Unless you’ve stumbled upon or sought out so-called ‘Mummy Blogs’ (yep, this is a thing), you might not realise how many of them identify with the popularised link between parenting and alcohol. Or more specifically, the link between being a mother, and the resulting desire for alcohol.
The Wine O’Clock Club
There’s a real LOL behind many of the blog names… ‘Mummy Wants Wine', ‘Hurrah For Gin', and – refusing to dress it up at all – ‘The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club', to name a few examples. To be fair, they can be funny. There’s genuine warm-hearted wit and camaraderie to be found, but there’s also a not-so-subtle underlining of the Wine O’Clock ethos. Your two year old is rubbing dinner into his hair like shampoo while his older sister tries to glitter glue the hamster? Pass the bottle. LOL.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Except, the ‘we’re all in this together’ clink of virtual glasses can mask something darker. Parenting can be tough. When children are young, in particular, the gap between the parent you want to be and the one that stares hollow-eyed and exhausted before you in the mirror can seem like a vast gulf. Why isn’t this more fun? Why aren’t I more fun?
Like in so many stressful situations, the siren call of a glass of wine can be heard, cutting through and drowning out the sound of ‘In the Night Garden’ and a bedtime story being delivered through gritted teeth.
It’s okay though, because we’re all at it, apparently. That glass of wine or a quick G&T to take the edge off the day? Totally normal. There’s even advice suggesting that you pop the wine into the fridge when you fish out the hummus for afternoon snack time. Normal normal normal. Nothing to see here.
But for some, Wine O’Clock lost its LOL a long time ago. Rebecca is a stay-at-home mum of four-year old twins. She loves being a mother and enjoys bonding with other parents at toddler group, Fun Drum and all the other gatherings that bring parents and their preschool offspring together. They swap stories about potty training, lack of sleep and all the usual parenting highs and lows. Oh, and the ‘cheeky glass of wine’ that helps smooth over the chaos of the kid’s dinnertime.
But Rebecca colours when she remembers bringing up the teatime wine with one of her toddler group pals. “I mentioned the occasions when you grab a glass of Pinot Grigio along with the packet of fish fingers. The reaction of the person I was speaking with told me that everyone wasn’t doing that. I laughed and tried to pass it off as a joke, but I’m not convinced I pulled it off. It was one of my first defining moments, looking back. I was doing it, and I thought everyone else was as well.”
Blog Banter or Something Darker?
Like many, Rebecca had got sucked into the banter of the Mummy Wine Blogs and the roaring trade in faux-cute wooden kitchen signs declaring that ‘It’s Cocktail Hour Somewhere.’ For an ex-lawyer in a high-flying career, complete with after work drinks in cool bars, a glass of something alcoholic made the glitz-free job of being a parent to young kids seem a bit more glamorous.
“It started with once a week, usually on a Friday, to recapture that end-of-week buzz I remembered from work,” Rebecca recalls. “I’d make the kid’s pizza and have a glass of wine on the counter while I rolled the dough. It was Friday. We were all bushed from a busy week and I was happy to let the children watch a bit of television while I drank wine in the kitchen.”
Rebecca remembered that her husband was amused the first couple of times he came home from work and found the wine already open. “I gave a rueful, jokey eye-roll and said something about ‘mummy’s little helper’ being pressed into service early today and we laughed. It was a bad day.” But then David started to notice that it wasn’t the odd bad day, it was almost every day.
“When he pointed it out, I felt defensive and upset,” remembers Rebecca. “I wanted to be a good parent and I felt as though I was failing. I was also still convinced – at that point – that I wasn’t doing anything that every other stay-at-home-parent was doing.”
The First Red Flag Moment
By this point, Rebecca was pouring her first glass of wine at 4.00 pm. “I had a friend who called it ‘the witching hour’ when the children were tired, hungry and at their most challenging. I thought that a glass of wine stopped me from getting short-tempered. I was more relaxed. I thought that had to be a good thing.”
A turning point came when a neighbour popped round while the kids were tucking into their dinner. After a day at the beach, running in and out of the cold sea and warming back up finding shells and pebbles on the sand, everyone was tired and happy from a lovely day out. As a reward, Rebecca had opened a bottle of Cava and had consumed half of it by the time her neighbour appeared.
“It was instant, the realisation,” says Rebecca, still shaken by the memory. “Her face said everything. I felt as though a huge searchlight had shone on my face and everyone could see what a terrible parent I was.” The kids were tucking into sweetcorn and sausages, while Rebecca tried to make her neighbour a hot drink.
“I wasn’t falling-down drunk by any means, but I was nervous and jittery from the combination of being ‘found out’ and the several glasses of Cava I’d sunk. I couldn’t make a proper cup of coffee. I thought I’d show my neighbour that I was completely fine and in control by not using instant coffee, but getting the artisan grinder out of the cupboard and some whole coffee beans.”
