In our family, it is tradition for a host mother to offer all guest mothers a glass of wine immediately upon arrival. This is especially true if she has had to travel a long distance, or if it is after a certain time of night, or if she has the stressed-out face a mother typically gets when she’s just carried a toddler under one arm and an overnight bag under the other from the car while trying to manage the back door and keep her other kids from falling on the stairs.
When hearing the offer, the mom who’s just arrived typically breathes, “Yee-esss!” and, with a huge sigh of relief, heaves herself onto a chair while the kids scatter off to play with cousins and friends. For a few minutes, at least, she’s off-duty, able to settle in with other adult women and enjoy a sip or two.
My sister’s house is a great venue for this kind of greeting. About a year ago she moved into an early 20th century home with an actual bar, thought to once have been a speakeasy, just off of the living room. Wood-paneled walls, fun glassware, high stools, and a door that shuts: it’s the perfect place for the moms to hide out for a few minutes.
My daughter Clara must have gotten wise to the fact that the bar area is where the grownups share juicy conversation, because the last time I was at my sister’s house, chatting in the bar area with a couple of other women, she sneaked in behind me…and hid.
We walked back out a few minutes later, not realizing she was in there, and shut the door…and Clara couldn’t get it open. A few minutes later we heard her frantic knocking and opened the door, at which point she ran out, threw her arms around my legs, and shrieked “I got TRAPPED in the MOMS DRINKING ROOM!”
As you can imagine, the grown-ups got a good laugh over that one. But on my part, it was one of those uneasy laughs. Using the words “moms” and “drinking” together in the same sentence is touchy these days; full of what can feel like stuffy judgment and over-reactive fear on one side and overly-casual references to “mommy’s happy juice” and heavy binge drinking on the other.
It’s only too easy to wonder if, when I sit down to enjoy a glass of wine at night, I’m really just self-medicating myself out of perfectionism-induced stress, as a recent article in the Daily Beast suggested. And whether my daughter, at her tender age, has already absorbed the message that motherhood = drinking, of the alcoholic sort.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized a few things.
First of all, Clara is four. She doesn’t know the difference between drinking soda and drinking wine (she’s not allowed to have either) – she only knows that in her experience, when groups of adults get together, the moms tend to go into one area together and have a beverage. She meant “the moms drinking room” completely literally; not “the moms-getting-drunk room.”
Second, there are many reasons somebody might enjoy a regular glass of wine, and I don’t buy into the idea that all moms are doing it for the same reasons.
I’m not particularly perfectionistic, and trying to ‘have it all’ isn’t the sort of thing that drives me to the wine cabinet. If anything, I’m more likely to crave goodies – whether they be chocolate, chips, or a glass of Malbec – when I’m bored, so that’s the kind of trigger I have to look out for when it comes to over-indulging of any sort.
But that’s not a symptom of motherhood; it’s a basic human foible that’s true for many of us. Mothers or not.
Third, no matter what our reasons are for having that glass of wine, it’s important that we’re honest with ourselves about it.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I’ve just had a long, stressful day or drive with a bunch of kids, that my host’s offer of a glass of wine can shine like a beacon of warmth and relief.
But that’s only partly because of the alcohol content, right? To me, offering a guest a glass of wine is a way of caretaking, a way of saying “You’re here, now you can relax. Forget about everything and just settle in.”
I feel the same way about the way a glass of wine can mark the beginning of my “off duty” portion of the evening. It’s not about dulling the senses, but about celebrating another long day of work behind me, and settling into the best part of the day.
And the thing I most want to make sure of is that that’s what my daughter sees. That to her, the “moms drinking room” looks like a special ritual between friends, not a dark secret or a place to drown sadness and stress.
Because that’s what I want it to be for myself, too – not a way to escape life or a cure for perfectionism or a way to self-medicate or something I need, but simply one more small pleasure that I want to sometimes enjoy as a grown-up human being.
Being a grownup is complicated, and it’s not always easy to know the exact right thing to do. But I can start by being honest with myself, and careful about what I say and how I say it.
And maybe, making sure my “OhmygodYes!” to that offered glass of wine isn’t quite so enthusiastic.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Century Council or any Century Council member.*