Disease & Illness

Why I Find Stealth Drinking Products And #WineMom Culture To Be So Problematic

Here's what busy moms really need.

The glass my sister-in-law bought me shortly after I popped out my child was large and garish. The stem was slender, making the bowl of the glass seem especially enormous. The glass was painted in a scribble of different colors and — emblazoned across the front, in a loopy font — it said, “Mom’s Sippy Cup.”

I placed it in the glass-front cabinet along with the rest of the stemware we never used, price tag stickers still affixed to their bases. When it fell into the sink after a party a year or two later, shattering into several pieces, I actually muttered out loud, “good riddance,” while dropping the shards into the trash.

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I have been known to enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage. My husband and I used to tour vineyards around New Jersey, doing tastings and occasionally making our own wine. These days, I might have one or two drinks on a rare night out, or host a playdate where we parents gorge ourselves on pizza and beer while our kids get drunk on apple juice and run around screaming for several hours.

But there’s something about #WineMom culture, and about the stealth-drinking products that accompany it, that bothers me. The breathlessly enthusiastic coverage of flasks that look like suntan lotion bottles or binoculars. The existence of beer holders for your shower or books of martini recipes just for moms. The jokes about boxed wine and juice boxes and the repeated reassurances that “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” The insinuation that I need easy access to alcohol at every single moment of every single day in order to have a good time or — more than that — to survive.

I don’t mean to sound like a wet blanket, but I can’t help but find these memes and these listicles and these products — oh my god, the endless products … the aprons and the oven mitts and, of course, the cutesy wine glasses — to be hopelessly tone-deaf. Because, sure, a glass of wine with a nice meal after a long day can be nice. Especially after your 4-year-old just blanketed the entire living room in confetti.

But maybe I wouldn’t want a drink — and the confetti wouldn’t be there — if I could afford to pay for after-care on top of the already-exorbitant preschool tuition. Maybe I wouldn’t feel pulled in so many directions if women in dual-income families weren’t still expected to take the lead on parenting and housework and all of the emotional labor that comes with it. Maybe if women didn’t feel as if they were drowning, there wouldn’t be so many memes and advertisements encouraging them to drown their sorrows.

And doesn’t #WineMom culture only make things worse? There’s a line between the occasional glass of wine and full-on binge drinking, and the Sudski Shower Beer Holder, just to mention one stealth-drinking product, crossed it about 25 miles ago.

Of course, my reasons for loathing these tacky products comes from a very personal place.

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The Presence Of Binge Drinking In My Life

My first memories of what alcoholism can do to a person, to a family, are from when I was a teen. My mother was the primary caregiver for my grandfather, who was still living alone in a three-bedroom house. I remember how he would shout at her over the phone, his voice slurred, when she accused him of having had a drink. When we went over there, she would find half-empty liquor bottles in the backs of filing cabinets, in the pockets of his suit jackets. When I drove him to the dry cleaners or to the supermarket, my mother would instruct me not to let him slip into the liquor store next door. But how could I, just a young teenager, exert any authority over my grandfather?

When I was 19, I fell in love with a man who drank too much. When I slept over at his place, he would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and, drunk and confused, urinate on the carpet beside his bed. The brief relationship was a tumultuous one, as he was also emotionally and sexually abusive. How much his alcoholism played into that I can’t begin to guess. But it was just one more dark layer among many.

Several years after that, I came to care for another man who grappled with alcoholism, though his dependence upon it was much more unobtrusive. When I read about the existence of a beer holder for the shower, I immediately thought of him. He used to drink in the shower. Putting off drinking until he was clean and dry and dressed was just too long to wait, I guess.

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How Binge Drinking Is Becoming A Public Health Crisis

Drinking to excess has always left a bad taste in my mouth. I am downright puritanical in my attitude toward substances that make you lose control, that make you act like an idiot, that make you tear your own life apart. I am disgusted when someone can’t seem to imagine a good time without a glass of something boozy. Can’t people see how such a dependency can be dangerous? Can’t people see that the glamorization of binge drinking — so inherent in #WineMom culture and in our culture as a whole — is even worse?

In 2017, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Psychiatry showed that there had been an increase in high-risk drinking, especially among women (a nearly 58% increase within the space of a decade), older adults, racial/ethnic minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Researchers speculated that the normalization of drinking among women, in addition to the stress associated with their pursuing a career and raising a family, could have played a part. And a fact sheet published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shares even more troubling statistics, including the sad tidbit that more than 10% of U.S. children live with a parent who has an alcohol problem.

Meanwhile, a quick internet search for secret flasks shows me that I can sneak my liquor around in products made to look just like bangles, lotion bottles, shampoo bottles, flashlights, umbrellas and even tampons, for the love of God. When I Google #WineMom memes, I find “Mommy Juice” wine glasses, T-shirts that shout, “Mama Needs Wine” and “Less Whine More Wine,” coasters that say, “Mom’s Wine Goes Here,” and even silicone caps for your already-opened wine bottles that read, “My 5 to 9” — a product I suppose you only need if you can’t manage to finish the entire bottle.

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Even Hollywood has us covered, with smash hits like “Bad Moms” conveying the message that, hey, we deserve this. We need this.

But what do moms really need?

“I think these mommy-driven jokes about moms is a way in pop culture to talk about stress that’s less shameful,” reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks told Good Morning America. “We need to do a better job to step up as educators and experts to provide tools.”

It makes sense. In Motherly’s 2018 State of Motherhood Survey, mothers overwhelmingly called out a culture that held motherhood up as the ultimate paragon of virtue, yet simultaneously failed to actually support mothers in any way. Survey respondents bemoaned the lack of paid family leave, affordable child care, and flexible work hours. Meanwhile, even in dual-income families, women continue to take on the bulk of household responsibilities, while men still somehow manage to indulge in more leisure time.

Is it any wonder moms are eager to grasp onto anything that promises to take the edge off?

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Meanwhile, sociologist Caitlyn Collins, author of “Making Motherhood Work,” urges moms to be less hard on themselves.

“I want American mothers to stop thinking that somehow their conflict is their own fault, and that if they tried a little harder, got a new schedule, woke up a little earlier every morning, using the right planner or the right app, that they could somehow figure out the key to managing their stress,” she told Psychology Today. “This is a structural problem. So it requires structural solutions. No individual solution is going to fix this.”

Until these structural support systems are in place, however, I can’t help but think that companies will continue to hawk products that promise to give moms what they need and #WineMom memes will continue to normalize binge drinking and media companies, our own site included, will continue to cover it all in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind of way that tells mom it’s all OK, despite what seems to be a growing public health crisis.

But make no mistake — these jokes about our desperate need for a drink or five are a band-aid, a passive acceptance of a societal shortcoming we feel we cannot change. And the more these irresponsible memes and products proliferate, the more we’ll come to believe the lie behind them — that this is just the way things are. That there’s no other way. No better way.

Then we’ll really be stuck.

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