I recently found myself in the midst of an awkward debate about mummy wine culture — or, more specifically, I was accused of potentially covering up a problem with wine, and at the very least making closeted alcoholic mums, or non-drinkers, uncomfortable, all over a mild joke.
After a long winter of snow days, with a spring blizzard looming we were commiserating in a local mom’s chat about what the bleep to do with our kids if they missed the next day. I’m a freelance writer and rely on preschool to get anything done, so my immediate reaction was to share a GIF of Amy Schumer guzzling a massive glass of wine.
Among mothers who frequently commiserate over the difficulties of parenting, and who in that very moment were throwing out jokes about Xanax and selling their kids on the black market, I figured my wine reference would be met with no more than conspiratorial chuckles. But the backlash was intense.
I was accused of being insensitive, offering a “public eye-roll” to the whole group (WHAT?!), and not caring about those who are drinking too much. Apparently, I was flippant and unfair in my use of a GIF. One woman said she feels uncomfortable hanging out with other mums because wine is always a topic and she doesn’t drink anymore. I could see how that can get frustrating, but this felt different and separate. I wasn’t exactly serving up cocktails at a 10 AM play date. And it was a joke.
The defence for the attack was a recent (thoughtful, interesting) article (How Mummy Drinking Culture has Normalized Alcoholism for Women in America), about how wine memes and a culture that jokes about “mom juice” is perpetuating alcoholism in mothers in the US.
Look, I read the article. And, having seen people close to me suffer from alcoholism, I do not take this disease lightly at all. The author made great points about modern mummy culture: if you have a problem with substances, there are too many societal crutches that let you hide, talk around, or normalize it.
She opens by detailing a typical nightly wine-down in which she drinks five glasses of wine starting at 3:15 PM. That’s absolutely a problem, and I’m happy she realises it and seeks help. As do the women she talks about in the piece, including one who used to actually create wine memes as a method to skirt her own issues.
I get it. But in today’s culture where oppressed people are standing up to declare, “Enough!,” and women are finally getting some justice in a highly male-centered system that has put us down and treated us as objects for so long, I have to stand my ground on this one:
If my husband takes the kids for a few hours in the evening so I can get work done, or if he has an afternoon free on the weekend, you best believe he’s grabbing beers with dad-friends. I asked him after GIF-Gate if anyone, anywhere, has ever given him any kind of flak about it, but I already knew the answer — No.
Because you see, men are allowed to do whatever they want to calm their nerves, enjoy themselves, and lessen the stresses of parenthood and life. They can also make jokes about it freely — “I’ll watch the kids, but I’ll need a six-pack.” If they don’t say they have a problem with alcohol, then we trust and assume they don’t.
But if a woman does the same thing, apparently she’s covering up an issue with alcohol. Or at the very least, perpetuating a culture that does. We are like sheep: weak to advertising, bendable to trends, pitched to let cultural norms become more important than our health. Or so these mums’ arguments would make it seem.
I am a person who takes joy in the small things. I love my morning cup of coffee, stories and cuddles with my three-year-old in the evening, and taking selfies with my husband when we get dressed up to go out. Also on the long list of things I like to do? Drink a glass of wine. Not five. Not every night. And not to cope. But just something I enjoy.
In the case of the snow day GIF, sure, I was making a joke about drinking too much of it. The GIF was sardonic as were (I’m sure) the comments about pawning off kids or double-dosing on anxiety meds. But why were those jokes met with laughter and mine outrage?
I highly doubt anyone in that group actually thought I was planning to pull a jumbo wine glass out of my cabinet, fill it with an entire bottle’s worth, and guzzle the day away. To the contrary, they all could have guessed fairly confidently that my plan was just like theirs for the potential snow day — stay in our jammies all day, make a fort, and watch too much TV.
I would never drink wine in front of a friend who’s an alcoholic, nor would I ever pressure or focus on alcohol as a focal point of a play date (as was referenced in the confrontation). But I do think that, while this and some other thought-stirring pieces on this issue have sprung up lately, we also need to (pardon the use of another bad substance joke) take a proverbial chill pill.
Mothering is a complicated, all-encompassing, often thankless role. I have woken up every other hour, every night for the past nine months and there is no trophy sitting on my nightstand. There are piles of crap all over my house, two tiny humans whining at me constantly with their ever-evolving, never-ending needs, and then the pressures of being a woman, a professional, a friend … the list goes on and on.
If I want to drink a glass of wine at the end of a shit day (or a good one!), for the sheer pleasure of holding something in my hand that is not covered in spit-up and that tastes like another time and place where life was calmer and somewhat more about me, then let me.
I drink wine when I want to, when it’s a safe decision, and I enjoy it. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean we can’t hang. But please don’t make me feel guilty about it. I’m a mum. I already have enough drama, doubt, and stress in my life. Judgment and criticism are two things I don’t need from the village.