Moms: Let’s Talk About the Drinking

Closeup of unrecognizable adult man slightly swirling a glass of rose wine under his nose and trying to catch bouquet. She's in a wine cellar, there are blurry metal tanks in background. Backlit

I think have a problem with alcohol.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a woman consuming more than ten drinks per week has “high risk” habits. This ten-drink measurement is based on a five-ounce glass of wine, which is roughly half of the average glass size, and the amount I roughly NEVER pour myself.

“What is this, amateur hour?” I’ve said to people who stop pouring at the halfway mark of a glass. I’ve laughed about my drinking. I’ve made it part of my persona. My Facebook friends have tagged me in pretty much every wine meme known to man. (Yes, I’ve seen the wine bottle Christmas tree and yes, it’s completely amazing).

After a family member experienced a mental health crisis, I started hearing words like “self-medicating”, “addiction”, even “alcoholic” to describe his behaviour. In attempting to understand him, I’m learning that I might also have a problem.

So let’s talk about the drinking.

My drink of choice is wine: two, sometimes three glasses a night. Every night. Not just on weekends, not just on special occasions, not just after a particularly bad or good day. Just always.

By my estimation, each of my drinks is eight-ounces. Multiply that by 14 drinks per week (assuming only two per night) and you get 112 ounces, which is more than double what most addiction experts consider to be the line between low and high-risk drinking.

This was a sobering discovery (pun intended), but what’s scaring me more than my consumption of wine is my relationship with it.

I love wine. I love the taste, as well as the science and story behind each bottle. I love to shop for wine (main purchase criteria: animal on the label, less than $15). I love to pour it and sip it and swirl it in my glass. Drinking wine makes me feel sophisticated, even though I’m usually sporting a messy bun and pajama pants.

The first glass is like a reward at the end of the day, a nightly ritual that affirms I made it through. It’s a way to unwind and help manage the making dinner/ bath time/homework/someone spilled the cat food/”I have to build a working paper mache volcano by tomorrow” type of chaos. The second glass is poured as I’m cleaning up the kitchen, watching the clock and asking, usually for the tenth or eleventh time, for the small people in my house to please for the love of God put on their pajamas. My third glass is either on the couch with my husband when the kids are down, or while reading in by myself in bed or in the tub. In short, there’s rarely a time between 5 and 10 p.m. every single night that I’m not drinking. And yet, there was no mindfulness to it. Sorry to go all Oprah “live your best life” on you guys but the truth is I wasn’t even stopping to consider what I was doing. I didn’t care about taste, drinking was purely functional: open mouth, insert wine, repeat. When my husband and I switched to boxed wine (!) we did so because boxes last longer and cost less. We congratulated ourselves on this practical and thrifty solution to our inventory problem. Quantity and convenience became our purchase criteria; two words that, I’m guessing, rarely come up in conversations about responsible drinking.

Like many people, alcohol is a key ingredient in my social life, especially if the function requires an abundance of small talk or meeting new people. Wine helps me be (or just feel?) social. Having said that, I also drink with people I’ve known my whole life. AND when I’m alone. AND on my paddle board.

wine-on-paddleboard_

When I became a mom, wine was right there with me, becoming a critical part of “me time.” But in making alcohol our reward for surviving another day, both my husband and I have completely normalized its consumption within our home. Until recently, we drank openly in front of our daughters because we didn’t think we had anything to hide. Wine was wine, not “mommy juice.” We actually thought we were modeling responsible behavior by never driving after drinking and never getting out of control. TV and movies would have us believe that alcoholics are people who drink in secret, who drink until they fall down or pass out; people who abuse their loved ones and get fired from jobs. I’ve never done any of that so everything must be fine.

When our nine-year old informed us on the walk home from school one day that “THERE’S ALCOHOL IN WINE AND ALCOHOL IS A DRUG AND YOU SHOULD NEVER TAKE DRUGS” we told her that drinking alcohol is okay as long as you’re responsible and only have a little bit. Kid logic translation: drugs are okay as long as they’re consumed in moderation. WTF? While most people wouldn’t react by running home and emptying out their liquor cabinets, they might at least take note of the fact that their kids are watching. I did neither.

The blog I started when we adopted our first daughter is called Wine and Smarties. On Twitter and Instagram I’m @wineandsmarties. I chose these names because I wanted something that spoke to my identity as both a woman and a mother. I thought it was cute and clever. And while there may not be a direct route between Instagram and Betty Ford, given that I regularly caution my college students about their social media presence (“are you sure @hotgurl69 is the message you want to send to future employers?”) “wine and smarties” is an example of how much of my identity was tied to the “mommy drinks because you cry” culture.

If you ask my daughters what mommy’s favourite thing is, they’ll say wine. If you ask them what happens when someone spills mommy’s wine, they’ll hold up their hands like claws and bare their teeth. What does my husband fill my stocking with every year? Bottles of my favourite wine.

When she was five and we were driving past the LCBO my oldest daughter yelled  “Hey mommy, there’s your store!” When carrying a box of groceries in from the car last summer, my youngest grunted as she put it down and said: “at least it’s not as heavy as a case of wine.” Instead of being horrified or, again, taking note of what they were taking note of, I turned these into funny anecdotes.  I told and retold them, even posted them on social media – a humble-brag about how cute and precocious my kids are.

