A Spirit of Power: Sober Mothering in the Age of Mommy Drinking Culture
The first thing I noticed when I stopped drinking wine on weeknights was that my kids had terrible table manners. They were eating salad with their fingers. When I had already drunk a juice glass full of pinot grigio I didn’t mind. But sober, this and other minorly inappropriate or annoying things had slipped past my radar.
And that, mamas, was the point of the wine-at-the-witching-hour habit.
At the end of a long day, dulling the radar made mothering less annoying. When my now-teenagers were little, I “needed” to relax my nervous system after it was frayed from the constant clatter of plastic toys on the wood floor, the refrains of “mama,” the pawing by tiny, sticky hands. As my girls got older, the end-of-day edginess came from other aspects of mothering – relational stress, dealing with hormonal mood swings (mine and theirs), the continual loop of carpooling, and the near-constant small corrections and conflicts that are part of the job. Like, “please use your fork.”
Mothering is hard – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. We currently live in a culture that doesn’t deny that reality but celebrates alcohol as a solution.
Look at what the merchandise and memes say. Products say that moms need to drink to cope with the chaotic reality of raising kids: “Wine: because adulting is hard,” was printed on the dish towel at my local Home Goods. Meanwhile, mom memes on our feeds say the same: “Motherhood: Powered by love. Fueled by coffee. Sustained by wine.” The funniest one I read during the pandemic said, “My kids are no longer going to college. They’re all going to trade school to become bartenders.”
Research says these nod-nod, wink-winks about wine as a parenting tool are based in reality. For the first time in recorded history, women are now drinking as often as men, at equal risk for alcohol dependency as men, and – here’s the important part – drinking for different reasons than men: not just for pleasure but to cope. (Check out this link for details.*)
When alcohol is used to cope with reality, it carries a greater risk of dependency, and progressively, addiction.
I am not anti-alcohol, as a mom or as a Christian. I still serve it in my home if you want it, and I know that Jesus’s first miracle was making wine from water. But I have lived sober for four years now, and have identified as a sober alcoholic for the last two. For me, once alcohol is in my life, I have to spend too much energy resisting it as a means to wind down; cutting it out completely has made me a stronger, more confident, less-anxious mother.
Let’s look at what else the Bible says on this topic…
Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…
1 Corinthians 5:17
The Holy Spirit, 2 Timothy 1:7 says, offers three things all moms need: power, love, and a sound mind.
The mommy drinking culture suggests that we are the opposite: powerless, annoyed with our kids, and about to lose our minds. This makes for good standup comedy, but a really discouraging life.
So, let’s look at the benefits of leaning on the Spirit, over spirits, for being strong moms.
While escaping into a soothing buzz provides instant relief from chaos, over time it creates a cycle of disempowerment, in which we come to believe we can’t make it through the witching hour – or the weekend — without it. But a buzz is not a boundary! Boundaries, though difficult to set, are critical and possible if we stay present. Small wins will help you grow in confidence and belief in your power to be the alpha in the house. Sober, you are empowered to be consistent with boundaries like, “No yelling in the house.”
Being an empowered mom also means that you grow in self-control and discipline, and mastery of your own emotions. The more small successes you have and esteem-able things you do, the more you grow in self-esteem. This is a critical lesson to teach our kids.
One of the most important aspects of mother-love is attunement: an awareness of our children’s personalities, gifts, and needs, and the ability to respond to them appropriately. Alcohol makes us less attuned to people around us but tricks us into believing we are more attuned. The depressant effect briefly lowers tension and while other chemical aspects of alcohol give us a hit of dopamine, making us feel more energized and fun. Studies show that though we might like ourselves better when we’re drinking, our kids don’t. An article in Parenting Magazine called “Parenting with a Buzz,” reported that kids disliked watching their parents’ personalities change after they’d had something to drink.
A Sound Mind:
Mamas, our kids need us to have our wits about us, as exhausting as it is to feel like the only person in the house who has wits. But we don’t do this alone. Wisdom, the ability to rightly discern situations and make good choices, is one of the gifts God gives generously to all who ask him, without finding fault. (James 1:5). This promise comes with a catch: we have to believe and not doubt that God will do this for us. I confess that part of my drinking habit was a lack of faith that God could actually empower me, strengthen me, and bring me relief from distress.
But also, alcohol was a way to cope with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Choosing to live sober allowed me to seek help and change habits that led to deep healing and a sustainable life with my family.
Yoga is one of my tools for mental health. When my yoga instructor tells us to hold the plank pose for sixty seconds, when we begin to shake and struggle, she always says, “You are this strong.” Many times I have thought, “no, I am not.” And I wasn’t.
I now realize what she was really saying: “You aren’t strong enough now, but you are strong enough to get stronger.” And that is my message to you. While the drinking culture says you are too weak to mother well, I say this: You are this strong. You are strong enough to get stronger.