Friday, March 15, 2013

Shame On You, Katie Couric

What's the big deal about Moms who drink?

I want there to be more discussion about this, and not for the reason you may suspect.  Many people think that because I'm an alcoholic, I'm cynical about the press drinking Moms seem to be getting these days.

That's not actually true.

My friend Stefanie Wilder-Taylor was on Katie Couric's talk show recently, so of course I watched with interest.  Stefanie is a pioneer in getting the word out about women, moms and drinking, and a pro at handling media appearances (you may have seen her on Good Morning America, Larry King Live and/or 20/20, among others).  She has helped countless women with her brave, funny and approachable spirit, and I'm very grateful she is putting herself out there with such grace.

I'm especially grateful Stefanie is a seasoned media veteran, because I was taken aback by the tone of Katie Couric's interview with Stefanie and other brave Moms coming forward to have a frank discussion about motherhood, drinking and drug use.

Here is a five minute excerpt of Stefanie's portion of the show:

 "Marile Borden is a Boston mom of two who organized a Facebook page called, “Moms Who Need Wine,” which currently has more than 650,500 followers. Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is a mom from Los Angeles who used to enjoy a drink or two at play dates, but gave up alcohol after a big wake-up call."

I recently heard Katie Couric speak at a blogging conference, and I was impressed. She was savvy, down-to-earth, accessible and funny.

I'm not a fan of the talk-show-host Katie. I realize she needs ratings, but I'm chagrined (but not surprised) that to get them she is sharpening her elbows and playing dirty, trying to pit Marile and Stefanie against each other (unsuccessfully, I'm happy to say, because of both of their professionalism and poise) like some Jerry Springer knock-off.

This show was a great opportunity for informed dialogue. Instead we get Katie mimicking swigging wine from a juice-box shaped wine container and badgering BOTH guests.  Katie Couric is trying to create sides in the issue of drinking Moms, and that gets us exactly nowhere.

Despite the middle-school-playground way this show was handled by the Katie Couric show, it raises some important issues.

Is it odd to have a Facebook page called "Moms Who Need Wine" with so many followers?  Is there something wrong with this?

My answer?  Absolutely not.

I would like to believe we live in a world where grown women (and men) can make their own informed, educated decisions about how to handle alcohol responsibly. Does the entire world have to curb their own behaviors because alcoholics exist?  I don't believe so.

Perhaps a better title for "Moms Who Need Wine" would be "Moms Who Want Wine" - but then, of course, it wouldn't be as catchy (or garner as much media attention - props to Marile for the name .. and I'm not being facetious... it's marketing genius).  I have a good friend who writes for their website, and it's not all about drinking.  It's also about the demands, joys, trials and small victories of motherhood.

Other guests on the show included Moms who take Adderall (an ADHD medication), anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs, including one Mom who went from Adderall to meth.

These are ALL serious and important issues: anxiety, depression, addiction.  But what was the title of the show?

"Mommy's Little Helper", with the byline: "What Would You Do To Become A Better Mom?"

And we wonder why women are so concerned with stigma?  About any of these issues?

People say they are tired of hearing about whether or not it's okay for Moms to drink.  I'm tired of it, too.  Do we get up in arms if a man (or woman) has a glass of wine or two over a business lunch?  Sure, they may not be as productive or focused when they get back to work, but are they a danger to themselves or others?  Full time Moms (notice I didn't say stay-at-home?) are, to over-simplify a bit, at work all the time.  I don't believe having a glass of wine or two - responsibly - at home or at a play date is any different than anyone having a drink with colleagues.

Can we please stop the media hype on this issue and focus on where the line gets blurred?  When Moms (or anyone, for that matter) get dependent - emotionally or physically - on a drink or a drug to "get them through the day".  When that relaxing glass of wine (or pill) starts to erode your ability to function? Or your peace of mind?

A Mom who is drinking, or taking needed medication, is not automatically putting her kids in danger, and the media hype about this issue only drives the people with a real problem deeper into the shadows.  Katie Couric's line of questioning for each guest seemed to be: "well, couldn't your 'symptoms' just be the normal stresses of life? I feel those things and I'm not popping pills/drinking".

Can we drop the "Better Mom" wars?  Shame on Katie Couric and her producers for exacerbating this Quixotic phenomenon.  Should a Mom with post-partum depression think she should just "buck-up"?  Should a Mom with crippling anxiety feel she's weak if she needs medication to cope?  Should a Mom who likes to have a glass of wine with friends feel judged?


