Guest post: Mothers, drinking and social media - why is it all a big joke?
For MN blogger Allie Holbrook, 'wine o'clock' wasn't an amusing quip, but a routine part of her alcoholism. Now sober, she argues that the ubiquitous references to 'mother's best friend' serve as a distraction - not a solution - for women who are struggling, and questions why society normalises something that could have serious consequences.
Posted on: Mon 11-Aug-14 11:24:42
(74 comments )
It is a cold Friday morning. Outside, rain soaks yesterday's clean laundry. Lovely Husband coerces the children out of bed with the lure of hot chocolate. War breaks out over, variously, who gets to wear the pink hair clip, who gets to eat breakfast with the good purple spoon (as opposed to the other purple spoon), and whether or not Big Girl is, in fact, a smelly bum head.
By the time I've fought the daily hairbrush battle, and Lovely Husband has constructed a packed lunch from leftovers ('Look, it's sausage salad with...well, let's call them croutons', he says brightly), it is time to go. Little Girl spills her hot chocolate over her outfit and bursts into tears. Big Girl joins in.
Lovely Husband sighs. 'Is it too early for a drink?'
We both know it's a joke. Even in the depths of my alcoholism I didn't drink in the mornings. But quips about alcohol are part of the parenting lexicon, so much so that there are products like 'Mommy's Time Out Wine' for sale. On Mumsnet, we've got a 'glass of wine' emoticon, proffered to posters struggling with toddlers or teens, and the staff joke about needing gin to cope.
And here's Honest Toddler's view on the booze:
“'Wine o'clock', as parents call it, varies based on time zone and number of children in the house.
1 Child: 5pm or final school pick up.
2 Children: 4.45pm or final school pick up.
3+ Children: 4.30pm or final school pick up.
Teething Child: your call.”
At the end of my drinking, before my recovery, that joke was my reality. I was pouring my first glass of wine when I walked in the door at 4pm after the school run. And I could no longer ignore the fact that I was in trouble.
For whilst I knew for years that I had a problem, I also worked very hard in those years to ignore it. That's what addicts do - we deny to ourselves that our behaviour is abnormal, and in the furtherance of that aim, we seek out people and scenarios that reinforce our normality.
Social media is a powerful ally, then, for the alcoholic in denial. Whisky tumblers on Tumblr, gin jokes on Twitter, elaborate cocktails raised to the camera on Instagram, and memes about mummy's special juice on Facebook.
Social media is a powerful ally, then, for the alcoholic in denial. Whisky tumblers on Tumblr, gin jokes on Twitter, elaborate cocktails raised to the camera on Instagram, and memes about mummy's special juice on Facebook. The ubiquity of alcohol references sends a message in itself, but the lure of social media is far greater than that, because it allows us to carefully curate our lives so that we're bathed in the most flattering of lights. This means that the jokes about 'wine o'clock' are coming from people who, the evidence suggests, have lovely, glamorous lives crammed with happy family moments. Drinking becomes not just normal, but desirable. ‘Look, it's what the good mothers do’ - 700,000 followers of the Facebook group 'Moms need wine' can't all be wrong!
But maybe, they are. Alcohol Concern UK estimates that 1.6 million Britons are dependent drinkers. That's people who fit the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism, not merely those who drink above government guidelines, of whom there are vastly more. And the cost of alcohol abuse on the national pocket is huge; the Centre for Social Justice puts the figure for alcohol-related costs at £21 billion per year. Many of us have condemned Peaches Geldof for exposing her children to the tragic effects of her heroin addiction, whilst championing our right to drink around our own. Almost three million British children live with adults who drink hazardously.
So with statistics like that, why is there such strong cultural support for parenting and drinking? I was laughing about a glass of Friday night wine, even as I was hiding boxes of wine in my spare room and struggling to parent my children. I was rolling my eyes about how parenting can drive one to drink even as I was calculating, frantically, how much wine was left in my house and how I could get more. There were many nights when, a bottle of wine down, I wouldn't have been able to drive my children to A&E if required to, and I am grateful to this day that I was lucky enough not to bear the brunt of that bad decision. Marketing, of course, is the obvious answer: alcohol is the last legal drug that can be advertised freely. But why is it targeted at mothers? Why do we joke about something that can have such serious consequences?
We joke about wine because we need, somehow, to acknowledge that parenting is hard and we deserve some help along the way. When a friend wails “My three-year-old has eaten one of the buttons from the TV remote and I can't get Frozen to play so my five-year-old hates me, the baby slept for 34 minutes in total last night, and if I have to look at, let alone cook, serve and then clean up one more plate of sausages in my life I may actually die”, our reaction is: “Oh, no. Sounds like you need a glass of wine!”
