(Audrey D. Brashich)

Last spring, I got an e-mail from the mother of one of my son’s classmates with a subject line reading “Pre-school moms need wine!” It proposed a ladies’ night out at a chic local lounge, and the dozen responses were probably just what you’d expect in today’s culture of #wineoclock-soaked jokes: “You bet we need wine!” and “Anyone want to taxi share because I’ll be in no shape to drive home after?!”

With a tap on my phone, I put the night in my calendar immediately. Not because I’m some barfly or boozer. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was a teetotaler until I had kids and still only drink moderately. Even so, I make it a point never to miss these get-togethers.

Let me explain: When a mom friend suggests a wine night, I don’t think the motivation is to rage hard, nor is it purely to escape the pressing responsibilities of parenthood. Sure, these nights often kick off with some spirited sounding off, but that’s not the end game. The real impetus for wine nights seems to be the desire to connect authentically with other moms. More and more, I’m finding “Let’s have wine!” is code for “I really need a break, so let’s get together to loudly vent and collectively laugh at the exhausting craziness that is motherhood today…and then let’s please talk about anything BUT motherhood.”

So much of parenting today is (or maybe always has been) about competition. Lots of conversations at pick-up and drop-off are peppered with hints about our kids’ achievements or to boast about their manically busy schedules as if they’re badges of honor and accomplishment. Throw in chatter about who’s doing what over which vacation and playground interaction can be about anything but actually connecting. Which is probably exactly why Mom Speed Dating agencies and events are taking off in cities across North America. With all the rivalry and criticism of each other’s parenting styles, it can be hard to make friends—and to be genuine with the ones we have.

But on wine nights, everyone stops posturing and judging long enough to get real. True, a few glasses of pinot noir help things along. But that’s not the only reason. There’s an unspoken understanding that other moms will be supportive on such nights. Or if not supportive, at least not as judgmental as we all can get online, which is where the real vitriol is spewed.

Wine nights are where I really get insight into how other mothers do it and what their lives are like behind the smoke and mirrors of our social media profiles. I’ve been at such nights where moms have detailed their struggles with stale marriages, admitted to yelling so much that their kids were genuinely rattled (oh wait, that was me), and described the difficult journey of having a child tested for Asperger’s syndrome.

“We’re supposed to know how to do it all,” says AnnBurr Clevenger, 42, a mother to two sons ages 6 and 8 in Avon, CT. “Our kids are supposed to be polite and speak Mandarin, and we’re never supposed to have vomit in our hair or cry when things go badly. It just feels like we’re never allowed to not know what we’re doing…except at wine nights, which is where you realize that all the women you think have it all together are faking it the same way you are. It’s the only place where women seem to let their guards down these days.”

Wine nights are a coping mechanism, posits Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. “The social revolution is still unwinding in many ways,” explains Johnston. “Yes, women go toe-to-toe with men in the workplace and outpace men in post-secondary schools. But we still haven’t figured out how we’re supposed to manage it all when it comes to kids. And these evenings are where women get together and unwind together.”

I don’t mean to ignore the disturbing rise in alcohol abuse by women, however, and I agree the current cultural norm of mothers overindulging is a huge problem. We live in a drinking culture, says Johnston. “One where drinking wine is associated with sophistication and drinking vodka positions you as hip.” Over the past decade, Johnston points out, women have been the target of heavy marketing campaigns designed create a new demographic of drinkers by making alcohol seem essential to relaxation and rewarding oneself. The result: wines marketed specifically to moms (such as Girls Night Out Wines and Mommy Juice)—and the idea that we can’t get through motherhood without it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of women of child-bearing age (aged 18-44) who drink actually binge drink. Similarly, a recent poll of 1,000 mothers in Britain conducted by ITV revealed that 25 percent of mothers have been drunk within the last month and one in six have, at some point in the past, been too hungover to be a good parent. Most startling: research shows that compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer, and that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10 percent for each additional drink women regularly have each day.

How much is too much? That can be hard to pinpoint since this new breed of female drinker is often professional, high-functioning and “high bottom” (meaning alcohol hasn’t yet caused great losses in their home and professional lives). However, most “safe drinking” guidelines allow one to two drinks per day. But the fact that a Web site called AlcoholicSoccerMom.com even exists seems to underscore that for some women nap-time is the new happy hour and T-shirts reading “Not so loud, I had book club last night” actually ring true.

So if the over 700,000 followers of the Facebook page Moms Who Need Wine (myself included) are really looking to connect and decompress, maybe it’s time we create a way of doing that that has fewer risks.

In the meantime, I’ll still accept wine night invites. After all, it’s about the company for me, not the imbibing. But maybe look out for an e-mail from me with the subject line “Moms Need Foot Massages and Green Juice!”

Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and New York City. Find her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.

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