The Chicago Tribune asked a question that caught my eye yesterday: “‘Binge drinking has become completely normalized’: Has boozy mom culture gone too far?” Writer (and twins mom) Kate Thayer delves into the current trend of moms plus wine, glamorized in recent movies like Bad Moms and Fun Night Out, which both reflect and help inspire real-life moms to create their own fun nights out. Thayer notes, “Marketers also are capitalizing on the trend, targeting mothers with products like dish towels and home decor featuring similar sayings. There are even brands of wine with ‘mommy’ in their names.”
But all of this “normalizing” of mom partying may have a downside, as a few of the moms Thayer talked to mention how they developed actual drinking problems related to their binges. That particular partying was also popularized in books like Moms Who Drink And Swear, Wine Makes Mummy Clever, and the Mommy Drinks Because You Cry coloring book. “You’re a mom, of course you need wine” has become so automatic that kids’ birthday parties now often feature drinks for the adults as well. But even the author of the classic Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay doesn’t drink any more, after revealing in 2011 that she had a drinking problem.
It’s something I touched on in my first Dryuary essay, in which I embarked on my longest alcohol-free time period—a whole month, woo—since my pregnancy (a decade ago). I noted that my drinking after becoming the mother of twins almost put my college days to shame. What was different, my friends and I noted, was the new immediacy of the drinking, the everydayness. Before, I might only drink (copious amounts, to be sure) when going out, and I certainly didn’t drink a lot at home when I lived alone. But the second the babies finally went down for bed, I grabbed the chardonnay bottle, exhausted from the considerable effort of keeping the two little beings I loved most in the world alive for another day. I also, at this point, was mostly hanging out with other baby and toddler moms, and they had the same habits that I did. We lived for the nights we’d ditch the kids with our husbands to go complain about them at the wine bar.
It’s not that we hated being mothers—I was in infertility treatments for two years, so would feel like a real asshole if I complained after all that. No, all my friends and I agreed, we couldn’t believe how much we loved these adorable little weirdos, who delighted us every damn day. It’s just that we had never been so tired, and likely stressed, in entire lives. In the first place, I couldn’t believe that the hospital was just going to let my husband and me just walk out of the hospital with two small babies, one who wasn’t even 6 pounds: Were they crazy? Did they not know that we were total novices? For a few weeks afterward, I would randomly wonder when someone was going to come and pick those babies up, or at least come over to help. Turns out: no one. Then a friend mentioned that she had a day off coming up, and it slowly dawned on me that I actually wasn’t going to have a day “off” for 18 years.
It’s different, I guess, if you’re in a higher-income bracket. I made the mistake of going to a multiples meeting as a new mom in the pricey Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park, and have never met a group of women I had so little in common with. They talked about their “day nannies” and “night nurses”; one woman boasted that she and her husband actually had more time together, now that she was on maternity leave and they had all this home staff. (It didn’t help when one of the moms, trying to be nice, said, “You’re so small, I bet you’re only at four months or so.” My twins were two months old.) Traumatized, when I got home I sent out a group email to all my mom friends to commiserate with. One replied. “Yeah, I have a night nurse. And it costs six dollars when it’s on sale at Binny’s.”
As tough as infancy was, it seems like as the babies got bigger—crawling, to walking, to continually searching for choking hazards to put in their cute little mouths—it just got more exhausting to chase after them and fulfill our number one job: keeping them alive. The blur of those early years for me included some ear tube surgeries, various unexplainable rashes, some falls that I was unable to prevent, and the methodical introduction of solid, possible allergy-inducing food. Danger for my salt-and-pepper-shaker boy-girl twins appeared to lurk around every corner.
So it’s no wonder that wine became the quick fix that it did: cheaper and seemingly less toxic than Valium, which officially used to be called “mother’s little helper.” There were days when I couldn’t wait to get to the bottle, or caved and had some with dinner, leaving my husband to take over bath and bedtime duties. As I said in Dryuary, I hadn’t realized how much this habit had taken over my life until I stopped and looked around, 10 years later, and realized how drinking had managed to invade so many corners of my week, from Sunday brunches to Thursday dinners out. As much as I whined, that’s what I really loved about Dryuary: that month off was extremely valuable due to the realization that I could live without alcohol, and in a lot of ways (health, sleep level, time management) my life was even better without it. Sometimes I even pine for that abstinence.
Which is dumb—I can just not drink. In fact, right now I can’t really remember when my last drink was (although it was probably Saturday). Because what I also realized during that month off is that much as I loved wine time, any problems that I had were still there post-drink, even as a few glasses helped soften the edge of a particularly rough day. Adenoid surgery was still scheduled for the following week; my daughter still had to get glasses at 12 months old, and now I had to deal with all of that and a headache besides.
Also—and this is crucial—now that my kids are older, they’re not as physically draining as they once were. I no longer check to see if they’re still breathing in the middle of the night, for example. Mentally draining, sometimes, sure (my son and I got into a shouting match today over the car radio—and I’m pretty sure I was the less-mature one), but I no longer feel the need to blur the world completely as soon as the kids are asleep. Honestly, many nights I’m asleep before they are. I can do that now. And my time with them is now focused more on hanging out and conversation and enjoying ourselves (my girl accompanies me to black-and-white movies at the revival theater, my boy any big dumb fun action movie with The Rock in it), less on actual survival.
Still, I completely get how the fun of the mom drinking binges can turn into a too-regular habit. I mean, I closed a restaurant with some mom friends just last week on a Tuesday, drinking French 75s. I love the time with these lovely women, and the magic of alcohol as a social lubricant, and the mini-vacation from my regular life. But thanks to the previous break, I realize that it’s not worth it—health-wise, headache-wise—to drink like I did in the twins’ toddler years. I say this all now, but the best/worst may be yet to come: Check in with me again in a few years when the kids are teenagers.