In today’s world, the image of a wine mother has become deeply ingrained in our shared consciousness.
It evokes the image of a mother, usually with young children, having a glass of wine in the evening as a “reward” for dealing with another day of parental pressures.
This ‘mama wine culture’ has probably been around as long as wines and mums have been around.
However, the phenomenon really gained momentum with the growth of social media, where it was promoted by memes and photos captioned with #winemom.
It was the perfect place for moms to seek to normalize their drinking habits, habits that might otherwise have embarrassed some, had they not seen it reflected in them.
Its wide acceptance was fueled by a sense of camaraderie and a shared understanding among moms who found solace in humor.
There was a feeling of being ‘in on the joke’.
Beneath the cheery Instagram posts and ‘wine o’clock’ stories, however, lurked a much larger problem.
“Wine would accompany bath time and story time,” says Ange.
“As the stages of my life progressed, so did my alcohol consumption,” says Ange Chappel. Children’s point.
Now that she’s the founder of a mindful drinking app, Mind the Sip, Ange wasn’t always in control of her drinking habits.
She knows that alcohol has long been a common coping mechanism for parents, herself included.
“Getting pregnant twice forced me to stop for nine months each time. But instead of adopting a healthier lifestyle after the pregnancies, I went in the opposite direction. I turned to alcohol almost immediately,” she says.
She says the feeling of “missing the opportunity” to drink for nine months was all the justification she needed.
“I deserved this; it was my reward. That’s what ‘Mommy Wine Culture’ was selling, and you better believe she was buying it! Angel continues.
He then reflects on when he realized the impact alcohol was having on his upbringing.
“In the throes of life with a toddler and baby, that after-work imitation wine soon progressed to another at bath time, with another following me into my son’s room for story time.
“I was surprised one night, the contrast of a glass of red wine on my son’s nightstand, while he curled up next to me engrossed in the story. I checked myself and never again let a wine enter that space”.
The next step was to eliminate alcohol in the middle of the week, which helped reduce his overall consumption.
But that didn’t stop her from drinking over the weekend, which she saw as “a huge release” and helped her feel like “more than just someone’s mom.”
Over time, Ange recognized the need for a more significant transformation, breaking free of the binge drinking cycle and embracing a more mindful lifestyle.
When asked about the changes she’s experienced as a mom since becoming sober and curious, Ange shares, “I’m more engaged and less irritable for sure. Let’s not kid you, my patience is still tested with my teenage years, but my reactions are less emotional and more considerate. I enjoy a genuine connection with them and have gotten more time back with them, which is the greatest gift of all.”
Sophie Scott, a former television health journalist and now mental health speaker and writer, also broke away from Mommy Wine Culture’s hold on her life, particularly her circle of friends.
“Drinking alcohol was one way I dealt with the stress of being a parent. I used it as a way to calm my nervous system with a busy job and having four kids,” she says.
“In the short term, it can make you feel good because it triggers a dopamine surge,” he explains, adding that in the long term, it usually makes you feel worse from burnout.
“I would have a few drinks to relieve stress and then need caffeine in the morning to get going.”
More than two years ago, when she made the decision to stop drinking for health reasons, it led her to confront the underlying motivations behind her old habits.
“I found it challenging at first when I realized that I had been relying on alcohol as a security blanket to manage low-grade anxiety,” she says. “Being sober means that you have to feel all the feelings, good and bad. So it can be confronting at first. But I found that living a life without alcohol really aligns with my values.”
Sophie’s journey of reassessing her relationship with alcohol also involved navigating the dynamics of her former group of friends. She shares: “She had a mom friendship group that really focused on heavy drinking. Lots of champagne at every lunch and catch up.
“Being in a group of friends where drinking was the main activity was a challenge to live without alcohol. One of my friends kept serving me alcoholic drinks, even though he had stopped drinking! I think my sober life was hard for them to understand,” she recalls.
She eventually made the decision to distance herself from that group, but she kept in touch with some of the like-minded women in that circle.
