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The Problem with the Mommy Wine Culture

In our holiday email, I joked that there‘s not enough spiked eggnog in the world to deal with toddler holiday tantrums.

Afterward, I received an email from a reader who took issue with this type of language.

What’s the big deal, I thought?

But she was totally right: I was complicit in maintaining the institution of the mommy wine culture. I mean, hasn’t booze become an essential part (THE essential part, perhaps) of “surviving motherhood?” — and I was only perpetuating this notion.

Before we go deeper, read this excerpt (from Holly Whitaker’s book, Quit Like a Woman, featured in our February Love List):

So I asked this reader if she would write about it. Certainly, she is not the first person to experience this — and won’t be the last. Here is her story.


After the birth of my first baby, I dealt with postpartum depression and substance abuse simultaneously… and I overcame both. Despite the overwhelming and ubiquitous “mommy wine culture” out there, no one talks about moms who might actually have a drinking problem. That’s why I want to tell my story — in hopes that it may help just one other mom who may be going through PPD and substance abuse. 

The word “alcoholic” has such a negative connotation surrounding it, but the growing number of mothers who drink to cope with the stressors of parenthood NEEDS to be talked about. So here it is…

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THERE IS HOPE.

My first sip of alcohol was in my teenage years, and I remember it helping me feel so relaxed, fun, and outgoing. It was the solution I had always been looking for: this buzz gave me the confidence and social skills I felt I was always lacking. I continued to drink through my college years and beyond; and being the “cool girl” who enjoyed craft beer and who could drink shots of whiskey without a chaser became a large part of my identity.

I was always aware that alcohol helped ease my social anxiety and was also aware that it helped me relax and ease the depression I often felt. Fleeting thoughts of “I’m drinking too much” crossed my mind throughout the years, and I genuinely thought becoming a mother would stop this habit in its tracks.

This belief could not have been further from the truth.

When I became pregnant, I mentally prepared myself for the fact that postpartum depression would be a very likely reality for me due to my history of anxiety and depression — one major predictor of PPD.

And I was right. 

Regardless of how much I mentally prepared for motherhood, this overwhelming life event turned out to be too much for me to handle by myself. I remember breaking down into tears at the hospital when my baby wasn’t brought back from the nursery on time. I felt so helpless, hopeless and depressed, and these tears were the first sign that something wasn’t quite right. All of the other moms in the maternity ward seemed so relaxed and happy. Why wasn’t I? 

My newborn daughter was diagnosed with jaundice, and we had to constantly check her bilirubin levels. She went through light therapy and finally went home with a portable light suitcase. Our first few days, I struggled to breastfeed, to sleep, and to wrap my head around the fact that these people were going to let ME (of all people) take this helpless, fragile baby home from the hospital. Where is the instruction manual? Why do I feel like such an impostor? I’m not meant to be a mother! 

Mothering got easier once I got into the rhythm of breastfeeding and we finally graduated from light therapy. My husband spent the first two weeks home with me, and the following two weeks were a flurry of grandparents and family visiting from out of town. 

Once my daughter turned one month old, the isolation and true postpartum depression crept in. My first drink post-baby was exactly like my very first drink as a teenager: this is it — the solution I have been looking for.

I finally felt relaxed after a long day at home, alone with a cranky baby. Drinking once again became a regular part of my lifestyle and I felt made me a better mom since I was able to relax and “take care of myself.” I was encouraged to drink a beer to help boost my milk supply. Cue the mommy wine culture: I saw memes all over the place about “mommy’s sippy cup” and moms needing a drink. I was just doing what all moms do to survive, right? 

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The last eight weeks of my maternity leave were a very dark time in my life. While I was aware that I was probably going through postpartum depression, I did not realize how bad it truly was. My evening drink quickly became multiple drinks, always mindful and careful of how much I was drinking and whether I would need to give a bottle instead of breastfeeding. I learned information that “if you’re okay to drive, you’re okay to breastfeed.” My evening drinks started earlier and earlier in the day and started to become a daily occurrence.

The reality that I was day-drinking on maternity leave with a helpless baby became a source of such shame for me. I sought therapy for my PPD, but with my therapist having no knowledge of addiction, it was of little help.

