Moms: Let’s Talk About the Drinking

Red and white wine
Red and white wine

I think I might have a problem with alcohol.

According to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse & Addiction, consuming more than two drinks per week has negative consequences. This twe-drink measurement is based on a five-ounce glass of wine, which is roughly half of the average glass size, and the amount I roughly NEVER pour myself. The previous recommendations were made in 2011, that said men should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than three drinks per day and 15 drinks per week, while women should stick with a maximum of two drinks per day and 10 drinks per week.

Uh oh.

“What is this, amateur hour?” I’ve said to people who stop pouring at the halfway mark of a glass. I’ve laughed about my drinking. I’ve made it part of my persona. My Facebook friends have tagged me in pretty much every wine meme known to man.

After a family member experienced a mental health crisis, I started hearing words like “self-medicating”, “addiction”, even “alcoholic” to describe their behaviour. In attempting to understand it all, I’m learning that I might also have a problem.

So let’s talk about the drinking.

My drink of choice was wine: two, sometimes three glasses a night. Every night. Not just on weekends, not just on special occasions, not just after a particularly bad or good day. Just always.

By my estimation, each of my drinks was eight-ounces. Multiply that by 14 drinks per week (assuming only two per night) and you get 112 ounces, which was more than double what most addiction experts previously considered to be the line between low and high-risk drinking. And now? Well you do the math. (I don’t want to).

This was a sobering discovery (pun intended), but what scared me more than my consumption of wine is my relationship with it.

I love wine. I love the taste, as well as the science and story behind each bottle. I love to shop for wine (main purchase criteria: animal on the label, less than $15). I love to pour it and sip it and swirl it in my glass. Drinking wine makes me feel sophisticated, even though I’m usually sporting a messy bun and pyjama pants.

The first glass is like a reward at the end of the day, a nightly ritual that affirmed I made it through. It’s a way to unwind and help manage the making dinner/ bath time/homework/someone spilled the cat food/”I have to build a working paper mache volcano by tomorrow” type of chaos. The second glass poured while cleaning up the kitchen, watching the clock and asking, usually for the tenth or eleventh time, for the small people in my house to please for the love of God put on their pyjamas. My third glass was either on the couch with my husband when the kids are down, or while reading in by myself in bed or in the tub. In short, there was rarely a time between 5 and 10 p.m. every single night that I wasn’t drinking.

And yet, there was no mindfulness to it. Sorry to go all Oprah “live your best life” on you guys but the truth is I wasn’t even stopping to consider what I was doing. I didn’t care about taste, drinking was purely functional. When my husband and I switched to boxed wine (!) we did so because boxes last longer and cost less. We congratulated ourselves on this practical and thrifty solution to our inventory problem. Quantity and convenience became our purchase criteria; two words that, I’m guessing, rarely come up in conversations about responsible drinking.

Like many people, alcohol is a key ingredient in my social life, especially if the function requires an abundance of small talk or meeting new people. Wine helps me be (or just feel?) social. Having said that, I also drink with people I’ve known my whole life. And when I’m alone.

When I became a mom, wine was right there with me, becoming a critical part of “me time.” But in making alcohol our reward for surviving another day, both my husband and I have completely normalized its consumption within our home. Until recently, we drank openly in front of our daughters because we didn’t think we had anything to hide. Wine was wine, not “mommy juice.” We actually thought we were modelling responsible behaviour by never driving after drinking and never getting out of control. TV and movies would have us believe that alcoholics are people who drink in secret, who drink until they fall down or pass out; people who abuse their loved ones and get fired from jobs. I’ve never done any of that so everything must be fine.

When our then-nine-year-old informed us on the walk home from school one day that “THERE’S ALCOHOL IN WINE AND ALCOHOL IS A DRUG AND YOU SHOULD NEVER TAKE DRUGS” we told her that drinking alcohol is okay as long as you’re responsible and only have a little bit. Kid logic translation: drugs are okay as long as they’re consumed in moderation. WTF? While most people wouldn’t react by running home and emptying out their liquor cabinets, they might at least take note of the fact that their kids are watching. I did neither.

The blog I started when we adopted our first daughter was called Wine and Smarties. On Twitter and Instagram I was @wineandsmarties. I chose these names because I wanted something that spoke to my identity as both a woman and a mother. I thought it was cute and clever. And while there may not be a direct route between Instagram and Betty Ford, given that I regularly caution my college students about their social media presence (“are you sure @hotgurl69 is the message you want to send to future employers?”) “wine and smarties” is an example of how much of my identity was tied to the “mommy drinks because you cry” culture.

If you asked my daughters what mommy’s favourite thing is, they’d say wine. If you asked them what happens when someone spills mommy’s wine, they’d hold up their hands like claws and bare their teeth. What did my husband fill my stocking with every year? Bottles of my favourite wine.

When she was five and we were driving past the LCBO my oldest daughter yelled  “Hey mommy, there’s your store!” When carrying a box of groceries in from the car one summer, my youngest grunted as she put it down and said: “at least it’s not as heavy as a case of wine.” Instead of being horrified or, again, taking note of what they were taking note of, I turned these into funny anecdotes. I told and retold them, even posted them on social media – a humble-brag about how cute and precocious my kids are.

