This is going to be a four-part post – one now and two on subsequent weeks. It is such a relevant topic that I want to do it justice.
This week we’ll have a look at the reasons that mums find they are wanting to drink. Next week we’ll look at the mummy wine culture and how mums are starting to question the culture. Then I’ll look at why mums DO NOT need to drink and lastly we’ll look at how mums can survive and thrive without it.
So, why do mums drink?
Many of the reasons are the same reasons that other people drink. See Why do people drink? for more on this.
I drank way before I had children, so I don’t think we start drinking just because children arrived. I was drinking after work, with friends out and with family at home. Drinking, and usually too much, was very much a part of any social life I had. For most, drinking is thoroughly ingrained as a way of socialising, celebrating, commiserating and relaxing – so once the baby is born, it’s business as usual!
However, after having a baby, nights out happen far less often, so socialising often happens at home, with family and friends or with other mothers. Drinking at home becomes normal.
I think I unconsciously, or maybe consciously, chose mummy friends who drank too. A bit of a party animal? Yes please, I’ll be friends with you. Non-drinking, vegan, yoga mummy – no thanks! Despite the fact, or maybe because of the fact, I wished I could be a non-drinking, vegan, yoga mummy!
Yet the social drinking at home or with other mums, doesn’t seem to lessen the excessive drinking on the odd night out/celebration you have. I still went at it as if you’ve been deprived of a drink for that whole time!
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When something seems normal, you are far less likely to question it. After my first baby I had a night out with some other new mums. The babies were about 3 months old and it was near Christmas, so obviously the only choice was a boozy night out – that’s all there is right? I wasn’t breast feeding by this stage but most of the others were, and they chatted about pump and dump nights like it was completely normal. Pump and dump for anyone who doesn’t know, is drinking lots, expressing your breast milk and throwing it out, so theoretically any of the booze that’s gone into the breast milk has been thrown away and your baby won’t be drinking booze. I am very uncertain of the scientific nature of this plan! But please can we actually take a minute to consider the enormity of this idea. We’re told it normal and we deserve a night out, yes we do but why does that automatically mean getting smashed? Also, the enormity of the fact that at 3 months old, I left my first son with his father for 2 nights while I went to hospital with binge drinking induced gastritis – drinking loads of white wine having not drunk for a year. I literally cringed when the doctor told me what he was writing down. Nothing about it was normal.
But everything tells us and we tell each other that it is normal, and we are just coping. I only really drank after 4pm, because if I drank before I would feel so awful for the rest of the day that I couldn’t function. As I slowly crept into the land of daytime weekend drinking, soon before I quit for good, I was staggered by the number of people, with children in tow, drinking in the day time. Dad’s groups, feeding babies with pints at 10.30am. Mum’s afternoon teas with prosecco. Cocktails, gin, wine, beer, you name it! Instead of worrying me, at first I found it very comforting that I was not alone in this. Almost like a carte blanche to do it more. Thankfully, I also think it started bringing things to a head until I finally scared myself enough to quit.
It is totally understandable though. Being a mother is bloody lonely. We go from working, socialising people who speak to other adults on a daily basis, to finding ourselves at home, alone, with a nonverbal human that we are utterly responsible for with no support. Family, friends and partner are probably at work and there we are, stuck. I might sound like I am stereotyping here, but in all the families with children I have known, the father works and the mother is at home with the children doing EVERYTHING else.
I saw a comic strip called ‘You should’ve asked’ that became a book called Mental Load, a few years ago that resonated completely and I am sure resonated with many other mothers. Read it here, its amazing, but I’ve put one picture here as an example.
It just seems to be the lot of a mother that our heads never stop as we try to juggle school, after school activities, working, tidying, cleaning, cooking, washing, doctors, dentists, school costumes and activities, finances, weekend child fun and shopping – usually with toddler in tow. Not to mention giving enough attention to your small people while teaching them how to live and hoping they’ll be nice, kind, well rounded, successful educated people, while questioning everything you do in case it somehow psychologically damages them in the future!
The lists go on and on and round and round.
Women can be very harsh and critical of other women – only take a glance at the breast-feeding v bottle feeding forums! Ouch! It’s no different with parenting. Working mothers often get a lot of stick for not being at home with their children. Two things on this. Firstly, why on earth do working fathers not get the same stick, secondly, working mothers don’t escape from the mental load, they just have to manage work on top of it! The only benefit of working is financial (and possibly your sanity!)
Ooooh, my feminist side starts to rage!
But it’s not just people being critical of other people. We are hugely critical of ourselves. I talk about being kind to yourself in many of my previous posts and go into detail son how to start in my free 7 day course below. But it is so important for sobriety and happiness so please sign up and have a look.
We expect ourselves to be amazing mothers, partners, employees etc. I had images of me as a lovely mother, playing with my children, laughing, baking with them, doing arts and crafts in a tidy house with delicious nutritious meals simmering away. We would snuggle and read together; we would have lovely days out.
I mean it is so laughably far from the truth! I am hysterical in the house! Baking – while fun on occasion, creates a messy kitchen, messy child, inedible cake – just more flipping hard work for me! Same with arts and crafts. By the time I got to The Baby, I was of the opinion that the more time out of the house creating less dirty, messy chaos, the better! And everyone playing nicely – what a joke! We get on really well as a family and the boys all love each other, but that means nothing when it comes to bickering, arguing, winding each other up, play fighting and hurting each other!
But instead of saying – ‘Aaaah! Help! This is all too much!’, we take a picture of the one nice moment, in the day of chaos, and post it on social media saying – ‘What an amazing day! So grateful for my lovely life!’.
