Mostly in this Drink column, we talk about fun things like bars and beer festivals. This week, since Mother’s Day is coming up, let’s talk about what’s become known as “mommy wine culture.” It likens cool parenting with drinking—or at least wanting to drink—and it’s taken shape in an endless stream of funny memes that say things like, “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink” or “Raising a teenager: the reason God made wine.”
I’m not here to tell you not to drink if you’re a mom. When my mom friends and I get together, there are usually kids around, and whether they’ve been toddlers running around with airplanes or teens running around with lightsabers, our group default activity has always been to set up a picnic blanket or campsite, send the kids off to run around with whatever implements they were running around with that year, and pop open a couple of cold beers.
But, when I Googled “mommy needs …” and the first auto-fill result was “vodka,” I did wonder if things like cute, stemless “Mom juice,” glasses might be concealing some real problems.
On Scary Mommy, a popular site that acknowledges—and embraces—maternal imperfection, one blogger wrote, “I could live without spandex/lycra blends and possibly even coffee (shudder), but there is absolutely no way I could do this thing without wine. Believe me, I’ve tried. And it was awful.” On the other side of the coin, writers for Babble and the New York Times have recently expressed nervousness about mommy wine culture normalizing alcoholism. And there are plenty of voices in support of each of those viewpoints.
Sarah Geo Walton is a doula, childbirth educator and co-owner of The Nuturing Nest, a center that offers support to mothers in the form of things like prenatal yoga classes and breastfeeding support. When it comes to moms of young children and drinking, she said, “I usually hear of it more as a joke than I hear of moms doing it.” Especially during the intensely demanding days of early motherhood, she said, new moms tend to be extra-cautious about alcohol, especially if they’re nursing or if they drive with their babies in the car.
Mothers do face some widespread mental health issues though, she pointed out. Post-partum depression, social isolation and anxiety are especially common, and they often go unreported and unaddressed.
“Many people will self-medicate at home before they’ll seek professional help, Walton said. “That is a reality.”
So, where’s the line between a glass of wine and problem drinking? Ashley Hanna-Morgan—a therapist, social worker and volunteer coordinator for a group called Postpartum Support International—pointed out a warning sign. Depression has a stigma, she said, that can lead people to channel it into guilt and anger, and to try to squelch those feelings with alcohol.
“I think everybody knows, deep down, if your drinking makes you numb out, that’s crossed a line,” Hanna-Morgan said.
For moms—and dads too—who suspect they’re in danger or want to learn about effective approaches to stress and depression, Hanna-Morgan offers advice through her business, Healing Home Counseling.
“Trying to close those gaps so moms don’t fall through the crack is really important to me,” she said. “Any way we can support moms without them getting judged or shamed.”