While scrolling through Pinterest the other night, I paused on a picture of a wine glass with a decal that said: “this is my me time." I'm not typically a fan of the gear that seems to accompany wine mom culture. But, at that moment, after a long, imperfect day of my own, there was something in that message I could appreciate: At least it was acknowledging moms need time for themselves.
I realized that, for better or worse, joking about being a wine mom is a palatable code for saying “this is hard." That feeling is one just about every parent experiences, often on a daily basis—but it can still be hard to admit, lest we be accused of not appreciating motherhood enough.
The problem comes when the “solution" to the challenges of motherhood is distilled into the simple symbol of a wine glass. And along the way, the culture seems to have become a parody of itself, complete with bottle-sized stem glasses and t-shirts that say things like “they whine, I wine."
Therein lies both the strength and weakness of wine mom culture: It offers an important counter to the societal expectation that moms should be able to do it all, all the time, with a smile on their faces—despite the very real emotional, financial and sociological challenges that come with parenthood. But while wine mom posts may be the vehicle for saying this, wine itself is not the silver bullet to our self-care needs.
The rise of the #winemom
As anyone who watched Betty Draper stir her nightly cocktail on Mad Men knows, alcohol brands have been keen on moms for decades. Now wine seems to be cornering the mommy market: A 2016 survey from Wine Spectator showed that millennials drank 42% of the wine enjoyed in America—with women accounting for two-thirds of high-frequency wine drinkers (meaning those who drank wine weekly) under 30 years old.
"Highly involved female wine drinkers are mostly millennials, are more often urban educated professionals and more ethnically diverse than the typical female wine drinker," said the Wine Market Council in a press release on the findings.
With the average American mom getting less than one hour of alone time per day, every moment of self-care precious. And when those opportunities present themselves, let's be honest, it can feel hard to get motivated to do anything elaborate. Enter: The simple act of uncorking a wine bottle and sitting down on the couch.
But unlike Betty Draper drinking alone, millennials can now broadcast it: That 2016 survey found 50% of millennial wine drinkers shared pictures or posts of their pours on social media, which furthers the sense that frequent drinks are just the norm.
This has also given rise to the wine mom social media community, with a handful of pages related to parenting and wine racking up hundreds of thousands of fans. Among these groups and posts, the common theme isn't just vino, but also venting about parenthood in general—something that still feels very taboo to discuss offline.
"There are still so many topics that seem off-limits because of social media and the backlash you could receive from it," says Angela Principe, who started the Instagram page Mommy's Wine Time in 2016 and now has more than 30,000 followers. "Some days are so crazy that you think, 'I really couldn't make this up.' I like to highlight those days. Those are the days that moms can actually relate to and be thankful that they aren't the only ones going through it."
Moms need more self-care—and support
When Michele Neskey is done with her workday as a physician's assistant, finishes the consultations she does with clients as a health coach and puts her daughter to bed, she doesn't feel an ounce of guilt about pouring a glass of red wine.
She also doesn't have any shame in publicizing her evening drink on social media—even if others have been taken aback. "I've had people comment or message me and say, 'Here you are telling people to live a healthy lifestyle, and you're posting your mojito on Facebook?'"
Surprising as it may be to see a health coach post about drinking on Instagram or her blog, Neskey tells Motherly that being a self-proclaimed "wine mom" is really just about letting others know it's okay to admit when motherhood is challenging.
"It's not really so much about the wine itself, although I do enjoy drinking wine," says Neskey. "It's a moment I can take for myself and say it's been a great day or it's been a horrible day, or I just need a minute to relax."
Having people with whom you can feel able to share your full range of emotions is also essential, Erin Barbossa, a licensed master social worker, tells Motherly.
"Being comfortable about talking about the struggle of motherhood without judgment is all about building relationships built on trust and authenticity," Barbossa says. "Sometimes we discredit or invalidate someone else's struggle by bringing up the joys or unconditional love that comes with motherhood."
For many people, the wine mom community seems to offer this safe space where you can vent without fear of someone saying, "But it's all so worth it!" The problem arises when the digital community or nightly glass of wine is seen as a replacement for personal relationships or substantive self-care alternatives.
"It's interesting that 'wine time' is more socially acceptable than healthy forms of self-care like yoga, massages and therapy," Barbossa says. "Being in community with other women and moms can feel restorative, but checking in with yourself about 'is this nurturing and restorative? Or am I numbing?' is a good place to start."
Registered psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali is also less convinced of the merits of wine mom social media posts in particular. "Using humor to connect with others and foster a sense of belonging or group membership can be beneficial," Badali says. "However, doing it in a way that promotes risky use of alcohol is not helpful."
According to current guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as an average of one drink or less per day for women. But with oversized wine glasses adorned with "mommy's sippy cup" and memes that say things like "the most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink," it may seem like drinking moderately doesn't grant you admittance to the wine mom club.
Remember that wine isn't the 'solution'
Jody Allard, a mother of seven, tells Motherly she isn't necessarily opposed to others drinking in moderation. But the experience of being in a relationship with an alcoholic led her to cut drinking from her own life and become more mindful of how she unwinds.
"I decided to try to stop worrying about other people's problems and to start really focusing on myself. That led me to therapy, where I began to work through some of my own issues and establish healthier methods of dealing with stress," Allard says. "I was committed to being healthy and setting a good example for my kids, and part of that included functional ways of coping with stress and modeling self-compassion."
To Allard, the biggest problem with wine mom culture is that it may hold people back from seeking the emotional support they really need. She adds, "What concerns me about this approach is that it's specifically setting out alcohol as a solution to your problems and a method of self-care."
In Badali's view, there should be more emphasis on the healthy middle ground "somewhere between super moms and wine moms." She says, "We need to be creating a culture where you can ask for help and take breaks without feeling guilty rather than one that promotes alcohol use as a source of identity, belongingness and reward."
For that reason, it's worthwhile to see the good represented in wine mom culture: It presents a chance for people to connect. It's a way for us to give ourselves a break. And it's an acknowledgment of the fact that some days are harder than others.
But perhaps the best takeaway from the popularity of wine mom culture it is that we should all do a better job of validating each other's experiences with motherhood—whether over a glass of wine, a cup or coffee or no drink at all.
[This post was originally published on April 4, 2018. It has been updated.]