A Sobering Look at the Impact of "Mama Likes to Drink" JokesAlice Gomstyn
Did you know that the catchphrase “there’s a chance this is vodka” is trademarked? Did you know that the trademark owner is a mother of three and a wildly popular blogger?
I learned this recently after the blogger, known as Hot Mess Mom, mentioned it in a status update on Facebook. I think it’s common knowledge to her longtime fans, but, as a relative newbie to her page, it came as a surprise to me.
It shouldn’t have. When it comes to drink-related humor, moms are bingeing big time. Wherever you turn, someone is chuckling about “wine o’clock” and Pinot-soaked playdates. Nowhere is this more true than online and on social media, home to blogs and Facebook pages with names like “Moms Who Drink and Swear,” “I like beer and babies” and “Martinis and Minivans.”
The bloggers behind all three, by the way, are very funny and write about much, much more than just drinking. I cite them — as well as Hot Mess Mom — here not to pick on them but rather to show how ingrained alcohol is in the mom humor culture and among humorists in general. Put an alcohol reference in your blog name or on your swag or in your Twitter handle and people will automatically understand that you’re there to entertain.
But for all the yucks, there are serious underlying issues to consider. For one thing, the old proverb “many a true word is spoken in jest” holds lots of water in this case. We know that alcoholism among mothers in the United States is indeed a problem. As my former ABC News colleague Nancy Ramsey reported in her award-winning Redbook piece on mom bloggers and alcoholism three years ago, it was estimated at the time that more than 5 million women in the U.S. have “risky drinking habits” and that one in four American kids has an alcoholic parent.
So maybe some of what we’re seeing is just gallows humor that reflects a grim reality .. .but, armchair psychologist that I am, I also wondered: is it possible that all the joking is normalizing excessive drinking? Are there moms who think that drinking themselves dizzy each night is OK because we laugh about it all the time?
When I reached out to both moms and experts, several confirmed my concerns.
“All the social media banter about drinking certainly makes it easier for people who drink too much to justify it. It feels like camaraderie even if it is a false sense of connection,” said Heather King, a mother of three and the blogger behind the popular site “The Extraordinary Ordinary.” King went public with her battle with alcoholism several years ago and was featured in the Redbook piece.
“If someone has a drinking problem, it is very easy to look to other drinkers for comfort, to help with denial, definitely,” she told me. King said those in denial might think, “See? This is just normal, I’m an adult! We drink! Fun!”
One Massachusetts mom, who asked to remain anonymous, confided that all the kidding around is particularly tough on her because she’s a recovering alcoholic.
“Just when I feel like I’m somewhat normal, these jokes come around and make me feel like I’m not because I don’t drink wine after the kids go to bed — and the whole reason why I started drinking in the first place was because I felt left out. It’s damaging to moms who have tentative sobriety,” she said.
I’ll cop to a couple of liquor-related misadventures in college, but I’ve never suffered what anyone would classify as a clinical drinking problem. Still, I do have something in common with the sober Massachusetts mom: all the mom drinking jokes make me feel left out too! I don’t go out much and I rarely drink at home because I don’t like the taste of most alcohol, plus I’m too lazy to ever make myself delicious mixed drinks.
That has not, however, stopped even me from making the occasional alcohol quip. Here, too, I know I’m not alone.
“I definitely joke about a drink a lot more than I actually drink,” Abby, a New Hampshire mom, told me in response to a question I posted on a mom message board. “My friends and I will get together for a play date and sometimes we mix up sangria or mimosas. There is always a ton left over though because the reality of it is, we all feel like drinking, but we are just too damn responsible and love our kids way too much to even be tipsy while they are in our care. But if you overheard us talking, you would think we were a bunch of lushes!”
Clearly, mom drinking jokes aren’t hurting many of us. We laugh at the ones shared by friends or by whimsical bloggers just trying to raise everyone’s, ahem, spirits. Then, we go back to our reasonably unintoxicated lives.
But what about moms who do drink too much and enjoy a good “Is it wine o’clock yet?” meme?
Beth Burgess, an addiction therapist and the author of The Happy Addict, thinks all mothers would do well to cut back on the booze jokes — not just for the sake of more vulnerable moms, but for their children too.
“There is a danger that using alcohol to cope might be seen as the norm, but having a glass of wine to unwind is not the healthiest way to deal with problems it just masks them temporarily, and has the added risk of becoming addicted to drinking,” she said. “Moms would be better off having a responsible attitude to alcohol, so that they are effective parents and good role models for their children. Leave the joking for other, less harmful, topics.”
As for moms writing for wide audiences online? Some, like King, have actually raised alcoholism awareness by admitting real drinking problems instead of just trafficking in humorous hyperbole — but clearly, that’s not easy. Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, Baby on Bored blogger and author of the popular memoir Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, conceded to having trouble conflating her “edgy” public persona with her earnest efforts to get sober.
“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?,” she once wrote on the website MommyTracked.com. “…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.”
Family psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish believes that influential parenting bloggers should consider that their audience may include “closet alcoholic moms” and she cautions them not to “minimize the severity of the issue that many children pay a huge cost for.”
Jamison Monroe Jr., a recovering addict who now heads the teen rehab center, Newport Academy in California, agrees. Monroe said he treats many teens who come from homes where alcoholism is overlooked.
“The ‘funny’ one-liners are negative messages that can give moms with an alcohol problem the ‘green light’ for them to continue their behavior. A mom should be recognized for her hard work and dedication not how many glasses of wine she’s had,” he said.
Despite pleas from advocates like Monroe, I doubt that alcohol jokes, especially for moms, are on their way to being tapped out. Heather King is resigned to this too.
“This is an alcohol-saturated culture where many chime in to fit the cultural norms,” she said.
And when it comes to bloggers in particular, King says there’s only so much her peers can do.
“I just think that even if someone with a large following feels some sense of responsibility, that’s kind, but it’s still not their problem. We can’t censor for all different issues or we’d be saying … not much,” she told me. “I always tell people, when they apologize for talking about drinking or for drinking in front of me, that my problem is not their problem.”
“It’s also true that one can be funny and cool without the booze jokes,” she added. “I see it all the time.”
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Photo via morgueFile.