My husband and I sat in the corner of a dimly lit restaurant on a Saturday night. Waitstaff flitted from one table to the next. I zeroed in on a table to my right. A young couple was smiling and taking photos of each other with their cellphones. Their server dropped off two iced glasses of water, a small carafe of wine for the young man and, for the young woman, a mojito.
For a moment, I could not look away. My husband and I had been going to that particular restaurant for years, and before I stopped drinking, mojitos had been my thing. For a split second, I wanted one.
I watched her sip the slightly cloudy drink garnished with mint leaves and lime. I longed for the relief I knew it would bring her, but I cannot and I will not drink, because I am an alcoholic. Drinking does not bring me relief. It brings disaster.
With a sigh, I turned back to my husband, who was staring at me.
“Reminiscing?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Just wishing there was something to take the edge off parenting.”
We have a 12-year-old in the throes of puberty and a 2-year-old in the midst of the toddler stage. Lately, I feel like I have been losing at parenting. After 10 years, I had forgotten the trials of toddlerhood: the tantrums. The stubbornness. But thankfully, I have at least dealt with this stage before. It might take a while to get through it, and I feel rusty, but there are times when everything clicks — at least when it comes to my toddler.
With my older child, on the other hand, I have no idea what I am doing. His back talk seems like a daily occurrence. He has turned his assertive tone, the one I am pretty sure I nurtured throughout his childhood, against me.
What’s more, he is changing at a pace I cannot wrap my head around. Within three months, he grew three inches. Darker, thicker hair lines his upper lip. His feet are just half a shoe size smaller than his father’s. I do not look down to catch his brown eyes anymore because they are level with mine.
He tests limits constantly, and he is turning into a young man right before my eyes. It has been an emotional roller coaster the toddler years did not prepare me for. Sometimes, my weekly yoga classes are not enough to take the edge off.
My fellow moms get me through times like these. They understand that feeling of powerlessness that comes from trying to get a 2-year-old dressed in the morning when that child wants no part in it. And it was another mom who helped me figure out how to deal with the transition from elementary school to middle school for my older son. Having other moms around helps me feel less alone in my parenting journey.
Lately, though, it seems like everywhere I turn, mothers are putting their kids to bed and breaking out the wine to cope with a hard day. On Facebook, the Moms Who Need Wine group has more than 700,000 followers, and my social media feed is inundated daily with mommy-needs-wine jokes and memes.
There is a book club I would love to join, but each month a member is designated the “wine lady.” Business has made the connection, too, and increasingly, wine and alcohol companies are marketing directly to moms. It feels like this sea of wine flows through just about every corner of mom culture, and trying to navigate these waters can make it hard for sober moms to open up in an authentic way. On top of that, the stigma that surrounds alcoholism makes it difficult to walk into a room where most people are drinking and decline the glass of wine without feeling like we have to offer an uncomfortable (and extremely personal) explanation.
But as I continue to trudge through this season of parenting, something surfaces again and again: I need other moms. I need a community of women who understand my daily struggles. I have been sober long enough to feel pretty comfortable in situations where other moms are drinking, and if I am not comfortable, I am willing to leave. But the same probably is not true for moms who are new to sober parenting, which is why it is so refreshing when a fellow mom takes the first step in taking the pressure off.
A few months ago, I met up with two mom-friends at a local restaurant. Before we ordered, one of them looked at me and said, “I know that you don’t drink, and I just want to make sure that you won’t be uncomfortable if I do.”
That simple acknowledgment put me at ease, and I knew I was under no pressure to explain myself.
When hosting events, we can make the common bond of motherhood — rather than the wine — the center of the party. Provide a sampling of nonalcoholic beverages as well as alcoholic ones. Make sure invitees know they are welcome, either way. In online communities, we can acknowledge that drinking is, indeed, one way to cope with a hard day of motherhood but that deep breathing, tea and good conversation also work.
Many sober moms might be uncomfortable in situations that involve other people drinking alcohol. We feel like an outsider sometimes, but moms who drink can make moms who do not feel more at ease. And since moms — sober or wine-loving — need one another, that inclusive approach can make all the difference.
Nicole Slaughter Graham is a freelance writer based in Florida. Find her online at nicoleslaughtergraham.com.