July 14, 2024


Veteran Baby Makers

What Is Wine Mom Culture? Why Wine Mom Jokes Miss the Point

Before I got sober, I loved all those “mommy needs wine” memes that friends and acquaintances posted online. Although I wasn’t a mom yet, I’d smile and say a big “cheers!” while holding up my own ever-present wine glass. After all, those memes gave all of us stressed-out, overworked women permission to pop the cork, right? Unfortunately, my nightly wind-down glass of wine turned to two, and then to four, until I was drinking not one bottle a night but two or more.

Turns out, I am not the only woman who saw her drinking progressively increase. Since the early 2000s, research has shown that alcohol use disorder is on the rise in women. A 2018 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, found an increase in alcohol-related ER visits with women accounting for more of the increase in visits than men. And a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2017 found that women’s high-risk drinking (defined as drinking four or more drinks in a day) rose by 58 percent.

So is it a coincidence that the trappings of “mommy wine culture” — the funny t-shirts, koozies, decorative pillows, boozy bra flasks and more — have been on the rise, too? No one is saying that the sudden availability of “mommy’s juice” merchandise has increased the rates of alcohol use, but it’s clear that something about the messaging that “mommy deserves a drink after a hard day” has struck a chord.

What is Wine Mom Culture?

There’s no official, medical or cultural definition of “wine mom culture.” But you’d recognize it if you saw it. It’s things like the “Moms Who Need Wine” Facebook group. A wine glass that simply says “mommy’s sippy cup.” A baby’s onesie that says “mommy loves me more than wine.” A throw pillow that says “Mama Needs Some Wine.” Or a t-shirt that says “Surviving Homeschool One Breakdown (And Glass of Wine) at a Time” — which seems to be tailor-made for the pandemic stress many mothers, myself included, experienced when daycares and schools across the U.S. closed.

All of these products seem to be screaming that wine is the way to cope with motherhood. And although similar products exist for dads, a simple search on Etsy shows over 67,000 “wine mom” products while less than 25,000 exist for dads. So while wine mom culture isn’t exclusive to female caregivers, it seems to be targeted towards moms, specifically as a means of coping with child-rearing, house cleaning and upkeep and their own work.

So when you see a meme that says “boxed wine is just a juice box for mom” after giving your kid their 10th juice box of the day, how can you not help but laugh? Or maybe it’s the meme that says “No, kids, mommy said she needs more wine, not whine!” that sent you into giggles after a long day of your baby barely napping. What’s wrong with that?

The Problem With Wine Mom Culture

Unfortunately, relying on a substance to dull your stress can easily become problematic. You might remember hearing about “mommy’s little helpers,” a 1966 song by The Rolling Stones and common nickname for Valium (a benzodiazepine — a class of psychoactive drug that is often prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures that can also be abused to create a “high”).

Like benzos, the nickname for benzodiazepine, alcohol is a depressant — which means that it slows down brain functioning and neural activity. That’s probably why we feel “relaxed” when we drink wine, even though drinking actually makes your anxiety and stress worse in the long run. So why has “wine mom” culture still grown in the past few years?

"mommy's sippy cup" and "mommy's juice" wine tumblers as an example of wine mom culture

“Wine mom” products are meant as a joke, but they mask a real, ongoing problem for mothers.

Although we don’t know definitively why women are drinking more, it’s possible that the added pressures of motherhood, and the fact that a typical working mom in the United States spends 37 percent more time than men on unpaid household and care work, is driving stressed-out women to consume alcohol in order to cope with the pressures of life.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse for women. A 2020 study conducted by RAND Corporation showed that women have increased their heavy drinking days by 41 percent compared to before the pandemic. In addition, numerous studies and reports note that since the pandemic, women have been doing the majority of household chores, being pushed out of the workforce at shockingly high numbers and taking on the bulk of remote-school duties in areas without in-person learning. It’s no wonder that, right now, “wine mom” culture is increasingly prevalent.

Some experts, like Sally Chung, Psy.D., A.B.P.P., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Bellevue, Washington, believe the wine mom trend grew because it pushes back against the “the idea of the ‘perfect mother’ who has it all together.” You don’t have to be the mom who has her stuff all figured out — you just have to be one who has the ability to keep going and “run on coffee, wine and Amazon prime.”

All of those memes and jokes resonate with many mothers who are “trying to live up to impossible standards,” agrees Stephen Carleton, L.C.S.W., an Executive Clinical Director for Gallus Detox Centers and an adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. “Humor connects people,” he says. “And the stress and judgement likely felt by many women forces them to find a way to decompress. Drinking, or using drugs, is one of the most common and accessible outlets for stress. Humans have always sought ways to alter consciousness and numb out after a hard day. These jokes normalize this basic human instinct. While these messages might increase consumption in this population, it simultaneously chips away at the idea that moms must be perfect.

So it seems, “wine mom” memes have spread far and wide in response to this idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect mom.” Drinking can be a coping mechanism for stressed out moms, like Nicole Slaughter Graham, a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who has been sober for 11 years. “Parenting is hard, and I couldn’t figure out how to take care of myself and my children at the same time,” she says, “so ‘wine mom’ culture felt like one of the only options I had to learn how to cope with motherhood.”