The worst part for me, the part that hurts my heart the most and truly makes me question what the good God damn I’ve been thinking, is that all this was done while parenting two daughters whose birth families have actual mental health AND addiction issues. I’ve blogged about the special care adopted kids need, how frightened I am about what the future holds when they start processing the past. And I’ve done it all with a glass of wine in my hand. On the days when I feel the lowest, the most ashamed, I think about whether or not one of the biggest dangers to their health and future relationship with alcohol and addiction might have been coming from me.

Despite everything I’ve written, I do believe, emphatically, that we should be able to have it both ways: if she chooses, a woman should be able to parent unapologetically with a sippy cup in one hand and three fingers of scotch in the other. But if we’re going to normalize drinking, let’s also normalize the conversation about what to do when it becomes a problem. Let’s talk about the drinking in a way that doesn’t make us feel like the sloppy uncle who gets whispered about after falling down at family dinners. If you’re willing to share the horrors of your post-baby sex life, you can talk about this. Mommy’s drinking is not a dirty little secret. If you think you have a problem, please talk to someone. Get help.

 

If you’re worried you have a problem with alcohol, CAMH recommends you talk to someone you trust, like a doctor or nurse, or contact an addiction assessment centre or a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If you’re in Ontario you can also try:

Ontario’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline at 1-800-565-8603. Open 24/7.

CAMH Information Centre at 1-800-463-6273.

Jen Millard

Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a proud wife and mother of two living in Markham, Ontario. After adopting both her girls at age four, Jen and her husband Daren became passionate advocates for older child adoption, foster care reform and LCBO gift cards. An avid traveller, Jen counts Hawaii, Edinburgh, Greece and Canada’s east and west coasts among her favourite destinations. Jen is happiest when she’s got her nose in a book, a glass of wine at her side and a nap on the horizon. Jen is at her unhappiest when she is talking to her husband about her credit card bill or contemplating working out. When she’s not blogging, Jen is busy cleaning up after three badly-behaved pets and working as a part-time College instructor and Stella & Dot Stylist. Jen and her family spend their summers on Prince Edward Island.

23 thoughts

  1. Boy does this hit home! I’m usually pouring my first glass of wine around 8-9pm as e kids are getting into bed, second glass after dishes are done…and maybe, just maybe I’ll grab #3 as I plunk on the couch at 10ish pm after lunches are packed, agendas are signed, book orders are done, and tomorrows clothes are set out.

    I haven’t really seen a problem with my drinking as you and I seem to have similar views. My husband says I’m putting a few pounds on due to it. But I’m never drunk, passed out, or such.

    Thank you for your honesty.

    1. Thanks for your comment Diane. Everyone has to decide for themselves how much is too much but I think we might both feel better if we ease up a bit? Or at least be more mindful…. I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks now and I do feel better. For me it’s just being aware of what I’m doing, not being a zombie. Thanks for taking the time to show your support. Jen xo

      1. I do agree about cutting down, and I’ve finally realized that it is something I must do, and have begun to do it. I found I sleep better, feel more rested, and don’t wake up so tired when I haven’t had a drink.

        I’ve never thought of it as an addiction, as I felt that it was a choice I made. Almost never before 8pm and I only 2-3 glasses. I saw an addiction as something like a smoker (wake up, smoke, coffee, smoke, finish a meal, smoke, bored, smoke….) maybe the drinking is a habit an the routine needs to alter so my drinking habit will be crushed too.

  2. wow. You are amazing. Your honesty, your writing. Thank you. You are pretty enlightened about all of this, so I hope you’re listening to your advice and are knee-deep in self-care & support xo

    1. What a lovely comment. Thanks Mumby. It’s all about the self-care right? Put your own oxygen mask on first kind of thing… I think cutting back on my wine is helping with this. Hope you’re taking care of yourself too. J xo

  3. Well first, thanks for your honesty. Second, thank you for “mommy drinks because you cry”. Never heard it said like that before, but it’s definitely a subculture on my Facebook. Third, I bet that your sober friends knew this about you a long time ago. I don’t mean this in a bad way. It’s just more obvious than you think it is, which is bad news for the obvious reasons, but good news because your village will be ready to help you get through whatever it is that needs getting through. Best of luck.