My carefree drinking was no longer carefree and turned into something necessary to cope with motherhood. I religiously attended a new moms group in hopes that I would find a strong support system, but never felt like I could bring up the fact that I felt I was drowning in loneliness and anxiety by self medicating. What would all these other new moms think of me? They would judge me! They would think I’m a terrible mother! They would call the authorities and take my baby away!

When I went back to work, my drinking and parenting became more manageable at first. I was able to cut back my drinking to weekends only, but soon those Fridays and Saturdays bled into Sundays and Thursdays too. I could barely make it to Tuesday without agonizing over not having a drink to end my day. My thoughts were consumed with when I would be able to have my next drink. But a glass of wine is just a treat to myself, right? That’s what all the mommy blogs say; that’s what the mommy wine culture itself promises.

Once I weaned from breastfeeding when my daughter turned 1, I no longer had this excuse to keep my drinking in check. My weekend drinking became heavier and my hangovers and regret became more excruciating.

I finally came to a breaking point in September 2018 when my daughter was about 18 months old. It was a Tuesday evening, about 48 hours since my last drink. That evening, I felt so overwhelmed with anxiety and irritability, I just looked at my daughter and said “I don’t want to be a mother anymore.”

Something had to give.

It was at this time that I discovered This Naked Mind’s “The Alcohol Experiment,” a free online challenge to eliminate alcohol from your life for 30 days. The experiment included daily videos, lessons, and journaling with the intention of disrupting our thoughts and beliefs surrounding alcohol.

And with all of the alcohol completely out of my system, I realized how much better I felt.

Once this toxic substance was no longer interrupting my brain chemistry, I could manage my anxiety and depression much more easily. After about six months without much mental health support, I sought a new therapist to address both my substance abuse and postpartum depression and was placed on antidepressants. Discovering This Naked Mind was only the tip of the iceberg: numerous self help “quit lit” books, bloggers, podcasts, meetings, groups followed, all came together to offer me the support structure I so desperately needed in those first few days, weeks, months of motherhood (resources discussed at the end of the article). Finally, through these online groups and in-person meetings, I met other women who had similar experiences. It was such a relief to realize I was not alone in my experience with PPD and drinking.

In the year and a half of actively working to quit drinking, I have learned these valuable lessons: 1) alcohol is an addictive substance, and I unintentionally became addicted to alcohol, 2) I am a better individual, wife, mother, HUMAN when I choose not to drink, and 3) WE CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. 

So if you are reading this and think you have a drinking problem and feel utterly alone in your experience, please know that you are not. I — and so many other moms out there — know how you feel and have walked this same path before. Reach out to someone you trust, go outside of your comfort zone to join The Alcohol Experiment; attend a female-only AA meeting.

Life on the other side of addiction isn’t perfect, but it sure is better than living in a constant state of lonely shame, regret, and anxiety.

Recommended Resources

“Parenting is a lot like recovery: it’s a beautiful, challenging, exhausting and rewarding process that provides the sweetest moments of joy. It’s a path we must walk with intention, perseverance, and a daily commitment to show up. It’s a journey in which each step we take reveals more to us about ourselves and the world around us. It’s hard… but it’s amazing.”

Annika O’Melia, author of the “Mother Recovering” blog and podcast

Comments

  1. Here here! Thank you for tackling this topic and sharing your story. I was thrilled to see the topic in the email newsletter and loved reading the post. I worry about the mommy wine culture and what it is telling our children about what self-care and self-love looks like. Alcohol is not the harmless substance that our culture is portraying it to be.

  2. Laura and Meg, Thank you for being brave enough to push back against the wine mom culture. So many times I see moms choosing play dates based on if there will be wine involved. It starts of so innocuously but quickly becomes overwhelming. I have found myself sucked into this cycle of thinking… forcing myself through work and then the bedtime routine thinking about that nice glass of wine I can enjoy…. when did my life become so focused on alcohol? Why can’t I enjoy the bedtime routine for what it is, the last moments of cuddles with my children before they fall asleep. When the highlight of the day is the first sip of wine in the evening my priorities are dangerously out of control. Thank you for addressing the fact that this mindset is not healthy and places alcohol on a pedestal in our lives.

  3. This is SUCH an important topic, thank you Laura for your brave sharing of your experience, and thank you to Meg for acknowledging how your comment, while meant as a light-hearted joke, could have perpetuated this harmful Mommy Wine Culture. I applaud you both for that, and hope that this is read far and wide. Would also mention a quote (now t-shirt too!) by Graeme Seabrook that sums up another side of this topic. It says: This mommy needs (then wine is crossed out, and under that it says) “an end to the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system that makes modern motherhood so dehumanizing that self-medication is both aspirational and expected.” TRUTH!