Not anymore than an addict or alcoholic should feel shame about the disease of addiction.  Being a "better Mom" has NOTHING to do with responsible recreational use, anymore than addiction makes someone a bad mom.  Addicts and alcoholics have a disease - we don't set out to ruin our lives or put our children in danger.

Having said that - and this is important - it IS the responsibility of an addict or alcoholic to get help and get well, once the problem is apparent. Any and all measures should be taken - as drastic as needed - to help someone stop abusing drugs and/or alcohol.  A disease does not give anyone the right to shirk getting well.

 So how do you know? How do you figure out if you're heading for trouble with drinking?  From my own experience - and the shared experiences of many other women - there are some things to look out for:

  • Drinking every day at around the same time.
  • Thinking about your nightly drink(s) earlier in the day.
  • Planning activities around drinking/avoiding friends who don't drink "enough" or activities where there won't be any drinking.
  • Sneaking sips/glasses.
  • Lying about how much you're drinking.
  • Drinking alone more than occasionally.
  • Feeling shame about your drinking.
  • Having memory lapses or "grey-outs" (where you can only remember parts of things).
  • Increased anxiety, sleeplessness or irritability when you can't (or don't drink).
  • Always finishing your drink, and noticing others' drinking - comparing your drinking to others.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a start. Even one of these symptoms could be an indication that drinking is becoming a problem. There is a school of thought that if you're an alcoholic you can't stop drinking without help, and this may be true.  But there is no harm is helping people understand early warning signs. 

Without informed, judgment-free discourse about difficult topics like depression, anxiety, alcoholism and addiction, we don't have a chance of healing. 

And, please, in the name of all that's sane, can we please leave Perfect Motherhood out of this discussion? 

While we're at it, can we leave it out of ALL discussions?


  1. That whole drinking at home thing has always bugged me. I'd rather that everyone who drank a lot DID do at home, even alone, rather than out in public and then get behind the wheel of a car.

    Comedian Sam Kinnison got sober, was in a car he wasn't driving, and was hit by a drunk driver. And died.

  2. Very well stated! I am SO OVER mom judgements! Motherhood is not a contest. We shouldn't be judging each other and tearing each other down. We should be supporting each other as women and mothers! Yes I was an alcoholic...I would have checked *yes* on everything on you list back when I was drinking. That doesn't mean that I'm not a good mom or even a good person. It just means that I have a life-threatening problem, that once had me.

  3. Personally I was not as offended as some by this clip of the show...personally I have no problem with anyone who wants to have a drink once in a while and I know plenty of people with dependency issues who can not/should not drink at all. I do have a problem with the Facebook page and the title "Moms Who Need Wine" and the constant reference by mother's that "I need a drink" after a tough day of parenting. Parenting is tough, it is the hardest job you will ever do and for the most part a pretty thankless task but the idea that it can't be done without a drink at the end of the day annoys me. If you NEED wine isn't that truly the definition of an alcoholic. You may "want" wine, you may enjoy "wine" and please have at it! But I don't understand why it has to be coupled with parenting all the time. Can't they be separate? Can't parenting just be tough, can't moms just want support, friendship, a place to vent without the reference to alcohol. As a mom I am insulted by women who reference their need for a drink due to their kids. Really, your children should make you happy, they should give you joy, they should amaze you....and yes drive you crazy sometimes but acting like they make you "need a drink" just makes them sound like a burden in my opinion. If you're children are a burden to have bigger issues than whether you want a drink. Trust me, as hard as some days are, the years go by way too fast...and as a mom of older children (who are tough in their ever changing ways) I would give anything to have babies and toddlers again who exhaust me and try my patience but never made me NEED a drink. There will be plenty of time for drinks (and a social life and all those selfish things we want for ourselves) later..for now enjoy your babies and toddlers and children...18 years goes by in an instant

  4. My distaste for Katie Couric runs far deeper than this (troubling) interview segment.

    With formal and informal education on the disease of alcoholism, namely as it applies to women, I concur with your sentiments entirely. I do not think a day goes by where I am not saying outloud to someone; "I know we have come far in our understanding of addiction, but the reality is that where this deasease applies to women, ESPECIALLY stay at home moms who volunteer time at school and church (as I did),, the disease begins to take on a stigma that pushes (we) women deeper into our addiction.

