I still know nothing about parenting. Just when I think I do, my almost five-year-old has an epic tantrum and launches her sister’s butt cream at my head. And once again, I am throwing my hands in the air. Or crying in the bathroom wondering where I went wrong. The wild spin from equilibrium to madness, the process of letting the leash out and yanking it back in is my daily dance as a mother.
Gentle Parenting was an easy choice to make before I had tiny humans to rear, a grand theory until it required action. And as motherhood sent me kicking and screaming from social binge drinking to gray area drinking, I clung tight to the Malbec as a symbol of my independence and tucked it in all snug with my identity. Pouring that first glass of wine sent a warm signal to my brain to wind down, lighten up, steal away “me-time” and parent on auto-pilot.
And as motherhood sent me kicking and screaming from social binge drinking to gray area drinking, I clung tight to the Malbec as a symbol of my independence and tucked it in all snug with my identity.
The “Wine Mom” look kept my relationship with alcohol under the radar for a while. Other mothers would wink at me from their Instagram accounts and grandmothers would do my pouring, validating the assumption that I couldn’t do motherhood without booze. None of us could. None of us had to. And that false belonging kept me at that table for longer than I should have stayed.
Truth is, nothing makes the struggle of motherhood more real than commiseration. Neuroplasticity and energetics agree — we quickly become what we hold in mind. Meaning if we think about how miserable we are and how hard life is, we will surely stay miserable and life will surely stay hard. Clinking stemless glasses with other moms, rolling our eyes at our husbands, and discussing the poop stains on our favorite silk shirts was framing my perspective.
Long after the book club ladies walked out the door, I found myself looking for things I could bitch about, things that make motherhood hard. I not-so-silently stewed about how motherhood makes my work impossible, how my kids are always in the way of my life plan, how I can’t just fucking get out the door without a fucking meltdown and why the fuck are you walking so goddamn slow and where the fuck are your shoes.
Alcohol was my go-to coping mechanism for “hard” parenting moments, but booze was also making my buttons bigger and easier to push. Common lose-my-shit triggers, like lack of quality sleep, combined with pretty much any responsibility beyond refilling my wine glass, put me on an edge and invited my daughter to push me over it.
Alcohol was my go-to coping mechanism for “hard” parenting moments, but booze was also making my buttons bigger and easier to push.
And as the “terrible-twos” molded my threenager, and four seemed more impossible that it should have been, my almost five-year-old called me out on my inconsistent discipline approach. I had been discounting her big feelings and diffusing them as quickly as possible, hurrying back to my regularly scheduled program of quieting my own inner conflict.
As I drank tequila and breastfed at happy hour, I scanned my periphery for sideways glances, my shame searching for its own validation. I wanted to find disapproval in the eyes of the highfalutin woman next to me, but instead, she gave me a pat on the back, proud of me for “getting myself back”.
Only I could know that booze was actually keeping me from myself, knocking her back again and again, holding a hand on her head, and silencing all of her good intentions. Only I could draw the line. Once my inner knowing became loud enough, and after a couple of Google rabbit-holes, I traded booze for the most basic meditation and self-compassion practices out there.
And hand to God, it only took six days for the energy to start shifting in my home. That sounds absolutely ludicrous. Trust me, I know. Y’all probably think I’m gonna start talking about chia pudding next. Peace was not restored overnight. But once I removed the wine distraction, I was able to stand on the outside of disciplinary moments, instead of allowing my emotions to spin and escalate the situation.
My physical body had always been in the room with her, but in sobriety, my heart and mind started showing up, too, and she could feel it.
Connection is the main tenet of Gentle Parenting, and paradoxically, connection was also what alcohol took from me. I was doing everything right, everything the parenting books told me. I was getting down on my knees. Meeting her on her level. Naming her feelings. Reframing all the “no”, “if” and “stop” statements and trading in scripted responses. Holding her until she calmed down. But I was just going through the motions, anxious to return to my barstool and adult conversation.
My physical body had always been in the room with her, but in sobriety, my heart and mind started showing up, too, and she could feel it. As we say in the south, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Like it or not, women rule the family energy field. If we bring our bullshit home, our bullshit will be handed back to us. Kids are born with extra senses, and they quickly pick up on the fact that we are mentally somewhere else, that we aren’t really interested in them right now, that they are a pain in our ass, and that our calm exterior is just a facade.
My first therapist, the only one in my area covered by my insurance, suggested that I reframe my daily surrenders and count them as meditation. Mundane activities that require me to turn off my adult brain and tune into my daughter’s — activities like building block towers only to knock them down, reading chapter books until she fell asleep, and spelling out paragraphs letter by letter for invitations to her imaginary parties — became my time, too.
I didn’t need a rock bottom to make better choices for myself.
This simple practice sparked a process of questioning my thought patterns, core beliefs, and default behaviors and would eventually light my winding path to sobriety. I didn’t need a rock bottom to make better choices for myself. I did need to let go of the person I once was and dive head first into the chaos and the noise to find the beautiful intimacy with my daughter that was tangled up in it.
In sobriety, my headspace is no longer stuck somewhere in between drink, drunk and hungover, and I am able to show up as the mother I always wanted to be. I am able to pay attention, illustrate big ideas in a way she can understand, and slip into her colorful world without hesitation on a daily basis. I now understand that no matter which approach we choose, all parenting moments are “hard”. Being Mama is an opportunity to create a safe place – to love, empathize, and teach.
After my daughter and I read Wacky Wednesday for the 87th time, I am able to joke around with her when she asks me for chocolate at bedtime, skirting meltdowns with humor. When I tell my daughter I will pack a special treat in her lunchbox on Friday, I remember and follow through. I am able to model how to be a woman in the world, comfortable with just being. No longer running in circles, undoing and doing again. Calm and consistent.
And so is my parenting, just like the books tried to teach me four years ago. I say “no” when appropriate, and I don’t waver to appease. I assess the limits that I have set for her, challenge their necessity, and create space for negotiation and collaboration.
On the nights when I’m jolted out of sleep every two hours, I’m tired as always — sobriety doesn’t hold that kind of magic. But I’m not pissed. I don’t waste time at my usual pity party. And when my coffee goes tepid in the morning shuffle, I’m grateful that two tiny humans need all of me for a short while. I’m grateful that I am not missing it. I am here for it. And that is the difference.