Moms Who Drink: Why and When It’s Time to Put Down the Glass
Dr. Toni Galardi weighs in on the trend -Julie Ryan Evans
As part of our series on Mommy Medicine, we asked Dr. Toni Galardi, a licensed psychotherapist, to give us more insight and a professional opinion as to why so many mothers today seem to be embracing alcohol.
JRE: It seems there’s an abundance of stay-at-home moms who use alcohol to help them manage the stress of motherhood. Have you noticed this, and why do you think it is?
Dr. Galardi: Part of this is sociological, not psychological, in origin. I think at-home moms have increased their drinking for a couple reasons: Women are more educated today and often [have] had a career before becoming a mom. And those who drink may not be so stimulated by the conversations at playdates and birthday parties. Alcohol is used to numb their boredom, or so say the moms I work with. Also, to be a stay-at-home mom, your husband is usually working very long hours to support the financial needs of the entire family. There is more isolation today than when the nuclear family lived with extended family members like a grandmother or an aunt. At the core of the problem is the loss of identity that comes with the role of moms who stay at home.
In the U.S., so much more is being expected of parents in child-rearing today. Children have schedules like adults in terms of number of activities they go to after school and on weekends, and a lot more homework and demanding, intricate school projects; the parent at home has to be highly involved in all of this, as well as fully participatory in school activities. Well, if you had a life before children, becoming this selfless with an expectation that motherhood will be a fulfilling identity in and of itself can lead to finding joy in a wine bottle because it is so socially acceptable. And for a moment it gives you that serotonin high that you don’t get from all the responsibilities you have to your kids and husband.
JRE: Can you give us some examples of mothers you’ve seen turning to alcohol?
Dr. Galardi: One of my clients was a fashion editor before becoming the mother of two children and wife of a successful clothing manufacturer. Her drinking began to escalate as her husband was spending more and more time traveling for his business. To abate the loneliness, she would have people over for dinner quite often and would start drinking as she was cooking, and that would extend through dinner. She was also hosting many of the playdates and birthday parties for her children as well as her friends’ children. She had a big house, so people were thrilled to have her be the social maven. Her lifequake hit when she found out her husband was having an affair, and that was when she stopped drinking and went into therapy to look at why she had been drinking in the first place.
Another client of mine was not formally educated but had been a successful artist in Europe before marrying and having children. She used alcohol to “access the muse” after a long day of child-rearing. Her only time in her studio was at 10 at night, and wine became a way of relaxing her from a stressful day with toddlers. I gave her guided visualizations and other meditation-type techniques to help her get centered at the end of the day. This allowed her creativity to expand even more.
JRE: It seems to be acceptable for mothers to drink at playdates, children’s birthday parties, “Baby Loves Disco” gatherings, etc. Do you think there’s any harm in this mentality?
Dr. Galardi: I don’t think a function like a child’s birthday that is geared to kids is the place for alcohol consumption. A barbecue that includes both children and adults, and in which the kids are not the main event, is fine, but even there, we need to be aware of what we are modeling for kids, not to mention putting them at risk when you get behind the wheel to go home.
JRE: So, how do parents’ drinking habits affect children? Is it bad if they see us drinking at a weekly playgroup or daily at dinner?
Dr. Galardi: Having a glass of wine with dinner as a part of a meal is fine. Wine in and of itself is not the problem. It becomes a problem when you model for your kids that this is the only way Mommy knows how to feel good. I grew up in an Italian family, where wine was at every dinner, but it wasn’t used by my parents to numb out.
JRE: Is there room in a mother’s life for wine? Can it be part of a healthy unwinding or “mommy medicine”, as we like to call it?
Dr. Galardi: The place for wine in anyone’s life is what it was originally intended for: to supplement a meal or to be part of a spiritual or religious ritual. Yes, there are health benefits to drinking wine. A glass of wine with dinner to complement the meal is good for digestion, cholesterol, etc. It is only a problem when it is being used as a way of self-medicating rather than part of a meal. Taking 15 minutes at the end of the day before dinner to do some yoga stretches or deep breathing, or dare I say meditation, is the best modeling you can give your kids. When you become dependent on alcohol as your only way to de-stress, it is dangerous; the body adapts and needs greater and greater quantities to unwind.
JRE: So, how would a mom know if she has a problem, especially if she’s drinking like everyone else?
Dr. Galardi: The key to judging whether it’s a problem is not quantity but dependence. If you were asked to go without it for a week, what emotions would it trigger? Ask yourself what feelings do you NOT have to feel when you drink? For example, when your husband comes home, do you drink to deal with his stress level from work? Do you drink to deal with your boredom around cooking? Do you use it as the only reward you give yourself in the course of the day? Is it numbing out your real desire to be more involved in a professional area besides raising your children?
JRE: And if someone feels it may be a problem? Dr. Galardi: If you feel that your wine consumption is being used to mask deeper issues, get help. Contact a therapist who deals with addiction issues, or go to a local AA meeting. It is quite humbling and ultimately liberating to have to admit that you need help in addressing this issue, and there are people who want to help. If you have a friend who is drinking too much, offer to go to a meeting with her or find a therapist she can talk to.
Dr. Toni Galardi has been a licensed psychotherapist in the state of California for more than 20 years. She currently resides in Los Angeles. In her new book, The LifeQuake Phenomenon: How to Thrive (Not Just Survive) in Times of Personal and Global Upheaval, she asserts that alcohol and other addictive substances can be symptoms of a person’s resistance to change as a cycle ends and a new life purpose begins. For more information, go to www.lifequake.net, or call 310-712-2600 for a private consultation.