    1. Jen you’re so right. A couple of my nearest and dearest have said that they were worried about my husband and I re the drinking. That was a really tough thing to hear. And shocking. It’s helped me put my habits in perspective and I’m glad I have people around me who are paying attention. Thanks for your comment. J xo

  4. As a mom who has maybe six glasses of wine a YEAR, I’ve never felt connected to the ‘mommy drinks because you cry’ culture…I’ve actually felt borderline left out for not loving wine like moms are apparently supposed to. But I cant help but love your beautiful, honest post and it’s message, and relate to it on other levels. Well done.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Erin. I sometimes wonder how much of my wine consumption is because I love it (which I absolutely do) or because I feel it’s expected – or condoned – because I’m a mom of young kids. For me, it’s all tied up in one messy bundle. Good for you for being true to yourself. And thank you for the lovely compliments. J xo

      1. Drinking daily was part of my first marriage. He came home from work, and it was justification for having a beer or glass of wine, followed by one or two more during the course of the evening.
        Fast forward to marriage #2 with a wonderful man who rarely drinks. His choice to not drink, but for me it became tricky to just have a glass or two, because opening up a bottle meant that I needed to drink the whole bottle in at least two days (because apparently it goes bad??) or go to box wine (which I admittedly did for a bit) but then realized that I was drinking also because my husband #1 was. I didn’t NEED it, I just did it.
        Now, it’s a treat when someone comes over for a visit (I get to open and finish a bottle), but it’s definitely more rare for me to drink than before. I will easily go a month without, simply because the habit has changed. I don’t feel sanctimonious for drinking less, I just can see that it was never really all that for me. I do know for sure, that if I was still with my first husband, I would be drinking more, and less happy (but thats for one of my blogs!).
        This is a wonderful and frank discussion that you have opened up. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I can definitely relate to this. I never used to drink wine. At some point during my 30s, I gravitated towards it and now I love wine – just like you. I love the taste, I love the way it feels to drink it out of a wine glass, I love feeling sophisticated, I love talking about it with my Dad who loves wine. But I’m starting to see that it’s a slippery slope from ‘a glass at night on weekends’ to a daily habit that may eventually become a problem. Thank you for this so much!

    1. You’re welcome! Thank you for supporting the message and validating my craziness. 🙂 It sounds really dumb now, but I think I forgot that wine is actually alcohol. It became such a part of my life that I wasn’t seeing it for what it is. Wake up call received! J xo

  6. You need to read “Drink” by Ann Dowsett Johnston immediately. It is about EXACTLY this – the prevalence of alcohol in our culture and its normalization, especially for women. I’m in the middle of it right now and given your wonderful and honest post, I think you’d relate to every single word. You’re doing your family a favour by becoming aware and taking charge.

  7. This is a fabulous and honest article. I too felt like I earned the wine from working all day, coming home to make dinner for the family and then dealing with homework, cleaning the house, etc. My wake up call came after a Friday night with heavy drinking friends and I spent almost the entire next day hungover in bed while my kids laid next to me because “mommy didn’t feel good”. I realized it’s not how I want my kids to see me, nor did they deserve a mom like that. It is not easy to break the habit of opening a bottle of wine each night, but realize once you do break that habit, you will appreciate and savor (the flavors) that much more. You pair it with a beautiful dinner and you also realize you don’t need as much wine as you used to. Thank you again for the article, hopefully other moms will read this and wake up too.

  8. Beautifully written. It gives us a fresh way of looking at all of the behaviors that we model in front of our children. Got some thinking to do!

  9. This story is VERY close to home…..to the point that I stopped drinking altogether back in December. And it was surprisingly harder than I thought (I’ve relapsed once already in January). I think the fact that it WAS hard and even scary to think about has confirmed to me that this was definitely a PROBLEM.

    If you are thinking that you need to quit altogether, get some support. And I mean alcoholics support. Your friends and your family will cheer you on but may also say “You’re doing so good, you can have just ONE glass, right? You’re not REALLY an alcoholic.”

    If AA is not your thing (it isn’t mine) there are online support groups too. And you can be as anonymous as you like there so you can REALLY open up and figure out what is really going on.

    Thank you SO much for this open and honest post. I think more women are going through this than we think. And they are likely thinking the same thing but too afraid to talking about it.

  10. Thank you for writing this!

    As someone who doesn’t drink – don’t like it, family of alcoholics, uncle killed by drunk driver, also have an adopted child – when I see all these parenting memes go by that involve alcohol not only do I not relate, but I am turned off. Yes, it does reflect somewhat badly. But it does seem to be so many people’s reality that I don’t feel I can judge.

    I am glad you are starting to realize the possible future impact this could have. I don’t want to normalize alcohol (or caffeine consumption or cigarettes for that matter) for my sons. I model that every day by living without any of those things. That’s what I want for my boys and I have to be the biggest influence because there is so much out there I can’t control.

  11. Oh man I could have written this, too. Wine became my reward…. something I was entitled too at the end of the day. 5:00 became 4:45. 4:30, 4:00…. the amount of space wine took up in my brain (and my budget) started to scare me. I did Whole30 in January. My son said, “whoa. Mom has to go 30 days without wine?” The best thing to come out of those 30 days was healing my unhealthy habit (addiction?) to wine. I’m actually scared to drink now, afraid at what it will do to my mind.

    Thank you for sharing your heart and your struggles.

  12. I appreciate this article so much. I’m not an alcohol drinker but have more of a pull to chocolate or caffeine or sugar or food. Comfort. I have a pull towards comfort. While these things may not have the same effect as alcohol, other unseen risks wait to show themselves at an opportune time…like at the physical I have scheduled for tomorrow or when I look in the mirror or at pictures of myself with my kids. Mindfulness is important, but for me letting food or comfort come from a place other than my faith is fruitless. Thank you for the reminder.

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