      1. Thank you very much for this article! I have felt for a long time that our culture in general has a problematic relationship with alcohol lately. I feel like people are just recently beginning to come around on it. I have friends who have stopped drinking altogether, and one who I was getting worried about who has decided lately to cut back. I’ve seen ads for mixed nonalcoholic drinks and mixers which also gives me hope. I’m happy to see others embracing the idea that alcohol doesn’t have to be the thing that makes you fun, nor the medicine that helps you cope with things that were always going to be hard anyway.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Such a heartbreaking account but I’m proud of her for breaking out of her addiction. I don’t drink and am surprised and saddened by all the shirts, decor, mugs that are about moms drinking, as if that’s the norm. Our culture is pretty messed up in some ways

    1. I agree. I’m also not a drinker and have found the wine mommy culture both disturbing and alienating. I can’t relate to it and so I have a hard time finding a mommy tribe that doesn’t revolve around alcohol.

    2. Thank you so much for this post! I have struggled with the normalizing of drinking in order to cope with parenting for a while now. I started following the mommy blogger community after my son was born almost 8 years ago. At that time, I had recently lost my father and my mother turned to wine as a coping mechanism. It was easy to give her a pass at first. She was grieving the loss of her husband of 30 years. But it just got worse and worse. The wine was keeping her stuck in her grief and she was drowning. It absolutely destroyed her. My once very strong and independent mother was consumed by the alcohol and grief. She was hospitalized twice for not eating and only drinking wine. Tried rehab, but still couldn’t stop drinking wine. After struggling for a year and a half after the passing of my father, she died of a heart attack. Her body just couldn’t take it anymore. Watching her struggle for that year and a half was harder than dealing with the loss of both my parents. All I can do is cringe at the wine jokes, T-shirt’s, and memes. I think that perpetuating this wine culture amongst mothers who are desperate for a “cure” to all the problems that come along with parenting is DANGEROUS. Alcohol is NOT the answer. Mothers need real support. We should be promoting real tools of coping such as mindfulness and being present.

  5. I think it is also VERY important to acknowledge that NOT all of us turn to alcohol AT ALL. I find it condescending to assume all mommies need/desire wine or any other crutch beyond necessary sleep and food. I wish your initial article also addressed that side of this “culture” from the get-go.

  6. I swear I was reading this and checking I hadn’t written it in one of my pink cloud moments!! Absolutely resonated with me down to finishing breastfeeding and not having any “boundaries” any more! I remember googling am I an alcoholic on a few occasions. I’m not almost 7 months sober and have found quit lit essential especially this naked mind! Made me see alcohol in a completely different way. Thanks for the reassurance that indeed we are not alone!

  7. I was pleasantly surprised to see this post in my inbox today. I am 2 years alcohol-free, also deciding to remove it from my life when my son was 18 months old. I am so glad we are seeing people talk about this problem in the media. The more we get it out there, the more people can help! Thank you Lucie’s List – you are part of the solution!

  8. What an incredibly powerful and honest article. THANK YOU for sharing your story of strength and hope. I hope this is read by many because even if one isn’t struggling herself, it’s likely she has a friend who is and could use understanding, compassion, and support. It’s tricky navigating our current culture where it has become a societal norm to offer alcohol next to the pinata at our babies’ birthday parties. As a social drinker who has gone through periods where I have felt close to losing control over my drinking, I can see the slippery slope. Having supported friends and family through their recoveries, I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who has beaten addiction. Thank you for writing your story, your child is very luck to have such an impressive mom who was not only able to work her way through some very tough challenges but also be willing to share to help others.

  9. Thank you so much for talking about this! I had clinical PPD, PTSD, and PPA and was told oh just have a beer and calm down. Thankfully i pursued better therapy and found healing. Alcohol is not a coping mechanism, it needs to be respected and can be enjoyed if you are mindful of its effects. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

  10. Thank you so much for this article! I found myself relating to much of what was written. When I got to the end of the article, I immediately signed up for The Alcohol Experiment. I’ve tried to tackle this alone but failed several times. I am looking forward to having an external resource to support me through my efforts in breaking away from the wine.

