It's Wine O'Clock — Are We a Nation of Mommies Who Drink too Much?

Published by Wednesday Martin

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about women and alcohol use/abuse came right on the heels of a discussion with my friend, writer Louise Mensch, about the mothers of young children and drinking. How we do it, why we do it, what it does to us.

Louise penned a terrific piece about "Wine o'Clock" — that time of day when women with young kids pour the first of a seemingly bottomless glass of wine. It's usually white, because red keeps us awake at night. Wine has become our acceptable, high-brow way to relieve stress and take the edge off the frustrations, isolation and anxieties of motherhood (and for women in New York and London, the unique pressures of raising young kids in a super city). Louise points out what all mommies know but have a hard time admitting — one glass of wine turns into another and another and another. Many of us indulge in an endless glass of wine, starting at wine o'clock.

Sometimes, when the wine doesn't work, we switch to vodka. Or tequila. We need a little more — to ease us out of the day, to mask the hormonal fluctuations of our 30s and 40s, whatever. When anyone points out that drinking alone is supposedly a sign of alcoholism, women with young kids protest, "Are you kidding? That's when I most need a glass of wine/ a vodka/something! When my kids are in bed. And my husband is away!" Let's face it, we do our best drinking alone. And when we're out with our girlfriends, even better.

It was Diane Schuler's catastrophic accident on the Taconic State Parkway in 2009 that brought the discussion about mothers and drinking out of the closet. Driving the wrong way on the Taconic for nearly two miles, often at speeds of 70 mph, Schuler eventually plowed head on into another vehicle, killing its two passengers, herself, her two-year-old daughter and her three nieces, ages eight, seven and five. Only Schuler's five-year-old son survived. The nation was traumatized — and desperate for answers. The media, Schuler's neighbors and her husband blamed in on the fact that she was driving a borrowed mini-van. Or we fixated on the fact that she had complained that her eye was bothering her. What the hell happened? everyone wanted to know. Diane Schuler was bright, successful, hard-driving, and a loving mom. Over and over, people described her as "perfect."

The answer was in plain sight and the toxicology reports proved it. Diane Schuler had the equivalent of ten drinks in her bloodstream and significant quantities of THC as well. She had been drunk and high. Period.  We had all bent over backwards for months to avoid the explanation, but it was true.

The nation was shocked to learn the cause of the tragedy. But also shocked to learn that mothers of young children drink (and smoke pot, and so on). A study came out, not long after the accident, drawing the allegedly astonishing conclusion that, other than young men who binge drink in college, women with children are the heaviest drinkers in the nation. Mothers with young kids all looked at each other and said, "Duh!" Secret and not-so-secret alcohol use is a thing with us.

Often, motherhood drives us to drink. It's stressful and isolating and many of us learned to reach for mother's little helper from our own mothers or our friends. For some of us, it's not really a problem that lasts. Some of us will eventually stop or cut back as the emotional and physical pressures of caring for our kids abate. Some of us will keep going and never stop. Some of us will wind up in AA or rehab. Sometimes motherhood is a cover for drinking too much — sometimes it leads to it. Either way, women with young kids, as a group, use and abuse alcohol at a rate higher than almost any other group, it seems. Now what?