Why shouldn’t parents get drunk on holiday?

The mad reaction to the story of a mum and dad who got paralytic in Portugal reveals a snobbish and unforgiving attitude towards parents today.

Jennie Bristow

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In her monthly column, Jennie Bristow sends today’s parenting fads and panics to the naughty step. This month, she defends the rights of parents to let go and have fun while on holiday abroad.

Every year I indulge in a brief fantasy about having a family holiday in the Algarve. Not any more.

In journalistic terms, ‘Parents get drunk on holiday’ is as bad and bleedin’ obvious a headline as ‘Sun comes out and Brits go to the beach’. But this May bank holiday, the plight of one poor couple who reportedly became hopelessly inebriated in front of their three children at a holiday hotel in the Algarve resulted in pages of newsprint in the Portuguese and British press, an appearance in front of a Portuguese judge, and speculation by all and sundry as to whether the couple make fit parents.

I cannot be the only parent to have contracted the jitters from this piece of prurience. Is there no refuge from the dictates of Totally Responsible Parenting Behaviour – even when you spend hundreds of pounds on a family holiday in the sun? Have we really become so unforgiving of parents that one slip-up in a hotel bar is enough to make you stand trial in the court of media commentary?

The facts, such as they are known, are these. Eamon and Antoinette McGuckin, from Northern Ireland, allegedly collapsed in a ‘drunken stupor’ in front of their three young children at their hotel in the early hours of Saturday morning, the first day of their holiday. The couple were taken to hospital and their children to a children’s refuge overnight. Accusations and denials are running thick and fast, with the Portuguese authorities considering charging mum and dad with abandonment and negligence, while the parents deny that they had drunk anything like enough to have ‘render[ed] them incapable of being responsible parents’,
and demanding blood tests to prove the point (1).

The facts of this bizarre case are far from clear, and it doesn’t really pay to speculate as to what may or may not have happened in Portugal several days ago. One obvious question, though, is how has the story so quickly reached the Portuguese and British media? It cannot be a coincidence that this latest fable on parents behaving badly has cropped up on the anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, and the degrading, parent-bashing circus that ensued.

While the jury may still be out on the question of whether it is okay for a middle-class couple to leave their kids asleep in a room while they go out for dinner and a glass of wine, getting paralytic in front of your children (on lager, apparently!) makes for an easy moral outrage. So the McGuckins quickly cease to become people, and are held up as photo-fit examples of how British parents quite typically behave on holiday: uncivilised binge-drinkers who put their kids at risk.

I find this view far more sickening than anything the McGuckins might have drunk in Portugal. Parents are quite entitled to enjoy themselves on holiday, and drink something a little stronger than lemonade. Getting completely out of your head is not, of course, advisable – and nor is it something that the vast majority of parents do the vast majority of the time. But parents should also be allowed to make mistakes. If you get too drunk in a hotel bar, you should be able to rely on people to help you out: just as you should be able to assume that, if you are suddenly taken ill or injured or have some other reason why you temporarily cannot care for your children, strangers will come to the fore and assist you. What you should not have to expect is that the reaction of people witnessing your plight will be to send in the authorities and splash your humiliation across the international media.

As I write, this story is coming to look more and more like a storm in a Sangria glass, with the McGuckins unlikely to face any formal charges. But their holiday has been ruined, their children upset, and their privacy and dignity has been unforgivably intruded upon. I feel desperately sorry for this family – and horribly queasy about where the cameras might be for the rest of us parents, next time we lower our guard on holiday.

Jennie Bristow is former commissioning editor of spiked. She is a freelance writer and researcher, and a member of the Institute of Ideas Parents’ Forum. Email Jennie {encode=”mailto:jennie@bristow.com” title=”here”}.

Previously on spiked

Nancy McDermott interviewed ‘the world’s worst mom’. Jennie Bristow discussed a lesson in conformity for parents and argued that our children are over-surveilled and underprotected by an interfering government. Stuart Waiton felt children were drowning in risk aversion. Frank Furedi discerned a demonisation of parents in the furore over smacking. Or read more of Jennie Bristow’s Guide to Subversive Parenting.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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