She doesn't need a glass of wine. She needs somebody to take the children so she can nap. She needs her body to herself for a while, a clean house, a dinner that she didn't cook. She needs somebody to ask her opinion on Gaza, whether or not she actually has one. And, damn it all, she needs progressive maternity leave policies, earning parity with her husband and a chance at self-actualisation. But Ocado doesn't deliver those, so instead we content ourselves with camaraderie - and a bottle of Chardonnay.
By Allie Holbrook
Great article: I agree with every word. Ideally, alcohol should not be a crutch for stress and, when it is, that is dangerous and not a good subject for a joke.
Incidentally, I also find the same with birthday cards aimed at women: they ALL seem to joke about shoes, shopping, chocolate or drinking. Where are the cards that celebrate independence, intelligence, friendship, a sense of fun, kindness and free spirit? None of my friends would want to be defined by their love of shoes, shopping, chocolate or alcohol and they would not be my friends if they did want to be.
Well said, and I also like what littlemissmaths said there too. I too hear about this "wine o'clock" over and over again and agree that it's too cutesy and buries what is really going on - women getting spread out way too thin without the support they might need but just jump into a few glasses of Pinot Grigio and all is right.
For most, it's probably okay for that glass now and then. When it becomes a coping mechanism, then things change. I know that I couldn't manage any better with my young son when I was half-sloshed or whatnot. I need my wits about me when I with my kids. There isn't anything wrong with us parents recharging (I play angry birds or run) but running to the bottle isn't the answer. What if we used "bong o'clock" or "Snort line o'clock" - would that be any better?
Great post Allie!
Absolutely. I see so many women drinking just that bit too much, everyday. Where everything that isn't right deserves a drink, where everything right deserves a drink, and I wonder what long term harm it does.
When I started medication that means alcohol doesn't really agree with me, lots of people were more concerned 'what, will you never drink again' than 'wow, brilliant that something works for your intractable pain'. Which seems a bit screwed up to me.
I agree too, I was discussing this with a friend a while ago. I hardly drink at all and yet find myself "pouring out the wine" on MN and FB because that's what everyone else does. I decided to try and stop a while ago, but it is easy to slip into it, it's shorthand for giving oneself a break, but for those who are struggling a bit with their alcohol consumption it must act as a reassurance that their drinking is OK because it's what everyone else does.
I also agree about birthday cards, and don't get me started on the bloody cupcakes.
Wow good article. I don't ever reach the bottom of the bottle... but I have one or two a night...hmmmm. And I gave up in February and managed two weeks rather than the month. It's hard. It's a reward. You can't go out and take a walk or something to relax especially if you are a single mum. So I have a glass and work or tidy and it just makes the fact that most nights I don't finish doing everything I need to do until 11pm that bit easier...you know?
'We joke about wine because we need, somehow, to acknowledge that parenting is hard and we deserve some help along the way. When a friend wails “My three-year-old has eaten one of the buttons from the TV remote and I can't get Frozen to play so my five-year-old hates me, the baby slept for 34 minutes in total last night, and if I have to look at, let alone cook, serve and then clean up one more plate of sausages in my life I may actually die”, our reaction is: “Oh, no. Sounds like you need a glass of wine!”'
For the great majority of people this would be either true (i.e. alcohol, but in moderation), or simply the stock empathic but humorous reply. Clearly there are people who suffer with addiction, and in the case of this author, jocular comments can perhaps be to close to the bone. I'm not sure going after the quotidian manner of speech is necessarily the most effective approach to combat the problem identified though ("She needs somebody to take the children so she can nap. She needs her body to herself for a while, a clean house, a dinner that she didn't cook. She needs somebody to ask her opinion on Gaza, whether or not she actually has one")
It seems odd not to have made more of a point of what was said in the closing two sentences. The problem is not per se with booze, but with a society where motherhood is undervalued, and there is too much pressure on family life and peoples' time. Humans have indulged in chemical use in a social context since time immemorial - the problem comes when drinking (or other substance) abuse becomes habitual. One of the same problems which drive people to drink are the same which will prevent help being sought - the lack of support. Alcoholism is a symptom and not the cause, and while it must be treated it is that which drives people in that direction which should be addressed. Look at the rise in the use of anti-depressants, sedatives and mood-stabilisers. Many people have their crutch, as there are many who cannot cope to one degree or another.
I couldn't agree with this more.
I'm seen an abnormal for NOT having a glass of wine or 2 at the end of the day.
I'm on a mums weight loss group (not on mumsnet) and the thing most the ladies worry about is having to give up that daily glass.