  11. Having grown up in wine country, I have enjoyed wine culture my entire adult life. That didn’t change when I became a mother, and personally I laugh heartily at the jokes such as the eggnog one in the holiday newsletter. That being said, it is important to recognize those struggling with mental illness and attempts at self medication. We’re all expected to be “super moms” these days, and the pressure is high to portray perfection. We should take a serious look at mental health access and adequate family leave family leave for new parents. One of the things that popped out in this article to me was when the author was describing her “last 8 weeks of maternity leave.” I only got 6 total, and then had to return to work. There is so much stress put on new moms, it’s not surprising many drink. The “village” it takes to raise a child no longer exists for many people. It’s a complex issue to be sure.

  12. Hello! Thank you so much for sharing this story. In my 20’s and early 30’s I was a heavy drinker, it was who I was to outside people and it is deeply ingrained in my family’s social structure. I, too, have long struggled with depression and anxiety, PPD after my second son was nearly crippling and was tearing my family apart. I was on anti-depressants and a slew of vitamins and supplements said to help with depression, but nothing helped. Then, my boyfriend and I tried “Dry January”. I was feeling great. I was productive, fun and patient. Then, in the middle of the month, I had ONE beer with my Sister for her birthday and BAM…I was back on the very dark side, just like that. I spent that night and the next day angry and aggravated and I took note. A few more sober weeks went by and again, I was feeling so good, then a fun girls night with a couple of drinks and the same earth-shattering (to me!) results. I am trying to keep on the sober path but struggle often with a full time job, a family who celebrates everything with booze and the judgement I feel from other people (I hate to say it, but ESPECIALLY my Mom friends). This article immediately made my feel supported and when I get home, I will be downloading a few of the books and checking out This Naked Mind! Thank you! <3

  13. Interesting read, but I think there is another side to this story. Let me explain.

    My husband quit drinking recently and because his drinking became problematic. My dad is an alcoholic. So, I have firsthand knowledge of how problematic drinking and alcoholism can hurt a family. That said, there are a lot of woman who respond to newfound stress of motherhood by going extreme the other way: never taking a sip or relaxing for a second about alcohol especially while breastfeeding. I was one of those woman with my first son, and I stopped breastfeeding much earlier than planned – not because I wanted to drink alcohol -but because the all the restrictions I was mistakenly putting on myself were making me so stressed out! I needed some balance back in my life. With my second son I am much more relaxed. I educated myself about alcohol and breastfeeding and I have to say “mommy wine culture” helped with that. Now I can relax and have a glass or two in moderation., I find it both healing and enjoyable to take a few hours to myself after the kids are in bed once in a while. There is a time to recognize when drinking is too heavy and too much, generally when it crosses the line of hurting one’s self or others. But eliminating it from our culture altogether so that breastfeeding mom’s feel guilty about even taking a sip? I don’t think that’s the right thing to do either.

    Somewhere in the middle.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing. It was so encouraging (and beautiful) to see Jessica Simpson share her story recently as well. I think and pray over this topic all the time. You’re a hero for many!

  15. Alcoholism runs in my family, for the men, it seems. I’ve lost a grandfather and uncle too soon to alcoholism with devastating outcomes to my family. Alcohol culture makes me bristle. I drank socially in college and went to a school known for overdoing it. It was everywhere and it was uncomfortable to be around. Then I noticed it at work when I started my career. I then noticed it in every comedy movie and in a new big city job at a huge corporation. It was impossible to get away from the culture surrounding alcohol and its permissiveness. I only drank socially because if peer pressure and wanting to fit in, but nursing a drink all night gave me painfully uncomfortable insight to what drinking does to otherwise awesome people. I’ve witnessed beautiful relationships fall apart due to drunken mistakes. I’ve witnessed people ruin their careers, credibility, marriages, relationships with children and parents. When my husband would occasionally say things like “I feel like having a glass of whiskey” when he was not a drinker at all, it made me cringe that this culture had permeated into my life to the ones I’m most protective of. I was triggered by it and so abundantly aware of it’s far-reaching capabilities. After becoming pregnant it also stood out that people continued to pressure me to drink even while pregnant saying things like, “one drink won’t hurt the baby.” It was shocking that someone close to me would excuse and encourage me potentially harming my unborn child for no better reason than to help them feel better about not drinking alone. And they had no idea it was a problem. It was all so easy breezy.