    Women, as a significant majority, are STILL NOT, TODAY, 2013, understood when they reach out (or tragically do not reach out for) help.

    But where is society, those with whom we include in our daily circles , getting our information?

    Katie Couric, the media in all of its penetrating influence.

    So, with one blog piece at a time, we desperately attempt to squelch the ignorance, misinformation out there and welcome our sisters into this fellowship

  5. Ellie,
    I watched that show and it really bothered me but I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. You nailed it. Thanks for your great insight on this!

  6. Thank you, Ellie. I love writing for the Wine Moms. And I think a glass of wine before dinner or with dinner is a gourmet experience. The Wine Moms is a site for Moms to gather, share, and appreciate good wine! Their wine experts review wines and their writers make us laugh, and we all benefit. Katie tried to rouse the rabble, but thanks to the lovely Marile and Stephanie, Katie failed. Molly Campbell

  7. I kind of agree with the first Anonymous commenter above. We shouldn't be saying we NEED a drink BECAUSE of our children. I think it's because of our inability to understand and react to our stresses the correct way. I am an alcoholic, mostly SAHM, in recovery. I would start drinking around dinner time, not because of my kids being home from school, but because I didn't know how to handle the daily stressors of everyday life without numbing my stress and feelings with alcohol. I was able to parent my children, volunteer at school and get my work done, all while getting full blown drunk every night after the kids were in bed. But I was still a good mom. I think it's fine for a person to "unwind" at the end of the night with a drink because for some people, they can stop at one drink and it's not about avoiding the feelings inside. I unfortunately, have the disease of alcoholism and couldn't stop at one drink and ran from my feelings by using alcohol.

    Drinking and motherhood have nothing to do with each other.

  8. I cringe when I read someone typing "Is it wine 'clock" or the like, it irritates me to see people using wine or alcohol to buffer emotions.However, this my own issue which is seated in my own alcoholism and my past behavior with booze.
    Just because I sought escape doesn't mean everyone else is.....unfortunately this show had an opportunity it didn't take.
    Mock-chugging boxed wine just made Katie look foolish, frankly any woman worth her salt would have poured it into a glass first :)
    I applaud the women on the show for remaining professional and shake my head at the vapid nature of the show when it could have been a rich episode.

  9. A better and MUCH more constructive conversation might be around why mothers feel so stressed, and why so many feel the need to turn to these means of coping with the stresses of motherhood. Do we get the message culturally and from the media that we need to be perfect as mothers? Is this attainable? Is it socially acceptable to say "I'm struggling and I need help? I need someone to talk to who I can be honest with, and who can be honest with me? Do mothers get the support they need from their spouses, workplaces, friends and communities? Can moms create communities to support and connect with one-another? It can be hard. I found that kind of support on the BFB, but in my own neighborhood, sadly, I have very much NOT found that kind of support.
    Personally, motherhood brought with it significant feelings of isolation. I worked full time and the time and energy I used to give to my friendships was the first thing to go. It s constant struggle to feel connected with other people (adults) with whom I can be honest, who I trust, and who provide an ear, humor, support and encouragement in a meaningful way. Motherhood can just be really lonely, exhausting and isolating. Sad but true.

  10. Additionally (sorry - got interrupted before I was done with my thoughts), Katie totally botched an opportunity to reach women who are struggling with addiction in a compassionate constructive way. The conversation was absent of what you eloquently described as: "informed, judgement-free discourse". The segment (all but Stephanie who was refreshingly honest and calm) was a big disappointment. Boo.

  11. Great post, Ellie, and these comments are all so thoughtful. I am a mother that took the drinking playdate a little too far, and I haven't had a drink in three and a half years. I agree with Meghan, that KC really missed a good opportunity to reach out to mothers like me, who just couldn't drink like that.

    I have no problem when other mothers drink responsibly in the presence of their kids. I often find myself relaxing with others who are enjoying a glass of wine, even if I am not having some. I have to admit to getting a little jealous, but for me it is a slippery slope. But in general, I feel as Ellie does.

  12. Great post Ellie and so well articulated. Love the debate here in the comments as well. Most of all I love your list of things to look out for, to figure out if you have crossed that mystical line from normal functional drinking to troubled dysfunctional drinking. It's a blurry line and I really believe that only the drinker themselves can figure out if it has been crossed. Great post and as always LOVE your work! xxxx

  13. Katie Couric blew it but I have to say - I really don't recognize her anymore from her Today show and CBS news days. She's turned into Cotton Candy Katie to be a talk show host and it's a really odd fit. It's really painful to me how she's had to change herself to do this talk show.