Of course, we are grateful, and we do love our children. But denying the hard stuff is missing out a huge part of what parenting is. Mums who are struggling (most of us), see these images and captions and think – ‘Shit I’m failing. Why can’t I get this right?’ And the critical, negative loop continues exacerbating the mental load, negative mental health and the need to drink.
Parenting is hard!
And I’ll say it again parenting is hard!
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children so completely and there are magical moments with them, but a lot of the time it’s just lonely hard work. I was at home, alone, managing two toddlers. I dreaded most days.
But so many mother’s feel like they aren’t allowed to say ‘This is hard! Help me!’ The idea is that we have to be so grateful all the time that if we dare to say, actually I’m not enjoying this, then you feel ashamed that you are an ungrateful, bad parent. I won’t go into the ins and out of how hard parenting is; if you are a parent and you are reading this, you know! But if you are lonely, finding things hard every day and feeling guilty for doing so, is it any wonder that a little escape behind the wine seems like a good idea?
No time for you
In the chaotic circus that is out parenting lives, it is very rare that we make time for ourselves.
As a mummy, we are often so busy ensuring that our children eat and drink well, that we forget to do this basic thing for ourselves. The problem is that unstable blood sugar levels and thirst, increase our cravings for alcohol.
Self-care is so important. Any person I have talked to who has quit has done it by starting to focus on a little self-love and self-care.
Alcohol gives us a momentary relief from everything going on outside and in our own head. We need this as we are not giving ourselves that relief anywhere else. Our lives are constantly full on but we know that when it gets too much we can have that immediate relief from a glass of wine.
We can do the same without alcohol though. I’ll talk more about how in the second part of this post but for now see How to beat the alcohol illusion.
Frustration was such a massive part of the reason that I drank. Woman are told that, now we’ve broken the bonds of the patriarchal society and we get all those nice things like education and votes, that we can do and be anything! The world is our oyster! Anything is possible! You can have it all!
But hold on, can we? Can we have children and have everything?
When children come along you give up a huge part of yourself. It happens naturally, you can’t help it. You are responsible for this tiny human that you have created and that you love fiercely, so there is no choice but to put yourself aside and take care of them. Even more so the more children you have.
High flying careers, travelling adventures or anything you might have imagined in this oyster of a world, suddenly becomes far harder to achieve. So you have talented, educated, capable women – who are now at home cooking, cleaning, washing, and looking after small people.
The big world of opportunity has just become a lot smaller.
I struggled with this alot (probably the reason I did master’s degrees, moved abroad and retrained after my children!) My post, Change your thoughts to change your life, looks at how we always have a choice in anything. I did, and still do at times, wrestle with this idea. Yes I have the choice to have a travelling career but I would have to accept seeing my children less and them not liking it (they barely like it when I go to a shift!). So yes, it’s a choice I make to not have the travelling career to be with my children, but that doesn’t always lessen the frustration!
Years ago, just after The Bot was born, I was talking to my sister who was feeling the mummy frustration. My sister is a clever, capable, sociable, bubbly amazing person. She is a Cambridge graduate and she can charm anyone into doing anything she wants. She was at home with four children. She said to me, women would be better off being like the poorer women of countries like India, who are OK with their lot at home with children because they don’t have any other expectations. I was horrified by this idea, I still am for many reasons that I won’t go into here, but I get her point now. We are given access to the world, and then the door is closed, and sometimes it feels locked and barred.
I’ll talk more about how to lessen this frustration in the second part of this post, but for more now, have a look at my post How to build a life you do not want to escape from.
I think this frustration was the most damaging to my mental health, especially when I was pregnant with The Baby.
But every parent, and especially mothers, get burnt out! Stress, depression and anxiety can all be related to burn out and exhaustion! But when you have children, you can’t really burn out and just stop, you have to keep going. So often we keep going with the assistance of antidepressants, drugs or alcohol – and bizarrely there is far more stigma attached to taking antidepressants than there is to downing a few bottles of wine! So we self-medicate with alcohol.
Lack of awareness or denial
Now I have always been hyper aware of how much I drink, but following many conversations with many people, I think people are either unaware of what they are drinking or they don’t want to be aware.
Media advice corroborates these excuses that we make to keep drinking. ‘I need it for stress relief and stress is bad for me.’ ‘I only drink red wine because it’s good for my heart.’
The media also offers confusing advise about safe drinking levels. Many websites say this many ‘drinks’ is too many. But what is a drink? A large glass of wine is 3-4 units, depending on the strength of the wine. Is that one drink or three? A pint is 2-3 units, Is that one, two or three drinks?
I have spoken to people who have said a bottle of wine a night is OK because it’s only 3 drinks (actually 9-10 units, most of your alcohol allowance for the week). I have known people who say they hardly ever drink while quaffing an entire bottle with barely any visible effort or effect.
Denial is not a judgement. I hated being aware of what I was drinking, because I constantly felt the need to do something about it. Even at times I consciously tried to become unaware and just let go to see if that made things better – it didn’t. But when life is on top of you, you do not want to hear that the thing you feel is supporting you is actually the thing that you need to get rid of!
Lack of support
My firm belief is that all these reasons come down to one thing. Lack of support as a mother. Our communities have all but vanished. We are left with nuclear families, often no extended family around, partners working long hours. We have no community support left to tell us we are doing OK. I think that this is why the mummy wine culture exploded. It offers the support and community that are lacking. Social media support groups allow you to blow of steam, voice what you might be ashamed to say otherwise about parenting and normalises alcohol as a way of coping with the day to day trials. Drinking with mummy friends is exactly the same, you feel the support and the solidarity of other mums in the same boat.
In my next post I’ll be looking at the mummy wine culture and why there is now a backlash against it.