And while not everyone who buys a funny “wine mom” shirt is in the same situation as Slaughter Graham, mom wine culture can help “perpetuate the belief that women need booze to survive being a mom,” says Emily Lynn Paulson, an author, recovery coach, and founder of Sober Mom Squad, a support group that began during the pandemic after Paulson saw “a huge uptick” in the number of women who were reaching out to her for support.

Before getting sober, Paulson “used every meme, t-shirt, kitschy coffee mug and ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ comment as a justification for my own drinking,” says the Seattle-based mom of five who has been sober for almost four years. “Even when I did question if my drinking was abnormal, these messages kept me ‘stuck’ in a pattern of drinking to deal with all of the challenges of motherhood for much longer than my brain and body wanted to be stuck there.”

And wine mom culture tells women that’s okay. “Wine mom culture says that the best and the only way to mom is with a glass of wine in hand,” says Erin Stewart, M.S.W., a therapist who focuses on motherhood, alcohol addiction and recovery. “Wine mom culture also tells us that motherhood, and parenting little ones, is unbearable and brutal without the ‘mommy juice’ to ease the tantrums, the messes, the lack of sleep and the overwhelm of it all.”

When my drinking became problematic shortly before I met my husband, I ended up going to rehab because I didn’t know how to stop drinking until I blacked out. There, I learned that stress and anxiety were major factors that can lead to alcohol use disorder. I spent the better part of the past five years in recovery learning healthier coping mechanisms than the glasses of wine I loved so much. But when I became a mother at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and my stress levels were at their peak, I admit I was tempted to have some “mommy juice” or indulge in a “quarantini” as I saw so many others doing. But I know now that I didn’t want to drink because I loved wine; I wanted to drink because I was overwhelmed. Instead, I decided to take this time to remember some of the self-care practices I had learned in early recovery. But not everyone has those skills to fall back on.

How We Can Get Past It Together

A glass of wine after a hard day of work or parenting or both isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And getting sober, like some of the moms in this article have done, isn’t the answer (or issue) for everyone. But when that glass of wine becomes your only coping mechanism for life’s inevitable stressors, it may be time to take a deep breath and ask for help.

What moms really need isn’t wine. What we need — collectively and as individuals — is support. And that is unfortunately difficult to ask for. “Although there have been strides to reduce stigma, we are still very much in a state where asking for help is a sign of weakness and for women this equates to not being ‘good mom’ or a failure,” Carleton says. “The other difficult truth is that there is limited help available. Where are women to turn that won’t cast more judgement on them? Asking for help remains unsafe both within families and communities.”

For Sarah Link Ferguson, a mom of one who has been sober for almost two years, wine mom culture bugged her immensely even before she got sober. “[Wine moms] complained about being overworked and exhausted, which is completely valid — being a mom is often a thankless job and there are no days off — but they acted as though alcohol was the solution and I just see it as another symptom of the problem,” says the Overland Park, Kansas-based mom. “We need so much more support for families and parents, including paid parental leave, and in my opinion, childcare tax credits, universal healthcare and so on. Society wants us to think that we can buy the solution in the form of a $12 bottle of wine, because the actual solution — major systemic overhaul — is way more complicated.”

Since structural change won’t happen tomorrow, there are still things moms can do as individuals. “We need to teach women healthy ways to manage stress,” says Roseann Capanna-Hodge Ed.D., B.C.N., L.P.C., an integrative and pediatric mental health expert who specializes in helping parents based in Ridgefield, Connecticut. And that stress relief doesn’t have to look like a glass of wine but can be in the form of journaling, going to therapy, talking to other moms in the same boat, or whatever alternate coping mechanism works for you.

Society wants us to think that we can buy the solution in the form of a $12 bottle of wine, because the actual solution — major systemic overhaul — is way more complicated.

Read books on recovery for understanding,” recommends Stewart. You don’t need to be sober, sober curious, or trying to get sober in order to learn what alcohol use disorder can look like in women. These books may just help you understand your own drinking patterns. “There are so many great reads out there, like This Naked Mind by Annie Grade and Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker, along with so many addiction memoirs, like We Are The Luckiest by Laura McKowen, that really makes mothers and women in this position feel like they are not crazy and not alone.”

And most of all, ask for help when you need it, if you’re able to. This is a lesson I learned early on in my relationship with my husband as we became parents. We were extremely lucky that he was able to take a month off of work for paternity leave. During that month, he did almost all of the chores and half of the childcare as I recovered from giving birth and dealt with the exhaustion of round-the-clock breastfeeding. But the most helpful thing he did was to take the baby for a couple of hours in the morning and in the afternoon to let me take a nap guilt-free. In fact, it’s something we have kept up for the past year as our son has grown. Often, on the weekends, I will take a two-hour nap while my husband cares for the baby. It’s something that I know I need because good sleep dramatically improves my mental health and relieves my anxiety about new parenthood, the pandemic and everything else going on in the world today.

In the end, that’s better for my son, too. “The reality is, our kids are much better imitators than listeners,” Paulson says. We should try printing that on a t-shirt.

If you fear you may be abusing alcohol or other substances, find help and resources by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or by visiting samhsa.gov. The hotline is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io