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.
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?