Ask Kari: I saw a mother drinking in public in front of her children — what should I have done?

Dear Kari,

I recently saw something troubling in the local movie theatre parking lot. I was walking through the parking lot en route to taking my children to see a movie and spotted another mother with three children standing at the back of her car drinking vodka straight from the bottle at 1:00 PM in the afternoon. I was both shocked and concerned, so much so that I paused to watch her. She took about six drinks, then closed the back of her car and began to walk into the movie theatre.  I was stunned to see a mother drinking at the back of her car in the middle of the day while her children watched. I just walked inside behind her, but now I wonder if I should have called the police.  I keep running the scenario over in my mind; do you think I should have done something different?

Concerned Mom in Issaquah

Dear Concerned Mom in Issaquah,

My goodness, I too would have stopped out of concern. Seeing a woman drinking out of the back of her car in the afternoon while her children watched is terrible parenting. And, consuming alcohol in public spaces is illegal in Washington State. Therefore, the mother made two poor choices that day. Whether you should have gotten involved is tricky. If she drank the liquor and then proceeded to walk into the theatre without stumbling, you could have hoped that her sitting through a movie for two and a half hours would have helped the alcohol pass through her system. If she appeared intoxicated, I would have called the police and reported her troubling behavior. Doing so would have involved you in a dynamic that would have most likely included: you making a 911 call, reporting the incident to the movie theatre staff, talking to the police when they arrived, potentially being shunned by the woman when she realized that you reported her, and you and your family missing your movie. But in the end, her children would have been safe for that day and you would have done a good thing for society. After that, it would have been up to her and the criminal justice system to help her make better choices in the future including seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. I would move forward and forgive yourself for being confused about how to handle a challenging situation in the public area.


As published in the October 2015 issue of Connections.


About Kari:

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and a resident of Issaquah Highlands.

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