Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Temper’s Parenting While Sober series running throughout September. Please come back all month long for more.
When I first became a mother, I also became a proud member of the Mommy Needs Wine Club.
It was a natural progression from the Student Needs Wine Club and the Young, Stressed and Single 20-Something Needs Wine Club. I abstained from drinking during my first two pregnancies — for years, I clung to this as fact that I had a perfectly healthy relationship with alcohol — but, as soon as I stopped breastfeeding, I was back to my old habits, making up for all those dry nights by rounding off every evening with a nightcap. Or three.
Drinking was my reward for getting through another day, I told myself. This message was reinforced by pretty much everyone I came into contact with. “You look exhausted; let me get you a drink.” “How’s motherhood? Tell me about it over a bottle of wine.” “You’re doing a great job; let’s drink to that!” *pops cork*
Meetups with other moms revolved around alcohol; we toasted our parenting successes and drowned the sorrows of our calamities before returning to our families even more bleary-eyed and fuzzy-mouthed than we were when we left them. What we moms really need is 10 hours of undisturbed sleep and a massage, not a bucket-load of cocktails.
What we moms really need is 10 hours of undisturbed sleep and a massage, not a bucket-load of cocktails.
At no point, over several years, did I consider the effects of my drinking on my health, my happiness, or my children. It was easy to avoid this — I just didn’t fit into the mold of the stereotypical “alcoholic” who can’t hold down a job, look after their kids, or make it to lunchtime without the help of the vodka bottle. I was a high-achieving woman with happy kids and a clean home who even made it to the gym four mornings out of seven — hangover or no hangover.
It was even easier to justify my wine intake because everywhere I looked there was a new article pushing the health benefits of ethanol in a fancy goblet. Good for your heart. Good for your bones. Reduces your risk of stroke. Lowers your cholesterol. Boosts your immune system. These links were shared far and wide across social media but it seemed that few bothered actually reading the article or scrutinizing the research. All we needed was the headline to reassure us: Wine was good.
Popular culture tells us that mothers need to drink. It’s everywhere; from internet memes (“Motherhood: Powered by love. Fuelled by coffee. Sustained by wine”) to big-budget movies (the “bad moms” who drink because they’re just so damn cool). The babies even help spread the message; back in my drinking days, I would have chuckled at the “I’m the reason Mommy drinks” onesie on a teeny, tiny body. Now, it gives me the creeps.
Because our kids aren’t actually the reason we drink.
It’s just easier to blame them, and it’s an acceptable excuse, because there’s no denying that parenting is hard. Who’s going to deprive an exhausted, stressed-out mother a large glass of rosé at the end of a long day? In my case, the wine at the end of the day — and for a mom, 4 pm is an acceptable “end of day”; just ask the internet — wasn’t because my babies were so difficult. It was because for my entire adult life, I’d used alcohol as a way to self-medicate. And at that point in time, drinking was a way of avoiding the truth – that I was unbelievably lonely in an unhealthy, unhappy marriage.
Back in my drinking days, I would have chuckled at the “I’m the reason Mommy drinks” onesie on a teeny, tiny body. Now, it gives me the creeps.
Seven months ago, I gave birth to my third child. While so much of it is familiar — aching nipples, night feeds, growth spurts, unwelcome nappy explosions, the complex logistics involved in taking an infant anywhere — I’m going through one big first.
I’m sober. Back in the new mom club, minus the wine.
Life was challenging even before my daughter was born. We were a blended family of five, my husband and I both co-parenting with our exes (with mixed results). I work full-time as a freelancer — a job I love, but one that doesn’t come with a guaranteed steady income or maternity pay. I might have a more instinctive approach to parenting but life is a million times more demanding than it was when I brought my firstborn home from the hospital. The pressures are urgent, the deadlines are constant. Everything is more intense.
My two years of sobriety have been full of tests: my first party, where everyone wanted to know why I wasn’t drinking; my first all-inclusive holiday, where booze was on tap, 24/7; my first family Christmas dinner, where I was the only one not toasting with a glass of champagne.
Caring for a newborn while trying to piece yourself back together — physically and emotionally — after pregnancy and childbirth… that’s a test like no other I’ve ever experienced. So I did wonder, during those 39 weeks of growing my girl inside my body, whether I’d feel the pull of the wine bottle during the chaotic, sleep-deprived postpartum days and nights. But I quickly realized that sobriety was a vital part of my new mom toolbox. I’m not longing for a liquid “reward” for being the best mom I can be — to any of my kids.
Parenting is a constant learning curve and I admit that I make mistakes. But I make them with a clear head and an open heart. Being completely present for my children is one of the best gifts sobriety has given me. I wouldn’t trade that for all the rose in the world.