Last Friday, there was a 20/20 episode on Moms who struggle with drinking. It featured four moms - one of whom left her high powered job to stay home full time with her young daughter, and slipped into addiction to alcohol quickly. Another Mom had been drinking for over 20 years, and her family had finally had enough and sent her to rehab. Mary Karr - author of Lit and many other really fine memoirs was on to talk about her struggles with alcohol as a young mother. She is now 20 years sober. My friend Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, of the fabulous blog Baby on Bored (as well as three hysterically funny books about life and motherhood), was on as well, speaking about her struggles and exemplifying that life exists on the other side of the bottle.
I have conflicting emotions when I watch shows about mothers and drinking. I was on a show about mothers and drinking, for crying out loud, and I still feel really itchy about the media coverage on this topic.
I am pleased that the main stream media is talking about this problem. It's not a new problem; there have always been alcoholic mothers. For years they suffered in silence and shame - most of them still do. I believe strongly that the only way to combat addiction is to talk about it, shine a light on the problem and try to get more people to understand the true nature of addiction.
Beginning with the Diane Schuler tragedy last August, there has been increased media attention on Moms who drink. This is where the squirm factor starts for me. Alcoholic mothers face a double-whammy, in my opinion. Admitting you have a problem with alcohol is hard enough, without having fears that you will be branded a "bad mother". The fact that main stream media considers drinking moms headline worthy is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because at least we're talking about it. A curse because it heightens, in my opinion, the idea that Moms should somehow be exempt from the stresses and foibles that everyone else faces. Moms, quite simply, are the last to come apart, because they don't feel like they are allowed to fall to pieces.
We've come a long way, but the blueprint of the perfect mother, the woman who can do it all, still hangs over our heads. Many mothers I know still struggle against the notion that they should be able to do everything: raise kids, work full-time (or part-time), cook meals, keep house, manage school and activity schedules, bake a mean batch of brownies, keep fit, and give her man some good lovin' along the way. I'm being a little facetious, but you get the point: it's a tall order, and it's no wonder many mothers struggle. Alcohol winds its way into many women's lives when they become mothers, because it helps them hide from their fear that they don't measure up.
I have found an unbelievable community of women dedicated to busting the myth of the perfect Mom, both in my day-to-day life and online. Some are in in the recovery community as well, but many are Moms who write with honesty and love about the struggles of parenting. Social media outlets like blogging, facebook and twitter provide the perfect platform for a little honest sharing.
And then there are many, many Moms I meet who are struggling - with addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, shopping), depression and anxiety, who don't believe they can wave the white flag, because what would happen to the kids? What would her friends think? Everyone else makes it look so easy! They are far more frightened of being branded a bad mother than being branded alcoholic, depressed, addicted or afraid.
So, while we're shedding a light on the problem of women and addiction, let's also have a discourse about why women - mothers especially - fall into this perfection trap? Why do Moms feel that they are supposed to be impenetrable? Why do we put our hands up to our mouths in shock when we see a woman who left her high-powered job to stay home with her daughter full-time and she can't handle it? It wouldn't be nearly as newsworthy if a Dad left his job to stay home and couldn't hack it. Of course he couldn't, many of us would think. And why? Because women are somehow stronger? Better equipped to fend off addiction or depression?
I want to know what you all think. If you saw the 20/20 episode, or other recent media coverage about Moms who drink, what did you think? How does it make you feel? Shocked? Angry? Relieved?
Talk to me, people.
Edited to add: After reading some of the comments, I want to mention one other, very important, point about the 20/20 episode. Stefanie's part in that show was so important, I believe, because she demonstrates that you don't have to take the elevator of addiction all the way down to reach out for help, to get sober. She said one other extremely important thing, too, which was that the 'secret will keep you sick'. More and more, women are finding venues where they can reach out for help earlier in their struggle . The Yahoo board Stef co-founded - the Booze Free Brigade - is an example of a safe place women can come together to talk about alcohol without fear of judgment or alienation.