    I also think she's a bit out of her element here - I don't know how she can relate to the suburban stay at home mom experience. She just doesn't get it anymore than I could get what it means to climb the ladder in the news profession and the hours and sacrifice it takes to reach the top in her profession like she has - and she is a single mom on top of that. She was never home full time with kids and when I write this I am NOT saying she doesn't love her kids or wasn't a "good' mom. She just approached motherhood from a different angle so the whole idea of a playdate is probably alien to her - drinking during a play date even more bizarre to her. Remember - this was a mom who went back to work asap to pursue her career and lost her husband (children's father) so the downtime with her kids was minimal. She had to savor every moment she had with her kids.

    Contrast this motherhood experience with the one of the stay at home mom who gave up her career to be at home with kids. You go from a hundred miles an hour pursuing your career to being at home with kids.

    (((((crickets))))) and no control whatsover over your life as you used to know it. Boredom and frustration inevetably set in and combine this with unresolved issues - you turn to other things to deal with them: wine, food, anything.

  14. I also want to add a few more things.

    Stephanie was a great representative role model of us out here who stopped the Mommy Gets Drunk thing. She was poised and confident and she looks freaking fantastic physically!

    No matter how you slice it if you're drinking at a playdate you're not clear headed and you're not at the top of your game to keep track of the kids.

    Moms numbing themselves is nothing new. Women at home full time in the 60s drank and drugged out of frustration too. The term "mommys little helper" was a nickname for Valium - the drug of choice at the time. And Betty Friedan wrote a fantastic book about this whole phenomenon that helped launch the feminism movement. It's called The Feminine Mystique.

  15. wowza. I had no idea. Great responses, Ellie. You're so spot on. Of course. Thank you.

  16. Great explanation of the lack of issues between alcoholics in recovery and those who drink.
    I would add that I think the whole "wine o'clock" and "moms need wine to deal with this whine" is an easy social media joke to make that other moms will say OH ME TOO when the majority of those people aren't even drinking or have a sip of beer as they make or agree with the comment. It's just one of the quickest ways to get likes.
    I think it's a cultural phenomenon like when they did the studies of college students and found most people weren't actually drinking as much as they said they were drinking. Of course, once they used that in a campaign, college kids started drinking more because we want to be "cool"- oops! And I wonder if that will/does happen with moms too because we are not immune to a desire to seem hip, and alcohol is still tied into that in the US at least. This is something we SHOULD be doing.
    But I think that's an aside to moms struggling with alcoholism. They exist just like in any other population, and as in college, I think it may be easy to hide because the jokes are so prominent but that's not the fault of the websites I don't think. However, I would be shocked if statistically, moms suffer from alcoholism greater than the 10% it is in the general population. But the line between social drinkers and heavy drinkers? And what that would mean for kids? Is that different than college kids who drink more and come out of college and go back to social drinking because they're moms?

    1. Yes to the idea that mums will say things they don't mean literally. For example,"I think I need a stiff drink and a lie down!" or "Chocolate. I NEED chocolate after this one." "Please tell me there's some cake in the house..."

      These are all phrases I, personally, would say. Now, to be honest, I am less likely to joke about having a drink since I've got to know Ellie because I am more aware. BUT, it is shorthand for "I am having a bad day, the kids have been more awkward than normal, I have had more to deal with than usual, and I am not coping very well. I would also like this day to be over so I don't have to be pinging from one thing to the other any more. Oh, but I know it's not THAT bad, and it'll be better tomorrow, so I am just going to have a little joke about it, lighten the mood and make me feel better and more able to cope."

      Anonymous said above, "Really, your children should make you happy, they should give you joy, they should amaze you....and yes drive you crazy sometimes but acting like they make you "need a drink" just makes them sound like a burden in my opinion. If you're children are a burden to have bigger issues than whether you want a drink."

      Sometimes it *IS* a burden. There is a burden of responsibility, and sometimes it is TOUGH. At least, for me it is. I adore my son - he is charming, kind, loving, intelligent. He is also very sociable, so he wants company all the time, to have someone interact ALL the time, is high energy ALL the time. He also doesn't sleep well, so I am running half-empty a lot of the time.

