Sunday afternoon, it's nice."
"I think the whole palaver of kids not being exposed to adults consuming alcohol is nonsense," says Sandra, who has a 10-year-old daughter. "Honestly, which parent is going to sneak in the kitchen and secretly sip a glass of Chardonnay just so that the kids don't notice?"
Do I think it will encourage my children to abuse alcohol? No, I don't think so. I want them to view pubs as social places, where you meet and hang out with friends, not places to get hammered. I'm hoping by being around adults drinking sensibly they will have respect for alcohol.
However, there is a fine line between educating our children about alcohol and spending every weekend at the bar. "I love children and I love pubs but unless there is a designated area for them I think it's unfair to drag children in, for both for the kids and other customers' sakes," says Nancy, who has a teenage daughter.
But you can have too much of a good thing. So if your child's school diary starts to feature more inns than a freshers' pub crawl, perhaps it's time to seek out other hobbies.
What do you think?
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