The Wine Mom. She’s not just a character in a movie or a funny little meme that pops up in your Facebook feed. She’s your neighbor. Your co-worker. And seemingly every other mom in your first-grader’s class.
Every aspect of our culture seems to support the idea that being a modern, intelligent, socially astute woman means being a serious social drinker. If you’re single and in the market, you’ll need to keep those cocktails coming in order to fling yourself unmercifully into the shallow end of the dating pool. If you’re a corporate ladder-climber, you’re expected to take your bourbon straight, at events and at your desk and anywhere the deals are going down.
And certainly, if you’re an exhausted mom of littles (or teenagers, for that matter), you’ve been given a societal “free pass” to drown the stress of the day in a bottle of red, white or rosé as soon as those babies go to bed.
The Struggle Is Real, But Why?
The fact that the wine mom idea resonates so loudly with women begs the question of why. Why are women — and mothers, especially — in such need of chemical escape?
Some drink that nightly glass of merlot in the name of self-care, a bit of “liquid patience” and a reward for surviving motherhood. Others indulge as a way of thumbing their nose at the daily grind of adulthood, an empowering act of rebellion in a sea of obligation and ritual. But underneath those justifications, there are deeper issues to contend with: drinking as a way of masking feelings of anxiety, isolation and self-doubt.
“The reason mommy needs a drink that so many bloggers blog about,” Leslie Barrett writes for Salon, “reveals a truth about new motherhood. The anxiety. The isolation. The pleasure of that first drink. The release, for just a moment, of expectations — the world’s and our own.”1
Because, as most women know all too well, the weight of expectation is astronomical in our “wine is to women as duct tape is to men — it fixes everything!” world.
But any relief at the end of the pinot noir is short-lived at best and harmful at worst. “The idea that drinking is the only way to get through motherhood is a damaging concept,” psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins explains to Brit + Co. “It also completely leaves mothers who are prone to addiction out of the equation and makes alcohol consumption a normal means of dealing with the stress of motherhood.”2
The Hazards of Self-Medicating
Drinking to escape the stresses of life — be it motherhood, singleness, marriage or balancing a career — creates more problems than it temporarily solves. “Using substances for mental health issues is a Band-aid on a bullet wound,” says Hawkins. “If you are experiencing feelings and emotions that are detrimental to your daily functioning, alcohol will not improve them. It will only mask the feelings temporarily, leaving you with a headache and more problems in the morning.”2
And the morning-after hangover — the sluggishness, fatigue, headache and perhaps even nausea —is only the beginning. Women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol because their organs process its toxins differently than men, which explains why women aren’t as likely to “hold their liquor” and function well.
Women who drink excessively are at greater risk for alcohol dependency, alcoholic hepatitis and certain heart problems. And women who drink are more likely to develop breast cancer. Research shows that just one drink a day can raise a woman’s breast cancer risk by about 10 percent, with two daily drinks boosting that risk to 25 percent.3
And that underlying anxiety? Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.4 Drinking to excess only exacerbates those issues.
“Self-medicating with alcohol often presents the alcohol consumer with a moment of feeling as if their anxiety, depression or loneliness is lessened,” explains Anne Marie Dine, Director of Outpatient Services at Foundations Atlanta at Midtown. But as those in recovery attest — and as medical imagery of the brain supports — these mental health issues only increase. “The ‘wine mom’ stereotype feeds the idea that it is acceptable to avoid responsibilities (laundry, childcare, etc.), but when faced with these issues in reality, the person is likely to become even more stressed, anxious or depressed.”
How to Unwind the Wine Mom
So, how do you know when your “wine mom” indulgence has reached an unhealthy place in your life? Novelist Joyce Maynard tells the Chicago Tribune it’s not always easy to know. “The way I was drinking is the way a lot of women drink and don't see it as any kind of problem. And for a lot of them, it may not be a problem. It wasn't the quantity; it was the space wine occupied in my life. I could tell it was occupying an unhealthy one. I was using it increasingly as a comfort and a reliever of stress. I would say, 'I'm not going to drink,' and then I would,” she recalls.4
Moderation is key. But in our chardonnay sippy-cup world, understanding what moderation looks like is not a given. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one drink is five ounces of wine, eight ounces of beer or one-and-a-half ounces of liquor. A woman is considered a heavy drinker if she consumes eight or more drinks per week, with binge drinking defined as “four or more drinks on a single occasion.”5 One generous pour every evening, and you’re over the moderation limit within a few days.
So consider the following questions to see whether moderation has left the building:
- Does alcohol consume too much (emotional, physical) space in your life?
- Is alcohol part of every social event in your life?
- Do you often drink alone?
- Do you routinely need to make excuses for your drinking and/or its aftereffects?
- Has drinking affected the quality of the time you spend with your children or family?
- Have friends or family expressed concern over your drinking habits?
If several of these questions get a “yes,” perhaps it’s time to find some new and better ways to cope with the stressors of everyday life.
Finding Balance Through Self-Care
Women, especially moms of young kids, are behind before they get out of bed in the morning, so if you’re waiting for the opportunity (and the time) to take care of yourself, you’re simply not going to find it. Yes, you can do anything … but that doesn’t mean you should. “We can’t afford to live lives we have to fool our central nervous systems into tolerating,” recovering alcoholic Kristi Coulter writes.6
You have to carve out time for self-care because, without it, you cannot care well for others. If mommy isn’t healthy and whole, her littles can’t be healthy and whole.
Here are four important ways to build self-care into your day:
- Carve out two 15-minute spaces each day to close your eyes, breathe and be still. Purposeful daydreaming, if you will. Don’t check email or let your mind focus on any to-dos. Even if it’s in the silence of the car, be intentional with the time.
- Set the bar lower … for yourself and for others. Forget about the Joneses and what they do or have. Say “no” to the unnecessary (the weekly obligation you agreed to out of guilt) and “yes” to what makes you healthier (a walk in the evenings, story time with your kids). Determine not to be “in it to win it,” but to be in it fully present.
- Rewrite the negative script in your head. Create a mantra of truth about who you are — positive affirmations about your strong body, your curious mind, your giving heart, your mom skills. Keep them short, specific and memorizable. Post it on your bathroom mirror, on the dash of your car and even on the back of your hand if necessary.
- Take drastic measures to get more sleep. Turn off the TV in your bedroom. Get some melatonin. Drink Sleepytime tea. Let your partner handle bedtime for the kids three times a week — however impossible it may seem — to get more healing rest.
Practicing these and other intentional acts of self-care can be a daily reminder that life is worth savoring and that you — rested, purposeful and positive — are more than up to the task of nurturing those you love.
By Melissa Riddle Chalos
1 Garrett, Leslie. “When ‘Mommy Needs a Drink’ Isn’t Funny Anymore.” Salon, November 23, 2013.
2 Abramsom, Ashley. “The Pop Culture ‘Wine Mom’ Is Hilarious, Relatable — and a Giant Red Flag.” Brit + Co, December 19, 2017.
3 Heubeck, Elizabeth. “Heavy Drinking Among Women at All-Time High, Despite Health Consequences.” Connecticut Health I-Team, November 30, 2017.
4 Lissner, Carol. “As alcohol gender gap narrows, women’s risk of addiction increases.” Chicago Tribune, February 28, 2017.
5 “Fact Sheets: Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 3, 2018.
6 Coulter, Kristi. “Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink.” Quartz, August 21, 2016.