      Yes, I would love motherhood to be a joy, and a delight the whole time. But I am being honest, there are some days that I count the hours to bedtime. And I reach out to other mums, asking if they feel the same, by joking "There's a glass of wine in the fridge with my name on it if I survive this..."

    2. Couldn't. Agree. More.

  17. wow. great post ellie. you are spot on.

  18. "Full time Moms (notice I didn't say stay-at-home?) are, to over-simplify a bit, at work all the time. I don't believe having a glass of wine or two - responsibly - at home or at a play date is any different than anyone having a drink with colleagues."

    Overall I liked this article, but as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom I find it ironic that you made the above statement in an article where you are saying we should stop the Mommy wars.

    Sorry, but ALL moms are "at work all the time". I was raised by a working mom, and she regularly tells me that what I do at home all day with my 3 kids is in fact often way MORE work in many ways than what she did at the office when we were young. Just because we don't leave the house every morning or collect a paycheck doesn't mean we're not working. Demeaning the work that stay-at-home moms do at home only succeeds in demeaning the work that ALL women (and men too!) do at home. Whether they are doing it full time or part time at home doesn't really matter.

    Oh, and I don't see why being a stay-at-home mom means I'm somehow doing something wrong if I choose to have a glass of wine over a playdate lunch with a friend. Everyone needs to know their own tolerances, but seriously? One glass of wine over the course of a 2 or 3 hour playdate doesn't impair my ability to watch my kids or drive home after.

    Again, overall the article is good, but some of your language is actually working against your otherwise very well stated point.

    1. Holly -

      I think perhaps you misunderstood my phraseology? By full-time moms I meant Moms that don't go to an outside job, who are home with their kids full time. I don't like the phrase "stay-at-home" Mom b/c it's so passive, in my opinion it makes it sound like we just sit at home...


    2. I know what you meant but if that's a full time mom, am I a part time mom? I work full time outside the home, but would argue that I'm certainly a full time mom too, don't/can't/won't leave the mom part behind while at work.

      Even when someone tries to dispel the mommy wars, trying to elevate the SAHM terminology, it then demeans others. I don't really feel demeaned but misunderstood, and it makes me realize part of why mommy wars continue.

      I would also note that virtually no one in the professional world drinks during the day anymore. I have wine during dinner meetings but never lunch where I'll need to go back to work and be productive. Likewise, at home I enjoy wine at home at night or when out with friends. But play date drinking seems like someone who needs to deal with the issues causing them to need instead of just want one.

      But what do I know, I'm just a part time mom ;)


    3. Anita -

      Again, I think perhaps we're putting too much weight on terminology. I feel like it's gotten to the point we can't even TALK about this subject without people's feeling getting hurt, without someone feeling disparaged. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. And the post is about drinking, and the stigma Moms feel (either because they drink or because they don't) and how divided we fall. United - coming together to have an informed discourse about ANY topic - we grow. I work from home and raise my kids full time - I don't know what the "term" for that is (don't really care, actually) but the point is that we ALL work hard. No matter what our circumstances are. Inside the home or outside it doesn't matter one whit. This show and it's slant of "what would you do to be a better Mom" and pitting women of different viewpoints against each other instead of bringing them together does us ALL a dis-service. As does the "mommy wars" - WHAT war? I don't know anyone who judges another Mom for her choices to work or not work, but I know plenty of Moms who FEEL judged. Where is that coming from? And why can't we stop it?

      I appreciate your comment, and I'm sorry if my words made you feel excluded or less-than. I can say with absolute certainty that was never, ever my intent.


  19. Ah! Yes! That makes much more sense! :-) I thought it was really odd that you'd say something negative about SAHM when the whole theme of the article was anti Mommy wars. lol Thanks for the clarification. This was the first time I've read your blog, so I am not familiar with your style, terminology, story, etc. Adding your blog into whatever I use to replace Google reader. If a blog is good enough to make me post a reply on my first read it's a keeper. :-)

    1. Oh, good! I'm glad I could clear it up .. and I'm happy you took the time to comment to give me a chance to explain! :)

      Thanks for your comment and for reading! I appreciate it!


  20. I just wish we could all take the advice we give to our children and Be Kind And Respectful. Treat others the way we want to be treated. Love Your Neighbor. I sort of feel like John Lennon... But really think about that. Being a mother is so wonderful and trying and exhausting and fabulous and difficult and consuming- without having to defend oneself to those who should be the closest.