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Motherhood and Alcohol: Does It Mix?

Posted by Kara Baskin  October 17, 2012 03:00 PM

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I just read a review in Slate of the new movie Smashed, which is sort of a hipster version of the classic cautionary tale Days of Wine and Roses. It's about an outwardly successful couple whose lives are colored by alcohol—saturated by it, really, or maybe destroyed. The review talks about an upcoming book by Gabrielle Glaser, called Her Best-Kept Secret, about drinking and American women. Talking about alcohol intake is kind of like talking about how much money you make: It's just not done, and your status isn't apparent unless you flaunt it. Meanwhile, there's also a new study out from 4Children that found 20 percent of new parents upping their alcohol intake after having their first child. Should we worry about this?

I wrote about this on my own website, blog, back when I was a very new mom:

Sure, there are times I wish I could put a fifth of vodka into Andy’s bottle when he won't fall asleep. But I’m talking about my drinking here. How much is too much?

Remember Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, the mom-blogger who wrote naughty-mommy! books like Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay? She wrote the books trying to encourage other moms to remain “edgy” and retain some of their pre-baby, pre-7 p.m. freedom. Being a mom doesn’t mean wearing frump pants and going to bed at 8 p.m., was the gist. Which is a true, well-taken point. Having a baby shouldn’t, in theory, morph you into a school marm and confine you to a life of Ovaltine. You’re not a nun because you procreated.

But then she outed herself as an alcoholic after confessing to getting drunk every night after her kids went to bed.

It raises an interesting issue: How much fun should moms have? I’m not an alcoholic by any stretch–maybe because I’m a Capricorn, or Type A, or ultra-organized and hyperactive and it’s just not in my genes. Or maybe it’s just practicality: From a logical standpoint, I simply can’t get drunk every night. Can’t. It’s not even about wanting to be buzzed. It’s about not wanting to wake up in the morning feeling dry-mouthed, groggy, and unproductive. I have too much to do. I don’t have time for wine.

But every now and again, I enjoy a few glasses of wine. Probably a couple times a week. And when I do–damn if I’m not going to enjoy it. Yet: The other night, I did happen to have some wine, left over from a dinner party. In fact, I had a couple of glasses. And then I gave Andy a bath. And I felt a little bit buzzed, sudsing him up and toweling him off. Don’t call DSS: I was completely steady and fine and sober; I’d had no more than if I’d gone out to dinner with Brian. I felt guilty, though. Deviant.

Why? Because I felt a little bit better, a little bit bubblier, a teensy bit lighter. And I wondered–at which point does this feeling stop being a treat and start being a compulsion? And is it odd that I’m toweling off my son with a vague buzz? It’s such a fraught topic, I think, because there’s still a certain underlying sense that Moms can’t have too much fun — because we’re in charge, after all. It’s the very same sentiment that generates reactive, in-your-face books like Sippy Cups Aren’t for Chardonnay. See, Moms can be “bad” too – it’s naughty and deviant and funny … and, in Wilder-Taylor’s case, ultimately destructive.

What’s the tipping point? Is there a happy medium? I definitely think so. But lotioning Andy with Aquaphor and feeling a couple glasses of white wine course though my veins, well … it gave me some pause. I felt bad for feeling good.

Now I'm a mom of a toddler, and I feel the exact same way now as I did then. How about you? On one hand, joking about wine intake with fellow moms (or non-moms, really) feels like a secret language: "Oh, you had one of those days. Oh God, my kid is being so hyper, I just need a glass of wine." This is the stuff of Gchat messages and frazzled Facebook status updates, almost a joke. But I've yet to meet the mother (or person, for that matter) who'll post something like, "I'm really bored staying at home with my baby all day. Drinking a bottle of wine is the only thing that gives me any relief. It makes music sound better. It makes life seem more manageable. Is there something wrong with me?"

Very few people outside of recovery talk openly and honestly about their intake, especially in relation to parenting. I'll admit it: I'd probably drink more except for the fact that (a) I'm getting older, and I get hangovers a lot more easily than I used to and (b) I really don't need the extra calories, as my pre-Andrew jeans remind me on a daily basis. But sometimes, a glass of wine feels like a key to another world: a simpler, more relaxed place.

So when does it turn deadly or, at the very least, detrimental? We get a lot of mixed messages about this, as the Slate piece points out. There are plenty of self-assessment tools out there, but many of them say different things, and a lot of them don't have much to do with reality. (As Slate's reviewer notes, "[The CDC's] definition of “heavy drinking”—an average of more than one drink a day for a woman—could make my mom, a wine-with-dinner lady, sound like Cersei Lannister.")

Meanwhile, the study reveals that more than half of the parents surveyed saying that they did not believe their use of drugs or alcohol had any effect on their family. I'm pretty sure my wine drinking doesn't affect my family much, except the $11 I spend on Beach House Sauv Blanc (yeah, I'm a real wine snob) could probably go toward something our whole family could enjoy.

Do you ever feel guilty about your intake? What role does alcohol play in your life? It's a clandestine topic, like revealing how much is in your bank account or how much credit card debt you have. Why are we so secretive about it? Since we can't talk about it over drinks, well, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Kara Baskin (@kcbaskin) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and mom to Andy. She thinks Sriracha and garlic make everything tastier. She loves Steely Dan and "Murder, She Wrote." Her More »

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