“It really took the pressure off me to spend time with moms who didn’t necessarily drink alcohol but weren’t just focused on drinking as their form of entertainment,” she concludes.
Radio presenter and author of last drinksMaz Compton, has been sober since 2015 and has been very vocal on the subject of alcohol dependency in our culture.
“It starts when we are teenagers, then we get older and without learning new ways to handle the big things in life, alcohol can quickly become a multi-tool for coping. And when you become a mom, nothing can prepare you for the challenges, so we can turn to alcohol, but it doesn’t help,” she says.
Maz wants parents to know that if alcohol has become their relaxant or coping tool, “it’s not too late to switch and spend some time in the parenting trenches without the wine.”
She explains: “All the things I used to think alcohol did for me; it relieved me, it helped me relax, it took away my nervousness, it made me enjoy the moments more; sobriety has set me free.”
Maz’s journey to sobriety began in 2014 when she became curious about sobriety. Then the following year, she stopped drinking altogether.
But the process of breaking free had its challenges.
She recalls: “My biggest worries were dying of boredom and what people would think of me. I was worried that people would assume I had a drinking problem, which I did, but not in the clinical definition of alcoholism. It wasn’t chaotic, I just drank a bottle of wine every night and didn’t know how to stop.”
Now, eight and a half years later, she believes that sobriety has made her a better person and mother.
“It helps me show up and be fully present in every moment of my life,” she says.
“Do I still get lost when my son refuses to wear long pants when it’s eight degrees outside? Yes, sometimes I get lost, because I am human and we all have our limits.
“Our children test those limits on a daily basis. But being sober gives me the ability to parent from a place of strength. I’m showing each of those moments as my best self. Is not perfect. Not omniscient. But fully present and complete.”
“Giving up alcohol won’t make your kids less challenging, but it will give you the best possible chance of managing it well.”
Melissa Watkins, an alcohol and drug psychotherapist, draws on her personal experiences to provide relatable support for her clients.
She says it’s important to understand the underlying reasons why moms often turn to alcohol, so we can know what to do about it.
“Women who drink alcohol to excess are generally trying to avoid or suppress difficult emotions,” she explains. “This habit can be emphasized during parenthood because it can be a very challenging time.
“We experience significant physical and emotional changes during pregnancy and motherhood, which often coincide with the constant demand to care for your baby 24 hours a day. Also, it can be very isolating and many women may feel like they lose their sense of identity. For some, they turn to alcohol to give them a sense of relief from their emotions, but it also gives them a sense of connection to their past selves.”
“But it’s a false sense of connection, which only emphasizes uncomfortable emotions or long-term problems.”
Melissa encourages moms who may be struggling with their relationship with alcohol to seek professional support from addiction and recovery therapists.
“It’s important to recognize that it’s not your fault if you’re struggling with binge drinking because this habit can happen to anyone, especially when going through such big life changes as motherhood.”
So is mom’s wine culture changing?
As we look at the experiences of these different women from the mummy wine culture, it’s clear that change is in the air.
But statistics from the Global Drug Survey still point to a worrying reality: Australia holds the title of the world’s biggest drinkers and a significant portion of these heavy drinkers are women, including mothers.
Maz believes that addressing this issue requires challenging the normalization of alcohol in our society.
“The way we share memes and joke about alcohol being necessary to survive in parenting, frankly, it needs to end. When you realize the damage alcohol does, the mental health impacts, the damage it can do to your body and to your relationships, it suddenly stops being funny.”
According to Ange, although a drinking culture still persists, she has already begun to witness transformations within her circle and is hopeful about the future.
“To my friends, our children are now teenagers. Even though we’re out of the trenches of the ‘Mommy Wine Culture’ stereotype with little kids running between our legs, there’s still an element of ‘You deserve it, parenting is hard, have some wine, take a load off!’”
“However, I believe that positive changes are taking place. Parents are increasingly aware of the impact that their behavior around alcohol can have on their little ones (and adults)”.
She says, “By modeling responsible and sensible attitudes towards alcohol, we can make a significant difference in shaping our children’s future well-being, while showing Mommy Wine Culture who’s boss.”