Play Spaces Are Now Serving Booze to Parents...Would You Drink at One?

woman and her daughter enjoying the ball pit

Lord knows there are parenting moments that make us all want to reach for an adult beverage. Like when cutting your toddler’s grapes “wrong” leads to a shrieking meltdown that makes you yearn for your own grape juice called Merlot. And there are of course occasions, like a backyard first birthday party, where serving beer and wine around kids hardly feels scandalous.

But there’s a growing trend among kiddie gyms and play spaces to offer an open bar during open play. Which begs the question: If having the occasional drink at home around kids feels generally OK, are we also cool with boozing it up by the ball pit?

“People are often surprised when they see we serve alcohol [at our snack bar],” Ed Kim, owner of Queens, New York, play space Sunnyside Plays, told the New York Post. “One or two people have made negative comments, asking, ‘Aren’t you a play space for kids?’ I answer that we’re a play space for families. We want adults to be able to play too.” Jessica Biel’s L.A. kids’ club/eatery, Au Fudge, also offers an extensive wine list. But, it should be noted, on-staff babysitters are available (for a fee) to mind kids in the separate “creative space,” should parents wish to indulge in the dining room.

Of course, for every parent who shrugs off an occasional foam-pit-adjacent Pilsner or mid-day Babies and Bier playgroup, there’s another who sees danger and darkness ahead. “These parents aren’t ‘less type A’ and more ‘laid-back’ than other parents,” wrote one New York Times commenter of proliferating playrooms in beer gardens. “They’re irresponsible parents who don’t want to grow up, who are putting their own needs ahead of [those] of their children.” Wrote another: “This is sad. You can’t stop drinking and just hang out with your kid(s).”

There’s little doubt that the pressures on modern parents to always be playfully present (but never helicopter!) and pro-attachment (while also having it all!) contributes to the appeal of sipping an IPA by the puppet theater. Frankly, so does the sometimes mind-numbing boredom of hanging out at a play space. “It’s almost this feminist thing, like ‘F - - k your role’—like it’s a little rebellious,” one mom, who used to drink liberally around her kids but is now sober, told the Post. “But it’s a joke that’s not funny.” Even if you’re not getting trashed by the trampoline or wasted by the water table, there’s also a case to be made for being fully attuned as your kids navigate new social and physical surroundings. Somehow, we doubt we could stuff ourselves as nimbly through the tunnels of an indoor jungle gym or referee an intra-toddler smackdown as successfully while buzzed on Bordeaux. Then again, being slightly numb to the ensuing side-eye does sound sort of nice…    

The expert take? “Kids who see their parents drink responsibly will likely have a responsible attitude toward alcohol when they get older,” according to Northwestern family therapist Josh Hetherington. “Responsible drinking means [no more than] one drink per hour and stopping at three.” So moderation wins, no matter where you are.

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