This spring, writer Stephanie Wilder-Taylor dropped a bombshell: she had quit drinking.
A mother of three daughters – 4-year-old Elby and twins toddlers, Matilda and Sadie – Wilder-Taylor wrote on her personal blog Baby on Bored:
“: I really like to drink. I like the way wine softens the edges, smoothes out the line between “their time” and “my time,” helps me to feel relaxed, helps me tune out. But I drink too much. I drink seven nights a week. Sometimes just a glass of wine but usually two or even three. I always seem to have some sort of excuse like “today was an exceptionally stressful day so I deserve an extra glass now that it’s all done : For me, it’s become a nightly compulsion and I’m outing myself to you; all of you: I have a problem.”
Moms with a drinking problem are nothing new (Joan Crawford, Betty Ford, Courtney Love, I could go on), but Wilder-Taylor’s announcement was such a shocker for four very specific reasons: her two published and one forthcoming books Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay; Naptime is the New Happy Hour; and It’s Not Me It’s You (subtitled: Subjective Recollections from a Terminally Optimistic, Chronically Sarcastic and Ocassionally Inebriated Woman), and her blog for MommyTrack’d Make Mine a Double: Tales of Twins and Tequila.
Wilder-Taylor liked to drink and had built a reputation on a stiff mix of booze and babies. By giving up alcohol, she was dropping a key ingredient of the persona she had created. She was also exposing the darker side of this parenting generation’s signature drink – the always-appropriate cocktail.
This new generation of parents had defined itself, a drink in one hand and a teething ring in the other. Earlier this decade, Wilder-Taylor had been part of a welcome revolution, one in which moms and dads, rather than big publishers, puritanical doctors and unimaginative magazine editors, were writing the last word on motherhood.
With my first pregnancy and birth in 2001, the go-to information for pregnant and new moms was all What to Expect When You’re Expecting directives, such as eating toasted wheat germ on ice cream or asking my husband to sit in a closet to eat a pudding parfait. That and the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, whose author insisted a necktie and my husband’s dress shirts made for kicky maternity wear.
Glossy magazines like Parents, Parenting and American Baby wrote “sleep when the baby sleeps” a thousand different ways. Editors featured page after page of pictorials demonstrating how to do yoga poses with a newborn balanced on my knees. Helpful? I suppose. Relatable? Not in the least.
Flash-forward to my second pregnancy in 2004. Whoa! Now who was in charge? Moms. Swearing, grousing, eye-rolling, totally imperfect moms, who, if the book jackets and titles meant anything, were nursing babies and cocktails – often at the same time.
Wilder-Taylor’s Sippy Cups wasn’t the first writer to bring parenting and drinking together in an aggressively blas’ way. Two years before, Christie Mellor published The Three-Martini Playdate, soon followed by the Three-Martini Family Vacation. The cover of Brett Paesel’s 2006 Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom, copied Goodnight Moon‘s line-drawings and color scheme – only the quiet old lady whispering hush was loaded and wearing a lampshade. Somewhere in there, Robert Wilder wrote Daddy Needs a Drink.
So Daddy had a drink. Or two. Mommy did as well.
Alcohol-spiked words flowed, especially online in the most revolutionary form of parental expression: blogs. The “momtini” was coined. Blogger parents went on the Today Show to defend knocking back adult beverages at the end of the day. In “Cosmopolitan Moms,” the New York Times featured an affluent suburban Philadelphia playgroup, which met weekly for wine and gross motor development.
This new generation of parents had defined itself, a drink in one hand and a teething ring in the other. The What to Expect books were now oversized coasters, keeping a dozen sweating cocktails from ruining the furniture.
A Philadelphia bar, Memphis Taproom, found such success in its Monday afternoon “Mommy and Me” Happy Hours, they expanded to their sister bar Local 44, where owner Leigh Maida said the bar looks like a stroller parking lot.
Turning Leaf Winery practically equates wine to oxygen in its new ad campaign, which curiously asks mothers, “How do you breathe?” The print ads and website feature four blogger moms (three of whom are or have been connected to Babble) who write a few lines about how they get through the day.
The drinking parent metaphor hasn’t even lost its power on the now-sober writer moms.
Wilder-Taylor, who declined to be interviewed for this article, blogged about not only missing drinking, but missing what drinking said about her, the person behind the parent. Being the drinking mom, she writes, made her cool and gave her the edge.
“The most difficult thing that stands in my way is my ego. “Hey, I’m the Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay mom! I’m cool, edgy and those are synonymous with drinking right? Well, fuck my ego. At forty-two years old I’ve come to realize that for me it’s not cute or cool or edgy or any adjective but pathetic. So here’s to finding fun that doesn’t come in a bottle. I guess I’ll have to take the word tequila out of the title of my column. Well, not today. One day at a time, right?”
“I still think the moms who do the cocktail playdates are good.” She concludes this in her bombshell blog post:
“I’ve had a lifetime of hurt and some pretty awesome reasons to drink but those days are long gone and the yet the alcohol is still here. And so, although it’s never gotten me into trouble, why wait for that?” Brownell, sober nearly two years, admits she is still drawn to women who drink. And while cocktail playdates are not on her calendar, she doesn’t condemn them either.
“But [drinking] still kind of informs who I still think is fun to hang around. Which is kind of sick,” she said. “I still think the moms who do the cocktail playdates are good.”
What about Three-Martini Mellor? Will she set down the glass to take a personal inventory? Nah. Drinking is just not a problem for her.
“I love the whole cocktail culture. I grew up in San Francisco, which is the home of the three-martini lunch. : On the other hand, a certain currently-on-the-wagon author once accused me of not “walking the walk” because I didn’t want to drink a few martinis before we went on stage to discuss our books,” she wrote in an email. “If I had a drink every day, I wouldn’t get much done the next day, so sadly, I cannot indulge in martinis every night.”
So maybe we’re looking at this once radical-seeming genre a little differently, but one thing still holds true: parents who wind down in the evening with a drink are not alone.
Now, from these new confessions of dependency, we know moms who quit aren’t either.