Rebecca shakes her head at the memory. “It was awful. I couldn’t find the grinder. I put in too few beans, then too many. Things fell out of the fridge when I grabbed the milk. I was being ridiculously affectionate with the children, trying to show her that I wasn’t a terrible mother. I tried to explain what a lovely day we’d all had and started running through all of the educational, wholesome things I did with the children. I was desperately trying to erase the judgement that had already been cast. It was pathetic.”
The True Turning Point
The shock of this incident meant that Rebecca stopped immediately with the 4.00 pm drinking. “When I told David about it, he confessed that he’d been harbouring his own concerns about drinking around the children but he’d believed my airy explanations of ‘Wine O’Clock.’”
As time smoothed over the horror of being ‘found out’ by her neighbour, Rebecca drifted back to enjoying the odd glass of wine with the children’s dinner. “It was usually on a Friday, the night that I felt ‘allowed’ to do what I thought everyone else was doing – enjoying a glass of something alcoholic. But not always. And sometimes, it wasn’t just the one.”
It took a shot across the bow to change Rebecca’s course in a meaningful way. “Lou had been counting the coins in my purse and pretending to ‘go shopping’ for tins and packets of food in the cupboard. I was being the perfect parent, watching and playing along with her. The fact that I was holding a large glass of Rioja at the time was irrelevant. Suddenly, I heard her coughing and dashed over as she spluttered out one of the coins that she’d put in her mouth, pretending that they were sweets.”
The worry that one of her healthy, robust children might have an accident or need urgent medical attention bloomed at the front of Rebecca’s mind. “I knew that there were evenings – okay late afternoons – that I wouldn’t be able to drive the kids to hospital if I needed to. Or would I do it anyway? Would I be one of the people you read about in the paper, getting caught driving her kids somewhere while over the limit? Just because it’s to go to the GP’s surgery doesn’t make it any better.”
Rebecca settled her little girl and went into the bathroom. “I literally took the proverbial long, hard look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look like a sparkly mummy-blogger with Instagram hair and a sassy wit. I had red wine stains on my lips and various shades of anxiety swimming across my face like clouds.
“Being a member of the yummy-mummy, Wine O’Clock Club had left me anxious about someone catching me drinking at home during the daytime. It had made me paranoid that the mums at toddler group avoided playdates with my children because of my wisecrack about the Pinot Grigio. It had caused my husband to worry about how I was taking care of our children. It had – to my eternal shame – made my four year old draw a picture of me making dinner with a giant crayon glass of wine next to me.
“My wake-up call was loud and clear. I had been vanishing down internet rabbit holes of cool-mom, Prosecco-Time memes. But it wasn’t enough to go ahead and knock the 4.00 pm wine on the head: I needed to know why I had ended up like that if I was to avoid doing it again.”
Finding One Year No Beer – And Hope
When Rebecca found One Year No Beer, she felt relief and optimism. A community of people she could relate to and a goal: one year without alcohol.
“I started OYNB quietly. I told my husband, David, and was both pleased and a little sad at his enthusiastic support. I hadn’t realised that my daytime drinking had been causing him stress as he struggled to help me cope with bringing up young twins. With OYNB, I knew that I’d found my ‘safe place.’ Being part of OYNB helped me to stop judging myself and gave me the tools I needed to navigate an alcohol-free life.”
Rebecca identified the flashpoints within her life that would previously have thrust a bottle of wine into her hand, and learned how to channel positive energy into coping with them.
“I’ve started yoga, which seems like such a cliché!” Rebecca laughs. “I’m calmer and stronger, and yoga supports how OYNB is helping me to feel about myself. Three months in, giving up alcohol has made me feel much happier. I can’t help but feel amazed at how far I’ve come, being able to say that.”
Being a parent to young children comes with a myriad of ever-changing worries, and a sense of constant responsibility. But every parent also knows that there are moments of unadulterated joy and pure happiness. Mess, laughter, chaos, love. Those head-in-hands moments swiftly followed by the head-thrown-back-laughing ones.
“I know other parents cope with a glass of wine at the end of the day or a bit more at the weekend, but it wasn’t helping me cope at all, on reflection,” says Rebecca. “Trying to keep up with my idea of being a too-cool-for-school, Wine O’Clock mummy gave me something else to cope with.”
OYNB: Looking Forward
Looking forward to what happens after a year of no alcohol, Rebecca is understandably guarded. “I’m going to put my new yoga mindfulness to good use here,” she smiles. “Right now, I’m healthy, I’m happy and I enjoy every day without alcohol. I’m not perfect and there will be moments of exasperation, but it’s all about how I choose to handle them.
“I want to continue feeling like this. I want to carry on feeling in control and being an energetic, lively mum to my children. OYNB has given me the chance to press ‘reset’ on what was becoming a destructive pattern of drinking alcohol. Honestly? I count my blessings every single day.”