    These are real and major problems leading to huge issues of perpetuating alcohol culture as a positive and festive way to cope to our children and everyone around us – including those most vulnerable to addiction. Call me a wet blanket but I won’t have anything in our family culture that regards alcohol in a positive light. We have a few bottles of wine that we have received as gifts and keep on hand for celebrations when guests want to drink. But we don’t drink. We DON’T talk about alcohol in the typical “I need a drink after that election, news story, long day, hard phone call, conversation, etc.” A drink is offered in celebratory moments and then the alcohol is never mentioned again. We make a point not to create opportunities to boast about “how much one drank, how hungover one is, how ridiculously one behaved because they were so drunk, etc.” There are no conversations about alcohol related behaviors. When my children notice alcohol culture or I notice it in their presence I make a point to talk about how dangerous and poisonous alcohol is and that it killed my uncle and grandfather. My kids know not to take it lightly. I wish others would also not pretend it’s “just a drink.”

  16. Your post is exactly what I went through as a new mom. After dealing with post postpartum and anxiety, I turned to drink and ultimately ended up in treatment. I honestly believe more needs to be said on this topic to bring awareness to new moms out there. I remember how relieved I was after getting into treatment and realizing how many young mothers were in the same boat. Thank you for sharing and for the great message!

  17. I also don’t drink and have been really off-put by the constant references to it everywhere in regards to moms. It’s not only annoying just seeing it everywhere all the time, it reminds me of an unhealthy time in my life, and sometimes makes me crave it when I am trying to move past it. Thank you, Laura, for reaching out about this!

  18. Thank you so much for this. While I didn’t succumb to the wine culture after becoming a mom, I almost felt “left out” because everyone else seemed to be able to do it while still being “top mom!” I don’t function that way. I loved wine to relax before having my daughter, but now I have found that it doesn’t feel as great anymore to drink. The long days (and obviously long nights) are unpredictable. It isn’t worth it to me to have some wine only to feel awful the next day and not be able to be the parent I want to be. I’m sure I’ll find a time in my life when wine can be relaxing once again, but until then, I’m happier without it. And if I don’t even reach that point again, that’s just fine too. 🙂 Thank you for the honesty and realism. The world needs more of it.

  19. I’m actually floored at reading this and wonder how these moms actually function. As a mom of two little boys 3 & 1, I’m the exact opposite in that I never drink, and not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t have the energy to do it. I wake up exhausted every morning and go to bed exhausted every night. I barely make it through my day chasing my boys around, dealing with all the crying, sleep battles, nursing, and food fighting. I barley get to eat or drink enough of anything because my hands are always full. The idea that I would even have the time to find a corkscrew and open a bottle of wine is beyond me (I can’t sneak a cookie in my mouth without my toddler screaming at me). Then the thought of having a hangover while dealing with my children would make the day even more unbearable.

    All this said, the loneliness and isolation is insane and I get why women drink. I have no friends with kids, all my friends sleep in, brunch, meet up at 9pm on weeknights and live on a complete opposite schedule as me. I NEVER see them anymore and they don’t get why I can’t meet up for dinner at 9pm (I have to be up at 6a on a sunday and physically active all day, no rest for the weary). If I want to leave the house, I can only do it between 8am and 9:30am, they would never meet me for breakfast at such an “ungodly” hour. The rest of my day I’m a prisoner at home because I have one child napping or about to nap between 10a-5p so I am trying to keep the non-napping child entertained while the other sleeps. Can’t talk on the phone, can’t watch tv, can’t drink because my kids NEVER.STOP.MOVING.

    1. Ugh Gigi — that sounds rough. It might help to hear that – at 1 and 3 – they are at their most needy right now, and it truly does get easier – over time. Keep up the good work and hang in there — Meg

  20. Wow, not only can I come to Lucie’s List for resources on gear and to know I’m not crazy when my boys are doing something developmentally appropriate (and infuriating), but now I can come for resources to help with sober motherhood. I was sober over a decade before becoming a mom. I know who I am without a drink, yet constantly see drinking as a coping mechanism for motherhood. Bravo for highlighting this issue and providing the resources we trust you to give us. Thank you.

  21. I was brought to tears thinking about your private struggle Laura. You’re a strong woman. I hope others are able to be as strong. Thank you for telling your story.

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