Wine Is Not Necessary for The First Day of School

It's that time of year again, where we post cute pictures of our kids, heading back to school. I did it, with my son bound for seventh grade (how did that happen?)

The past few years we've seen moms posting their "first day of school" pics too, along with messages like "Mom's freedom!" while she holds a glass, or bottle of wine. PopSugar ran this gallery of " 14 Photos of Moms Celebrating Their 'First Day of Freedom' After Their Kids Go to School. An excerpt:

"From getting your ability to finish a cup of coffee or pee in peace back to being able to finish one coherent thought without being interrupted by a "Moooooooom!," there are so many reasons to celebrate the first day of school — or as the below mamas like to brand it: "Mom's First Day of Freedom."

All of these moms are jumping for joy and sipping their beverages of choice in honor of the first day of the school year, and just seeing their happiness will make you want to scream, 'Cheers!' Happy new school year, mamas."

Can we talk about this for a minute?

First, the basics: I don't want to reference these women, because they are individuals, not brands. I generally try not to call in individuals because honestly they may not know how deep the mom-need-wine narrative is, and how harmful it can be during a time where alcohol use, binge drinking, and dependence is on the rise. They don't have editors and marketing departments, and in the case of individuals posting as individuals, they aren't making money off these messages.

But I believe brands, including those that are specifically geared toward women (PopSugar) should do better in stopping this tired and potentially dangerous "mommy needs wine" and "wine is freedom" content. 

Secondly, as I say every single day: we aren't prohibitionists. Everyone has a right to choose to drink or not drink. Criticizing the message isn't the same as criticizing the choice to drink.

The bigger question, culturally, is "Why do we continue to tell ourselves and each other this same old story?"

  • That moms and wine go hand-in-hand
  • That alcohol = freedom 
  • That alcohol = celebration
  • That kids "drive" us to drink (they don't)

Parenting is tough. I believe the alcohol jokes are just a shorthand to not talk about the real issues that we face, the ones hiding under the surface. It's a shorthand for connection, it's a shorthand for "relief," it's a shorthand for all the things we don't talk about.

It's boring. It's tired. And it's potentially dangerous.

See, alcohol is actually a drug. And when we treat it like an accessory, it makes it easier for us to turn to it and ignore the consequences and realities. Realities like this:

  • Female alcohol use disorder in the United States increased by 83.7% between 2002 and 2013, according to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
  • High-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women, is on the rise among women by about 58%, according to a 2017 study comparing habits from 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.
  • A 2018 study found a steep rise in the rate of alcohol-related ER visits between 2006 and 2014, and increases were larger for women than men.
  • Death from liver cirrhosis rose in women from 2000 to 2013. (Source: WebMD/ Alcohol Consumption Among Women On The Rise)

"But it's just a joke!"

"Lighten up!"

"You're the one with the problem. Not me."

But the thing is, I started out my journey making the same wine jokes. I would have held a letter board or a chalkboard sign had they been en vogue when my son started school. I would have made the jokes too. But not now. Not knowing what I know: the story of how so many women start drinking, and keep drinking, and end up even more depleted when then they stared. 

The issues that we're struggling with today as a country, the sheer numbers of women who are suffering, makes this topic an "us" issue, not a "them" issue. What if:

  • For every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there's a mom who is questioning why, these days, she is having that extra glass or three.
  • For every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there's a mom who is having trouble getting out of bed to take her kids to school because of the way the alcohol has left her exhausted and hurting.
  • For every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there's a mom desperately trying to change her relationship with alcohol, to do it while holding down one or more jobs, taking are of one or more kids, and doing it in a world that is not built to truly support parents? 

I believe this is all true. I know it -- from what I've lived and what I've seen in the rooms of recovery and online spaces of women wanting something else from their lives. Women who write to me every day and say, "How do I stop and stay stopped?

So I say: Maybe this back to school we tell a different story.

Maybe we need to all communicate by letter boards now. Maybe if we put the truth on them we can start having actual conversations about what's really going on. 

I'll start. Here's one.

Notice it doesn't say "Wine is bad. Moms who drink wine are bad."

It says "Moms don't need wine." It's a little sign in a sea of ones that tell us something else.