It's worrying and I don't think it sets a great example to our children. Britain has a drinking problem in general, laughing it off as a mothers necessity is damaging and scary.
I agree that all this 'wine o' clock' business normalises drinking. The problem is with booze and the normalisation of booze if people are using it to solve or escape from everyday problems every day.
Obviously people have other addictions, but so far I haven't seen a prozac emoticon on mumsnet, nobody says "it's 5pm and you still haven't maxed out your credit card" or "A bit of a flutter on the gee gees got me through teething" or "hugs - why not go and pig out on your freezer contents".
Another in agreement here.
I often find myself joking with other Mums about going home for a glass of wine when the children are playing up. The truth is, I generally don't have one...it's more to fit in, and make the accepted, standard response.
I do wonder what the other Mums do when they get home. Do the crack open a bottle as we have all suggested in the playground, or are they like me, and just playing up to the stereotype? Are we validating each other's choices, and encouraging each other?
One thing's for certain, if we all drink as much as we say we do, it ain't doing us any good.
I agree with this post very much - I often use the "sounds like you need a glass of wine" or similar response and many people use it to me! BUT, I agree more with richterscalemadness - we need to address the stresses that lead to the use (or abuse) of alcohol or other substances! After having my first child a doctor prescribed antidepressants and said that I was not alone, at any one time he assumed there would be five or six people in his waiting room coming to see the DR for stress / depression and that, for many of the mothers coming to see him for such, the root of their issues often came from lack of support at home because they lived away from family (by necessity often, as we often move away for work / to study, etc.) and back-up. For me, it wasn't until after my third child that we moved back near family and I've not used, or needed, anti-depressants since. Lack of back-up certainly was what tipped the balance for me.
That said, after 14 years together, I've recently become a single mum (with now four children) and, despite having family nearby, there is only so much you can ask people to do. Talking to another school mum the other day, she was saying how she's started running again as a way of dealing with stress. Someone else was saying that they've been going to zumba classes.... That's brilliant. I'd love to too. But I need the grandparents to child-mind during the day while I work (to subsidise my childcare as I cannot afford nursery / after school club fees for every day), so cannot also ask them to look after the children so I can do something for me - once in a while is fine, but that kind of thing needs to be several times a week....
For me, I do, four or five days a week, have a glass of wine or a g&t - just one mind - after everyone is asleep and then I hit Pinterest for a couple of hours and dream about things I could do to the house if I had money, time and inclination. Invariably I think this is less helpful than the wine, but at least it helps me switch off from the incessant back-chat and whining and crying over nothing, etc. etc.
I don't have a solution - unless Supernanny, Kim & Aggie and Jamie Oliver are happy to move in on a permanent basis, of course...?!?! (And then I'd be cracking open the champagne!!)
I agree with this entirely.
I find all the "wine o'clock" jokes SO grating. And not at ALL funny. You have just put into words why this is!
Oh, and also because they are repeated again and again and again by everyone on Facebook - why do people not realise that jokes simply aren't funny the 500th time you've heard them??
Superb post. Nail BANG on head. We are a nation in denial.
I was reading a thread a couple of days ago where the OP said she was struggling with family issues, including a sister who was a recovering alcoholic. The second comment was "Oh poor you, have some !"
I don't think it was meant maliciously, just unthinkingly!!
Great guest post, and I entirely agree with richterscalemadness.
This threads made me laugh.. I have a vision that in 10 years drinking mentioned in here will get the same slagging off that smokers get now. Next it'll be comfort eating so we can stamp all over the overweight for daring to breathe the same air.
After that who knows, we'll all be super fit (or locked away) mindlessly working our arses off and plugging ourselves into the mains to recharge because eating will be frowned upon.
Good post though.
Bang on. The way alcohol consumption is normalised and glamourised in our society is truly shocking.
But is it really women specific? Statistically, don't more men rely on alcohol and become alcoholics? So actually it seems a bit selfish to call it something women do because of lack of support- where should that support come from?
I don't think alcoholics drink because of lack of support. Addiction is an illness. There is a genetic predisposition.
"She doesn't need a glass of wine. She needs somebody to take the children so she can nap. She needs her body to herself for a while, a clean house, a dinner that she didn't cook. She needs somebody to ask her opinion on Gaza, whether or not she actually has one. And, damn it all, she needs progressive maternity leave policies, earning parity with her husband and a chance at self-actualisation. But Ocado doesn't deliver those, so instead we content ourselves with camaraderie - and a bottle of Chardonnay."
I couldn't agree more with this last paragraph. In fact, it made me cry a bit.
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