Over the winter, a blog began making the social media rounds: “How Mommy Drinking Culture Has Normalized Alcoholism for Women in America”. Reading any comments section is akin to inviting a poke in the eye but, not unlike Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, I couldn’t resist the temptation to gauge reader response. The author’s bravery was dazzling; she dared to confront the widely embraced mommy wine meme machine.
Unsurprisingly, responses to the article were mixed. Some people praised the author for admitting her drinking problem, as well as challenging the problematic mommy wine culture she once vehemently espoused. Other people adopted a holier-than-thou attitude, expressing dismay at the idea that anyone would mix alcohol and parenting. But the most concerning faction was comprised of those who swooped in to defend their right to drink, even though no one was telling them they couldn’t. The author’s piece was never about pushing sobriety; it was about examining the messages we send about alcohol, and acknowledging how these messages can either encourage or condone unhealthy consumption. The knee-jerk defensiveness on display is a symptom of the very problem the author was trying to highlight. The point isn’t to force all of mankind into a militant state of prohibition – it’s to adjust alcohol’s societal orientation away from “coping mechanism” and into its rightful place as “beverage”.
It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Super Mommy!
I am not a parent, but I did spend a decade of my life caring for children, and I have to concede that mothers are heroes. Part of the reason I’m not a mom is because I have long possessed a clear idea of what motherhood entails. I know what it’s like to eat a cold meal while standing or performing some task. Heck, I know what it’s like to be so hungry that eating a soggy, half-gnawed chicken nugget from the hand of a beaming toddler is an acceptable option. I understand how a ten second absence can elicit a cacophony of screams – because one sibling had the audacity to look at the other – and to, heaven forbid, insist on remaining elsewhere (i.e. the bathroom). Like many women before me, I’ve wished that a merciful television executive would cancel Caillou, and endured the Peppa Pig theme song on maddening repeat. I became familiar with late-night faces looming unhappily over my own, and the tenderness required despite the ungodly hours. Unable to alleviate sickness, but often sharing it, my heart shattered over foreheads racked with feverish misery. I fielded tantrums, broke up fights, kissed boo-boos, and scrubbed stomach-turning stains from clothes and upholstery alike.
After a decade, I can confidently say that parenting is rewarding, but it’s also incredibly hard. Some days I delighted in addressing philosophical inquiries revolving around the question “why?”, and other days I prayed for a bio-hazard suit to materialize out of thin air. My experience provided only a small window into what parents weather 24/7, but it gave me a permanent appreciation for their love and sacrifice.
During my time as a caretaker, I often turned to junk food and caffeine to ease the daily stress. I craved the company of other adults – particularly those who could hold a conversation about something other than children. I loved my little ones, but I became increasingly lonely and bored. For me, this signaled the end of an era. It was time for a career change. But that’s not how it works for actual parents. When challenging emotions arise, you can’t just walk away. Parenthood is a contract you sign for life.
Wait..Does This Contract Come With a Loophole?
As my junk food and caffeine habits demonstrate, I empathize with the compulsion to look for an external source of comfort. For some women, “mommy wine” deceptively provides that wellspring of tranquility. What many people don’t realize, however, is that escaping – whether it be via “mommy wine” or other means – such as eating, shopping, or caffeine – is a form of “walking away”. Our bodies may be physically present, but our minds are – to varying degrees – not. Escapism, when pursued compulsively, impacts our ability to be in the moment. This effect is most pronounced with drug and alcohol consumption.
Escapism is not inherently bad. As human beings, we all need a break. We take vacations for a reason. The trick is deciphering when these breaks are appropriate, as well as the healthiest means to achieve relaxation. Furthermore, it’s necessary to remain watchful; we can take vacations, but we can’t stay forever. The craving for a permanently altered mental state is a marker of addiction. One could even go so far as to argue that the desire for an altered mental state – in and of itself – is a red flag. It’s a sign that coping skills meant to prevent elevated levels of stress and anguish have already been neglected. The debate surrounding “mommy wine” will undoubtedly rage on.
Paint and Plant…but Hold the “Sip”
Those authors who have had the chutzpah to tackle mommy wine culture have discussed, at length, why it’s harmful to promote drinking as a coping skill, but there is little talk about alternative means for surviving parenthood with an intact sense of sanity. This may be due, in part, to society’s overwhelming resistance to change. Scrolling through Facebook, the mommy wine memes persist. In fact, sensing a marketing opportunity, businesses have taken traditionally relaxing and healthy activities, and added wine. There’s wine yoga, wine paint ’n sip, and wine plant nite. Since it’s not widely accepted that drinking alcohol is not a coping mechanism, why thoroughly explore the alternatives?
At the Process Recovery Center, we work with countless people who are endeavoring to parent in sobriety, and who are also hungry for life skills and stress reduction techniques. We have a responsibility to provide our clients with education, but our obligation doesn’t end there. As addiction specialists, it is our duty to raise awareness. Our coping skills are lacking as a society. By encouraging a societal shift in attitude, we can modify the environments which are fostering the development of alcohol and drug dependence.
There are many ways you can relax that don’t involve drinking. Alcohol is a beverage – not a means to an end. For moms in particular, it’s important to have a community of women who not only relate, but also provide understanding and support. It’s also critical for women to retain a sense of identity that isn’t wrapped up solely in motherhood. Process Recovery Center therapist, Jennifer Harrington, says: “Depending on when you take on the role as parent, you can still be developing a sense of who you are and then, boom! You’re responsible for forming the identity – and keeping ALIVE – another human being”.
Jennifer recommends “connecting to things that allow [you] to continue to feed [your] individuality and sense of self…otherwise [parenthood will] mimic the same effects as co-dependency on your health”. What are your interests outside of your partner and children? Pursue those things – sans kids! Do you like reading, hiking, gardening, or cooking? What about art, music, theatre, recreational sports, or kayaking? If you’ve lost sight of what you enjoy, carve out time to take a class or try something new.
See Ya Later, Social Conditioning!
The family unit may initially struggle with your resolve to overhaul your self-care routine. This is normal. If you’ve spent years putting your own needs on the back burner, it will take awhile for everyone to adapt. If you are a particularly busy parent, the first step may be learning to use the word “no.” Maybe little Timmy can only play one sport instead of two. Maybe you don’t really have time to volunteer for the PTO. You are not being selfish. After the initial adjustment period, your family will begin to benefit from your heightened ability to relax and cope with stress. Other family members may even begin to mimic your new skills; you may be surprised to watch them go on a therapeutic hike or spend an evening engrossed in a meditative hobby.
Our children are watching. Every client who passes through our recovery center speaks about family norms. Many report: “My family can’t do anything without drinking. It’s how we have fun,” or “My parent poured a drink when he/she was stressed,” and on and on, ad infinitum. This isn’t about the blame game, nor is it about guilt and shame. It’s about changing thousands of years of social conditioning. Change won’t happen overnight, but we can make a start – it’s simply a matter of acquiring knowledge and modeling it. When you possess an arsenal of healthy coping skills and a diverse approach to fun, you become a powerful leader and teacher.
If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, please call (888) 649-1149 or contact us here. There is no shame in asking for help.
Autumn Khavari/ Contributor
Jennifer Harrington/ Contributor