THE DANGEROUS SIDE TO #WINEMOM CULTURE
By Zoe Merrick / 22 October 2019
Have you seen those wine-o-clock memes? The mugs with ‘I may contain Prosecco’ written on them? So funny right? I mean, who doesn’t need to consume alcohol when one is in charge of tiny humans!
I mean, who doesn’t need to consume alcohol when one is in charge of tiny humans! You can also get baby bottles in the shape of prosecco glasses. Babies! Drinking Prosecco! Adorbs! And let us not forget the ‘Why Mummy Drinks’ book. Because children are really so annoying that I need ‘mummy juice’ at 6pm and it is totally my child’s fault.
If you’re a mother and wine isn’t your thing, panic not, there’s always gin. Gin has now been rebranded from ‘mother’s ruin’ to something cooler and more desirable. The successful blog ‘Hurrah for Gin’ provides such enlightening parenting insights as ‘BEING A PARENT MASSIVELY SUCKS ARSE!’, and shows a figure of a mum clutching a bottle of gin with the speech bubble ‘FML’. *le sigh*. Motherhood, and its representation in the media, has somehow become inextricably linked with the consumption of alcohol. The zeitgeist has spoken: mothers are no longer trying to be Mary Poppins, they are all falling about laughing at each other behaving like Miss Hannigan from Annie.
The media needs to stop propagating the message that alcohol and motherhood are comfortable bedfellows and that being a parent drives one to drink.
Enter Erin Shaw Street and Tell Better Stories Media to challenge this narrative. She calls out the shitty messages being relayed about alcohol consumption, and a lot of these are aimed at parents (read: mothers). We are laughing (nay, boasting) about drinking through motherhood. We are self-medicating against the boredom, the frustration and the constant ‘gotta have it all’ mentality of being a mother today. In the 1950s doctors doled out tranquilisers (euphemistically termed ‘mother’s little helper’ and underplaying the severity of the medication) in response to mothers voicing their frustrations, their boredom or their depression. Today we self-medicate with alcohol, and have created our own euphemistic terms such as wine being ‘mummy juice’ or hangovers being ‘an adult headache’. The 1950s really symbolised the patriarchy at its peak: the unhappiness of the nation’s mothers was something to be medicated, not solved. Today, the dominion of mothers no longer comes from the pill handed out by a doctor; it is in the drinks we pour for ourselves, and for each other.
I’m not here to tell you that motherhood isn’t frustrating and that sometimes you might need help. I’m a single parent to two girls aged 5 and 9, the eldest of whom I euphemistically describe as ‘strong willed’(!) It’s hard, I get it. But I’m also sober. And here’s my point - it’s easier to parent sober. A hundred times easier. Gone are the days of horizontal parenting when I’m so hungover everything hurts and I can’t function or parent effectively. I’m not here to list all my epic parenting fails while I was still drinking (what a lengthy list it would be), but honestly, alcohol and motherhood go together like oil and water; like Donald Trump and a high IQ. It adds nothing to your ability to parent, nor to your resilience as a mother. You don’t need it. So why are women everywhere convincing themselves that they do?
My drinking had got to a level that was harmful and that’s why I stopped and have stayed stopped. And those that can drink sensibly (I hear they exist, like mythical unicorns) aren’t really who I’m aiming my metaphorical catapult at. I’m taking aim at the specific message that motherhood comes with a side order of prosecco. That mothers ‘need’ a glass of Chablis at the end of the day. There’s a word for that: addiction. That mothers bond over who will have a glass of wine with them on a playdate. There’s a word for that too: enabling. For me, hilarity does not ensue when I see posts about children’s birthday parties peppered with ‘pass the wine!’ or ‘mummy needs a drink (or five!) this evening!’ I shouldn’t have to say this, but (shock, horror) you can parent without alcohol! In fact, there’s a link between sobriety and competence. But there are no memes for getting through parenting sober.
Alcohol is harmful and it adds nothing to your ability to parent. You don’t ‘need’ it. But somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that we do.
Not only that, but that we ‘deserve’ that glass of wine. Far from it being a problem it is seen as normal, expected and - this is the kicker - apparently hilarious. Children raised by alcoholics have numerous emotional disadvantages. And your parent doesn’t have to be an alcoholic for their alcohol consumption to have a disadvantageous effect on your upbringing. ‘Mummy’s hungover, so it’s the TV babysitter today!’ and ‘woops, after a bottle of wine the tooth fairy forgot to come!’ are commonplace posts on social media. Alcohol makes your parenting questionable, yet we’re not paying attention to that amid all the corks popping.
As someone who used to drink harmfully, this state of affairs was brilliant for me.
As someone who used to drink harmfully, this state of affairs was brilliant for me. The phrase ‘hiding in plain sight’ springs to mind. How are we supposed to spot the mothers who, actually, need real help when we’re all licensing each others drinking with ‘Wine Wednesdays’ and PTAs in the pub? Society has a blind spot when it comes to alcohol, and the media sanctioning of alcohol-fuelled parenting is normalising what, in my opinion, is harmful drinking. Counsellors are seeing more mothers come into treatment for alcohol misuse issues than ever before, when suddenly it’s not funny anymore and mummy has a drinking problem. Having been one of those mothers I can confirm it is, indeed, not funny anymore, and what a lonely place you find yourself in when you feel like the only mother in the world who doesn’t drink wine. Of course not all wine-quaffing mothers are alcoholics. But then it does rather beg the question, if you’re not an alcoholic why on earth are you behaving like you are? Alcohol misuse is a very real problem. We should not denigrate the very real threats of addiction with our cavalier attitude to alcohol consumption.
Mothers have become complicit in their own downfall. They are self-herding sheep, champagne flutes aloft, laughing hysterically at wine-based memes as they self-medicate en masse. And where are they heading? Towards where margaritas flow at children’s 1st birthday parties, where children draw pictures of their mothers complete with ‘mummy’s wine’ and are labelled as ‘the reason mummy drinks’. Tell Better Stories Media? Absolutely. But let's also tell better stories to ourselves.
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