I write a lot online about parenting, and I have a wonderful, loyal Facebook following of mostly women. While the majority of my readers are at various stages in raising their kids, my page is geared primarily toward new-ish moms. When I was frustrated with the daily wine memes that bombarded us, I posted a meme about not needing wine to be a parent. In fact, that wine (for me) makes things harder.
It reads: “The house is a mess, the kids are screaming, my partner is grumpy and I need to make dinner. Friend: Sounds like you need wine! Me: No. Wine is actually the opposite of what I need.”
When I posted this, I knew I was heading into murky territory. Social media is a place to broadcast your love for wine. Talking about how wine can be harmful? Not so popular.
I was impressed, though, with the particularly large number of people who liked, commented, and shared the post. “Love this! So true! Alcohol does not help. It makes me less able to think and respond to the crumbling situation around me” was one comment. Another woman wrote, “Yes, yes, and yes. It’s so sad that in today’s society we feel the need to encourage moms to drink. You should not need alcohol to cope with life.”
But then came the negative responses. Some women got downright defensive.
“Let’s not demonize a glass of wine now. Oh lawd, people always have to make a point of everything like moms that have a glass of wine and relax are drunks,” one responder commented. Another woman wrote, “We don’t need running shoes to run, but it helps.”
I was stepping outside my comfort zone. Suddenly my Facebook page’s following, which had grown steadily through my writings on motherhood, mental health, and female empowerment, was evoking unexpected controversy. The responses got nastier. More than aggravated, some people responded with outright rage. I started getting comments like “c*nt,” “snowflake,” and “another Karen.” Just yesterday someone commented, “LOL addict.” I’ve always been conflict averse, so at first it was terrifying and made me wonder if it was worth going head-to-head with popular opinion.
Margaret Heffernan, bestselling author and entrepreneur, wisely puts it this way: “We know—intellectually—that confronting an issue is the only way to resolve it. But any resolution will disrupt the status quo. Given the choice between conflict and change on the one hand, and inertia on the other, the ostrich position can seem very attractive.”
I admit, the ostrich approach had its allure. I considered ignoring this problematic messaging that seemed to be everywhere. I could step back and focus on the blessings of motherhood. No one could argue with that, right? But the more common the memes linking moms and drinking were, the more I started to think about why, how, and at whose expense those offhanded comments were being made.
Making jokes that allude to addiction or coping with alcohol is a message of privilege that can and does get weaponized against minorities. “Wine mom culture lets white women cosplay as ‘bad moms’ because they’re given the benefit of the doubt that BIPOC moms aren’t afforded,” says Tomi Akitunde, the founder of mater mea, a content platform for Black mothers, in an interview for Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Vena Moore’s article for Medium, “Wine Mom Culture Excludes Black Mothers,” expands on this. “Black mothers don’t have the luxury to joke openly about imbibing. Many of us can’t even think to put memes on social media about wine being our equivalent to a man’s toolbelt.” Vena goes on to say, “Does this mean that Black mothers don’t drink? Of course not. But due to the oppressive double standards they live under, they may be more likely to downplay their drinking.”
Why are people so completely invested in this mommy wine narrative? Why does the topic stir up so much passion in people? Why does a person pointing out the darker side of this ‘Mommy Wine Culture’ generate so much fear? Naïvely, I wanted my story to connect with all moms, not just those struggling with their drinking. Instead, I saw the subject create a tremendous divide: women who understood and took it seriously and women who saw my message as a threat.
Is this just a wine meme joke that went too far? Have we really reached the point where we need wine to help us through our daily tasks the way runners need running shoes? Or is this yet another contrived message that continues to keep women down?
Regardless of why my writing became such a trigger, the effects of these memes, and the T-shirts and the mugs and the health studies that warp facts into a catchy headline, can be devastating. They were to me, at least.
Where some might have seen just a funny wine meme, I saw justification to drink. Where some might have seen a brief, breezy read about the benefits of wine, I found validation for what was becoming an increasingly troubling habit for me.
When I was drinking, I would share these wine memes to build my wine-drinking mom squad. Let’s laugh and praise the glory of our destructive wine habits together, people, and it won’t feel so dangerous.
Everyone likes Buzzy Betty, the happy-go-lucky mom in the Facebook group that shares funny memes and pokes fun at needing to fill her thermos with booze to make it through the PTA meeting. Am I right? Do you know who no one likes? The Sober Sally who kills every buzz with the inevitable: “Here’s what’s wrong with this message.”
And yes, both Betty and Sally were me. Going from “Never a bad time to wine” to “Not on my watch!” Over time I stopped expressing anger and frustration with the what and started to dig deeper into the why. Why have we turned to humor instead of exploring the pain we’re feeling and finding solutions to it? Instead of spending time sharing wine memes, what if we wrote letters to our state legislators or our company’s HR department demanding better maternity leave options? If we took a dollar from every “mommy needs wine” purchase and instead invested in affordable mental health resources for moms struggling . . . can you imagine the impact?
Every so often, I will speak up if I see a wine mom meme that is particularly harmful or when celebrities use the wine mom trope for an easy like or sell. To me, all this is more than just stupid wine sayings on a shirt or a mug. Behind every Buzzy Betty lies another overwhelmed mom doing the best she can with the tools available to her. It’s not her fault she is validating her behavior with self-effacing humor; it’s the system she’s navigating that seems so determined to break her down. Don’t shoot the messenger—call out the system instead. But also? Enough with the mommy wine jokes.
LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD
- Curate your social media to follow pages and people who inspire you and lift you up. Unfollow ones that don’t. Also, if certain things or people online trigger you—to drink, binge eat, or just feel bad about yourself—you know what to do. Even better, if you see alcohol ads on Facebook, you can click on the top right to avoid seeing ads like these. You can even narrow it down to say no more ads about alcohol at all. Boom!
- Curate your IRL friends too. You don’t have to say goodbye to your drinking buddies forever, but it might be wise to stay away until you have solid sober footing. Skip the wine walks and the beer fests for a night in with Netflix. Again, not forever. Give yourself permission to opt out of people’s lives who don’t push you to be better. Yes, we are talking boundaries here. I saw a meme that said, “The people in your circle should be rooting for you. If not, get a new circle.” Spend your time with people who genuinely want to see you succeed in your sober journey.
- Remember, everything is not about you: the wine memes, the fitness instructor saying “You’ve earned a glass of wine” after a tough class. You just don’t need to hear it, right? People aren’t trying to piss you off, they’re just living their lives. Which is also why your lecture about how drinking alcohol even moderately increases a woman’s chances of breast cancer by 15 percent might be better expressed at a different time and place. Remember, it’s your journey.
- Find out what your state legislates for maternity leave; every state is different. Contact your local legislators and advocate for at least three months paid maternal leave for all new mothers. Fight for paternity leave for new fathers. Better yet, get the men in the family to do it. Redistribution of labor can start here.
- I asked my social media followers for input on how they deal with peer pressure to drink. Lauren said “I limit my circle exclusively to people who don’t suck,” which I love—we could all take note here. Colette says, “I seek out activities that don’t involve alcohol.” Luisa said, “Now I can say I just don’t want to drink, but I used to invent excuses all the time.” Julie: “I’ve been sober for seventeen years. I’m proud and talk about it all the time.”
This is an excerpt from It’s Not about the Wine, chapter 5 “The Herd Mentality.”