I’ve received a lot of advice since becoming a new mom.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
“Follow your instincts!”
“Soak up every minute.”
But the thing I hear most often, in some variation or another, is
“Wine. Lots and lots of wine.”
And although I know people are just trying to be helpful, I find it interesting that drinking alcohol has become a key ingredient in surviving motherhood.
It seems a little counterintuitive that the best way to care for a helpless newborn is to consume a poisonous substance that impairs your judgment, distorts your vision, and contributes to depression.
It’s kind of insane when you think about it. The problem is, most of us never really do.
I’m not here to judge people who drink, but I do think we need to examine our cultural obsession with it.
The truth is, we live in a society where drinking is not just accepted, it’s expected. There is alcohol at nearly every social function. Need to unwind after a stressful day at the office? Grab your coworkers and head to Happy Hour! Just ran a marathon as one of your health and fitness goals? Here’s a cold beer at the finish line! Going to a baby shower where the guest of honor can’t drink? MIMOSA BAR!
It seems like we can’t do anything without a drink in our hand.
Which is a problem. Because at the end of the day, alcohol is quite literally killing us.
According to the CDC, alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths each year, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. That’s more than the current opioid crisis. In fact, alcohol causes more deaths than all illegal drugs combined.
And for women in particular, it’s just getting worse. A recent study from JAMA Psychiatry found that the number of women who consume more than four drinks a day increased by 58% from 2003 to 2013. Alcohol abuse and dependence increased by 83.7%. The study concludes by stating that the results constitute “a public health crisis”, particularly for women and other minority groups.
Just like drugs, alcohol kills people. It destroys families. It causes life ruining addictions. But we don’t see it that way. Because we’re constantly being told that binge drinking is normal and fun and cute. We’re blinded by the constant marketing efforts put into place by – you guessed it – alcohol companies looking to up their sales.
And mothers, more than any other demographic, are being heavily targeted. From customizable wine labels to commemorate “Mommy’s First Milestones”, to wine tumblers labeled “Mommy’s Sippy Cup”, to the actual book “If You Give Mommy A Glass of Wine”,we’re constantly being told that alcohol is the key to getting through motherhood with your dignity intact.
Wine jokes are on the cover of Mother’s Day cards. Movies like Bad Moms make it clear that the only way that mothers can have fun is to become inebriated as quickly and as often as possible. Pink Jack Daniels is a sought-after product, and “Rosè All Day” is plastered all over the women’s apparel section at Target.
Even mainstream cultural icons like Ellen DeGeneres and Kristen Bell are complicit in the problem. This clip from the new web series Momsplaining with Kristen Bell features Bell interviewing kids about their mothers’ drinking habits. Turn the sound off and you might think it’s part of an anti-drinking campaign. But crank the volume and you can hear moms laughing hysterically as their kids solemnly describe their heavy wine consumption. One of the children actually says her mommy “didn’t wake up” after a night of drinking. Kristen Bell laughs throughout the segment, saying “Your mommy sounds fun!”
This isn’t a joke. Almost everyone knows someone struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, and it isn’t funny. It’s dangerous. And, as the statistics show, this isn’t just a few people who can’t handle their liquor. There are an estimated 28 million kids across the country who have alcoholic parents. And millions of women struggle with the shame and guilt of drinking too much, while also wondering why they can’t just be “normal” and drink like “everyone else.”
We’re being duped. We’re been told that alcohol is vital to getting through parenthood (and life). We don’t see the irony that while we insist on cooking with organic, grass-fed beef from Whole Foods, we’re literally consuming ethanol on a daily basis.
This isn’t normal. And it’s not necessary.
As a culture, we’ve been here before. The cigarette/tobacco epidemic had an eerily similar feel. Celebrities promoted them, the media glorified them. Hell, even doctors endorsed them (one glass of red wine has health benefits, after all!) Here we go again.
Listen, I get it. Parenthood is incredibly stressful. Rocking a colicky baby to sleep for hours on end is much more appealing after a couple glasses of wine. It makes sense.
That’s the thing about alcohol, though – it works until it doesn’t. Drinking makes you feel better. Until it doesn’t. And trying to moderate your consumption in a society that normalizes drinking at every turn is very, very difficult.
I don’t think women who drink are bad moms. And I don’t think everyone that drinks will get addicted to alcohol. But the statistics show that many, many people will. Approximately 1 in 8 American adults will develop a problem with alcohol. That means that someone in your book (wine?) club will end up in serious pain as a result of her drinking. And it’s awfully hard to slow down or cut back when you’re greeted with a glass of wine at the nail salon.
I’m not judging people for drinking, but I am judging the culture and the media that glorifies alcohol at every turn. We need to stop and evaluate the role alcohol plays, both in our personal lives and society as a whole.
It’s time to put down the Mommy Juice and start paying attention.
Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.
Featured image via Pexels