The worst part for me, the part that hurts my heart the most and truly makes me question what the good God damn I’ve been thinking, is that all this was done while parenting two daughters whose birth families have actual mental health AND addiction issues. I’ve blogged about the special care adopted kids need, how frightened I am about what the future holds when they start processing the past. And I’ve done it all with a glass of wine in my hand. On the days when I feel the lowest, the most ashamed, I think about whether or not one of the biggest dangers to their health and future relationship with alcohol and addiction might have been coming from me.

Despite everything I’ve written, I do believe, emphatically, that we should be able to have it both ways: if she chooses, a woman should be able to parent unapologetically with a sippy cup in one hand and three fingers of scotch in the other. But if we’re going to normalize drinking, let’s also normalize the conversation about what to do when it becomes a problem. Let’s talk about the drinking in a way that doesn’t make us feel like the sloppy uncle who gets whispered about after falling down at family dinners. If you’re willing to share the horrors of your post-baby sex life, you can talk about this. Mommy’s drinking is not a dirty little secret. If you think you have a problem, please talk to someone. Get help.

If you’re worried you have a problem with alcohol, CAMH recommends you talk to someone you trust, like a doctor or nurse, or contact an addiction assessment centre or a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

If you’re in Ontario you can also try:

  • Ontario’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline at 1-800-565-8603. Open 24/7.
  • CAMH Information Centre at 1-800-463-6273
This post originally appeared on mabelslabels’  blog and is shared here with the author’s permission.



  1. Matt on June 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    “drugs are okay as long as they’re consumed in moderation. ”

    They are! And that is actually something important to pass on to your children. That drugs and medication are a part of modern living and that you do have to moderate and pay attention to what you consume. Whether the drugs are legal, illegal, or even prescription! Removing the stigma is the more important part. Reading this it very much comes across as you being ashamed of your behavior, but even if what you do is classed as high risk, or alcoholism, you need to remove the shame from the equation. Shame leads to hiding behaviors from others, prevents treatment. If you’re open, honest, and talk to your children, make it known that there is no shame in recognizing your own faults and problems, it makes it easier for them to confront them themselves as they get older, it makes it easier for you too!

  2. Jen on June 13, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Thanks so much for your comment Matt. I totally agree, there is too much shame around addiction. This is why I blogged about problem drinking; to start a conversation around something that often has so much shame and stigma attached to it. I am ashamed of some of my behaviour, in retrospect, but only because I wasn’t being honest with myself or my family about it. Thanks for sharing your perspective! Jen

  3. Melissa on June 14, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    I also want to comment on the “alcohol is a drug and you should never take drugs” statement: caffeine is also a drug and highly addictive to boot. Antibiotics are drugs. Advil is a drug. Some drugs save lives, some make life easier to live, some do no harm and just make life more pleasant. These grey areas are really hard to explain to kids, which is why it’s presented to them in black or white terms. As an adult, we get to make these choices for ourselves – and sometimes for our kids. We also get to help them understand which drugs are ok, and when they’re ok. You don’t take antibiotics when you have a cold (virus). You don’t take illegal drugs, ever. Caffeine, alcohol and pain killers are ok in moderation.
    As an aside, if you’d like to enjoy your wine and not pay a fortune, you might want to look into making it yourself. My parents started when I was 15 and my husband started brewing not too long after we moved in together. He now has a brewery where he makes beer (right from the grain), wine and cider. We bottle a lot of wine into beer bottles (about 350mL) because then it definitely gets finished and we’re not drunk. He has usually 2 drinks each evening, I don’t always drink but often. We drink everything: beer, wine, cider, hard alcohol. And I don’t feel bad about it. (Our daughter actually even helps with the brewing and bottling.)
    If you’re actually concerned about the amount you’re drinking, the first step is your doctor, to check and make sure that your body is ok. Second step is to get a smaller wine glass, or measure your glass and cut back 1oz, then 2oz. If you limit yourself to having less, you will force yourself to enjoy it more, to savour the flavour.

    • Heather Dixon on June 16, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for this, Melissa! I can’t help but think of that PSA from when I was a kid “Drugs, drugs, drugs… Some are good. Some are bad!” Do you remember that one? It was a catchy tune! But in all seriousness, I love what you have to say here. Very true. And thanks for the advice, too! Very respectful, which is so appreciated. 🙂

  4. Dionne on February 21, 2018 at 11:37 am

    This is great! …and so honest! <3

  5. Pamela F. on July 8, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I am coming up on 9 months sober this month, and aside from when I was pregnant with my daughter, this is the first time in my adult life I’ve gone more than two weeks without a drink. Drinking had become such an ingrained part of my identity that the thought of leaving it behind was terrifying. And while there are days where I miss “the ritual” of it, or the little rush of anticipation… my life is undoubtedly more manageable since I gave up the sauce!

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