Mommy-Brand Booze: What Are They Trying To Sell Us?

Two wine producers are now battling it out over the use of the word “Mommy” on their bottle labels:

Mommy’s Time Out: “We All know that being a Mommy is a difficult job. A Mommy’s Time Out is a well deserved break.”

and Mommyjuice : “…balanced, fruit-forward wines that bring just a bit of peace after the chaos of everyday life as a parent.”

The Tipsy Mommy has been enjoying a media moment recently. She’s a natural postermom for the backlash against the hyper-vigilant helicopter parenting model: Relax, the kids are fine, have a drink.  There’s a reason this idea has traction. Motherhood, while, of course, rewarding beyond measure—is friggin’ relentless. And nothing says ‘lemme outta here for a minute‘ like a few dead brain cells.

But this is the first time a bottle of alcohol has been directly marketed to mothers. What, exactly are they trying to tell us?

Alcohol is sold as a symbol of freedom. Mom pops open the bottle and is transported to a fantasy land of relaxation…and selfishness. Shows like Mad Men, where every scene is punctuated with a tipple (or three) have reinforced the glamour of a drink after a hard day (or morning) domestic or otherwise. But even liberated girl Peggy Olson wouldn’t dream of pitching women a “Drink Me” label this explicit.

The marketing of alcohol toward women is relatively new. And it’s always been controversial. Women have a lower tolerance and metabolize alcohol differently, which has implications in the moment (impaired judgment) and in the long term (disease).  Yet women have fought for their right to party as hard as men as a feminist act. If anyone deserves a break, isn’t it the woman doing the hardest work of all?

The marketing campaigns for these Mommy wines hinge on that premise: being a mom is hard, and wine is your way out.   Cracking a bottle of wine can feel like cracking a window into your pre-parent life (back when you were able to make your own dumb choices). For most of us, the vacation lasts about as long as the buzz of the first glass of malbec, or until a child’s needs slam the window shut, whichever comes first. It is possible to prop it open longer if you really work at it—but tales of mothers who have hit the bottle hard do not tend to be pretty.

Do moms put their children at risk by drinking alcohol? Alcohol abuse can be profoundly damaging to children. If something compromises your judgment, it has the possibility of impairing your parenting decisions.  But in moderation, I wonder how drinking stacks up to the other things we do that dull our ability to make good choices; the sleep deprivation, the multitasking, the compulsive screen checking. Intoxicating yourself may just be the most obvious way of taking yourself psychologically off duty.

Part of the point of moms’ drinking might be that it’s not what’s best for the children. It’s about Mommy now. Which, I’m guessing, is just the chord these marketers are hoping to strike. Though both wines sell themselves as pain relief for the discomforts of motherhood, a look at their marketing shows differences in how they imagine their products being used.  The label of Mommy’s Time Out pictures a single chair in the corner with a glass of wine. (Mommy’s drinking alone.) Mommyjuice explicitly suggests their red for when the kids are asleep, and the white for girls’ night out. But the story of the wine’s genesis implies some family style drinking. Says the company’s founding mom:  “These wines were inspired by her young children that point to wine glasses everywhere claiming “That’s Mommy’s Juice!”

Drinking with children isn’t something marketers are likely to openly recommend, for obvious reasons. But there are issues with either model here. Clandestine drinking is associated with alcoholism. Studies of the impact of adult drinking on kids’ future alcohol consumption have been mixed—some associate moderate parental drinking with a positive, moderating influence on children.  If mothers choose to drink, is it better for them to do it privately, or incorporate drinking into their normal lives? Should they be open about alcohol with their children, or is it okay to call it “juice”? And does the meaning change if the bottle they’re drinking from says the word “Mommy” on it?

Do you drink, and if so, do you do it with your kids around?

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