How to Navigate Wine-Mom Culture When You’re Not Drinking

Photo credit: Jenna Christina via Unsplash

While walking through Target during a time-to-re-up-on-all-the-essentials shopping trip, I passed the sundresses, rompers, jeans, and flowy t-shirts that line the isles, beckoning passers-by. One shirt, in particular, caught my attention. It read: Motherhood: Powered by love, Fueled by coffee, Sustained by wine. I rolled my eyes and walked on, heading for the toothpaste aisle. 

While visiting a friend in Portland, OR, we decided to take a day to explore the city on foot, perusing local shops. In a craft store, a few rows of stemless wine glasses donned different sayings like Cheers and Hakuna Moscato. And of course, a few of the glasses were embellished with the ever-popular saying, Mommy Juice

I have two kids: a teenager and a preschooler. When my 14-year-old was younger, I don’t remember businesses marketing wine as a solution to motherhood. I don’t remember all of the memes (well, to be fair, memes weren’t all that popular back then) and alcohol at children’s birthday parties. 

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This could be because I was in the throes of new sobriety at the time, with my full focus given to rebuilding myself and my family. But it could also be because this whole wine mom culture is relatively new, at least out in the open. It wasn’t until the 2010s that alcohol companies realized there was a goldmine in marketing directly to mothers. 

Since then, alcohol has become an accepted and welcome presence at all kinds of family-centric social gatherings, play dates, and birthday parties. It’s literally everywhere and, more importantly, it’s an acceptable way to cope with the stress of parenting, which is dangerous. The reality is, though, that parenting is hard. If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol, it’s likely that you’ve realized that alcohol isn’t making parenting any easier, either.

“To be a ‘good mom’ at this particular moment in time, to live up to every standard required of women from natural childbirth to breastfeeding to figuring out childcare, is an impossible task,” said Shelley Mann Hite, freelance writer, editor, co-host of the sobriety podcast Zero Proof Book Club, and mother of two.

The fact that parents feel like they need to drink to stave off the difficulties of parenthood says a lot about how our society supports and nurtures family life. 

So how exactly does someone questioning their drinking navigate a culture of acceptable drinking that seems to weave its way through every facet of parenthood? Here are a few ideas:

1. Know where you’re at in your personal journey with trying to quit alcohol.

At 10 years sober, wine mom culture doesn’t do much in the way of ruffling my feathers anymore, but that wasn’t always the case. 

In early recovery, I was anxious to go places where I knew the event would be centered around drinking, and that included activities that involved my kids. In fact, before I ever quit drinking, I felt uneasy about going places with my kids where alcohol was readily available. The safety issue of it all got to me, of course, and I didn’t want to have to talk to other parents about why I wasn’t drinking, especially when I first started questioning my relationship with alcohol. The same can be true for others. 

“In my early sobriety, I just avoided everything and everyone,” says Chelsea, a federal employee and mother of three. “It was too hard to be around an ‘old friend’ and not be able to imbibe or be included. It was also too hard to explain why I didn’t drink or want a drink.” 

You might feel guilty for missing out on an event your child is involved with. You might feel like you’re missing out on making other mom friends. But if your hold on quitting alcohol isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, you—and your children—are better off. After all, missing a few events or outings is much better than returning to drinking. There are ways to make sure your child doesn’t have to miss out, even if you do. You can coordinate with a fellow parent, for instance, to see if your child can tag along for the fun. You can also ask another family member or friend to take your child to the event. 

2. Have an exit plan and some kind of beverage in hand.

At some point, joining in on events where other moms will be clinking glasses together won’t feel like such a burden. I realized that in order for my child to develop social relationships and for me to find other moms with whom to bond and commiserate, I couldn’t just avoid all of these outings. What I could do, though, was to have some autonomy over how long I stay at said events. I could also control the conversation by having something safe to drink already in my hand. 

It’s true that most people won’t care if I’m drinking or not, but I have run across that extra nosy guest that just can’t understand why I’m not drinking.

“As long as I grab a mocktail or soda water with lime when I arrive, no one even asks,” said Kaitlin Henry Delaney, mother of three. 

And no matter where you’re going, whether to a birthday party, a summer meetup, to dinner after a school event, make sure to have your own transportation as well. This way, you can leave whenever you need to. This might mean you’re leaving earlier than everyone else, but that’s okay. 

If I’m at an event like a birthday party where I know one of my children won’t want to leave early, I might try coordinating with another parent that I trust to see if they can bring my kids home a little later. If there is no other parent that I know or trust with my children, I explain the situation to my kids ahead of time. 

3. Coordinate your own alcohol-free events and meetups with moms.

Let’s face it: There are going to be some events that we just won’t want to go to. 

“Last year, on the first day of school, I was invited to a ‘let’s get together and day drink because the kids are back in school’ gathering,” said Hite. “That’s absolutely not something I’m going to go to.” 

But, as she mentions, it’s still important to have mom friends and sometimes that means going out of our way to plan our own meetups where we can have some control over the atmosphere. 

This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as planning a coffee or dinner date with a couple of other moms. You can host an alcohol-free book club, fitness date in the park, or have a monthly dinner outing with your mom friends at a restaurant. 

Or, if your child is having a birthday party, you don’t have to feel obligated to supply alcohol for parents. Just because other parents partake in drinking at their kids’ birthday parties doesn’t mean they have to at your kid’s party. 

* * *

Wine mom culture is pervasive and dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be isolating. You can, indeed, make mom friends, take your child to events, and work on giving up alcohol. It might mean a little extra planning and intentional decision-making, but it is possible. 

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