It’s the end of the day, and there’s still an after-work to-do list of sorting sports schedules, washing uniforms, reading school notes, organising play dates and making lunches. By the end of the week, there’s an invitation to catch up with the school-gate mums and unwind as the kids play nearby.
If you’re watching this play out on the TV screen, chances are there’s a glass of wine in the shot, or the clinking of cocktail glasses in company to salute the relentless parenting juggle.
It all may be playing out in your weekly reality too.
It’s hard to deny that alcohol has become normalised as a tool to sustain motherhood. But there’s worrying research behind the impacts of mixing drinking with parenting.
Mummy drinking culture
Escaping the mundanities of motherhood might seem easier with a glass of wine in hand, but truth be told, it’s adding to the struggle.
The ‘mummy drinking’ culture has firmly embedded itself in Australia as a form of escapism, or commiseration, with drinking becoming the must-have ‘me-time’ to cope with ‘mum demands’. And, to combat loneliness and feelings of overwhelm, an end-of week drink (or two) has become a firm social expectation and an essential parenting self-care strategy.
Drinking isn’t just accepted; it’s almost expected as we shrug off another week in the parenting trenches. The rise in ‘Mummy needs a wine’ and ‘This is mummy’s juice’ social media memes, as well as mum drinking websites, suggests there’s the increase in alcohol consumption presented as a solution to the challenges of parenting.
Senior Research Fellows Dr Sandra Kutsche and Dr Anne-Marie Laslett are the co-authors of a recent Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) paper, which provides concerning insights.
Dr Laslett says the ‘mummy drinking culture’ portrays “alcohol as essential to solving problems, dealing with stress, and socialising, and it may encourage drinking at risky levels.”
Rethinking drinking as a parent
The reality is that parenting isn’t easy. Australian television and radio presenter Yumi Stynes certainly agrees. She shared her Personal Story with us when reflecting on motherhood and her relationship with alcohol :
‘Being a woman is like being everything for everyone. So, you’re not just a playmate; You are the teacher, the chef and the cleaner. There are a bunch of roles that everyone wants you to fill, and they’re almost infinite. So, you never really get to knock-off for the day. And I think that what alcohol sometimes provides for people is a chance to be done for the day.’
Feeling that parenting is a never-ending cycle is natural and expected. But, the experts agree that reaching for alcohol won’t necessarily make it easier.
The CAPR report concedes that while social connection and support for parents is important, alcohol shouldn’t need to be an essential part of that support.
“Mothers’ events should emphasise the value of shared conversations among adults about common concerns, problem solving and networking. They should not be primarily promoting alcohol as an aid or the solution,” stated Dr Laslett.
They’re not alone in their observations and concerns. Hello Sunday Morning friends and The Sober Awkward podcasters Victoria Vandstone and Lucy Good share honest conversations with fellow parents who’ve had similar realisations and focussing on making changes.
Other parents also grapple with concerns that their own drinking at social events could be influencing their children’s future drinking behaviour.
Many of our Hello Sunday Morning community shared their concerns about not being present for their children’s milestones and special moments. They’ve focussed on re-setting drinking habits to counter the weekend hangovers which are making mum’s taxi trips and family care more challenging.
Before reassessing her relationship with alcohol, mum Jada Bennet-Cross recalled “Wine o’clock was always on my mind and when 5pm came around I took that as my cue for freedom. I started to drink myself into a state of numbness, and used it as my coping mechanism for motherhood.”
Concerned that she was “reaching for wine to cope with stresses,” Jada made the decision to revisit her relationship with alcohol.
Others in the Hello Sunday Morning community have made similar decisions, concerned they’re compromising their children’s attentive supervision and care, while some have assessed how alcohol may harm their health as caregivers.
It’s enough for many parents to put the bottle back in the fridge, and ask, “Why bother drinking?”
Take the edge of parenting with sober curious strategies
The good news is, there’s support and strategies on hand to help inspire change.
Now that we’re celebrating end-of-school year milestones, there’s a growing population of parents hoping to maintain this new approach to how often, or how much they drink when socialising.
Making a change doesn’t need to be isolating or intimidating.
Try these 5 tips to take confident steps for an alcohol-free parenting life:
- Swap your drinking vessels
Instead of reaching for the wine glass to keep you company during tasks, wrap your hands around a favourite mug of herbal tea or hot chocolate. Treat yourself to a funky new cup to mark the change, and keep it in a prominent place to stay the course as you move away from alcohol.
- Change your venue
If there’s a pattern of wine with the mums at a certain location, introduce a new venue. An after school hangout at a new playground or skate park, or a beach or bush walk with the kids, in place of gathering at the kitchen table, may help things along. Or create a ‘new event’ like a group bike ride, or a trip to the movies as ways to re-set the kid-friendly social scene.
- Say no and just don’t go
If the pressure to drink feels too overwhelming, it is OK to decline. If the parenting dynamics are reliable, you could arrange for your children to stay for a time and pop by later and collect them. Or text your decline for a wine, and offer to catch up for an early morning walk with kids instead.
- Host your own alcohol-free event
Let your fellow school mums know ahead of time your intentions that you’re making a change. They might be considering the same thing and be keen to join you. Swap the cocktail mixers for a cuppa and cake, or change the time you usually gather from afternoon or evening to a morning event.
- Have an exit strategy
If you find the temptation of one glass of wine too hard to say no to, plan for an early departure as the champagne appears. You could even ask a trusted friend to stay on with your children if you feel comfortable. To help you along with an early exit, why not anticipate a pre-planned family event, or there’s a hot meal waiting that you need to head head home to.
You’re not alone when you change your relationship with alcohol as a parent.
The Daybreak app provides encouraging and non-judgemental support for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol, including parents.